Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, November 22, 2010

THE winter session of Parliament has been on for nearly a fortnight now and the only time MPs behaved like honorable members was when US President Barack Obama addressed them. With both houses deadlocked for more than a week over Opposition demands for a Joint Parliamentary Committee ( JPC) to probe the telecom scam and the government’s reluctance to oblige, speculation swirled at week’s end about both houses being adjourned sine die . If that happens today, it would be the first time ever that an entire session will pass by without any business being conducted.

For Manmohan Singh, this has been the worst week in over six years as PM and a friend in the Congress admits the prime minister is beginning to feel a sense of insecurity. He referred to Singh’s uncharacteristically offensive remark during his joint press conference with Obama at Hyderabad House on the sensitive subject of outsourcing when he said that “ we Indians” were “ not in the business of stealing jobs”. True, but if Manmohan had nothing to hide, the least the nation expects of him is to be equally forthright and come out and say his ministers are not in the business of stealing the nation’s wealth. “ Instead what we have from the prime minister is the sound of silence,” my friend said.

In the cabinet form of government, the prime minister is the first among equals. Manmohan Singh’s unimpeachable honesty and integrity were supposed to reflect the strength and stability of the UPA government. But what we are seeing is the highest court in the land raising questions about the manner in which the PMO went about taking decisions. If such a legal rap is unheard of, even more surprising is the silence of the more than 200 Congress MPs who were expected to back him when the entire opposition was baying for his blood. Where were they?
When the opposition cleverly targeted Manmohan instead of the usual suspects in the ruling combine, the Congress was caught off guard. For a full two days, the opposition held forth in parliament and in TV studios. There is no shortage of legal luminaries in the government, but initially none of them were to be seen. Instead Dr Subramanian Swamy did what he loves doing — hog the limelight. That one man army held news conferences on the Supreme Court lawns and was readily answering journalists calls.

There was nobody from the Congress either at the Supreme Court, Akbar Road or at Parliament House to defend the prime minister. It wasn’t until after three days that the Congress began to get its act together. As Parliament remained paralysed S. Swamy for the sixth day, first Rahul Gandhi and then telecom minister Kapil Sibal launched the most powerful defence. “ I don't think he is in an embarrassing position at all,” Rahul Gandhi snapped back when asked to comment on the PM’s situation after the Supreme Court’s harsh comments. Insiders say Sibal spoke out only after the Prime Minister bitterly remarked in the Congress core group meeting at his residence on Thursday that he did not get support from legal luminaries such as Sibal and P. Chidambaram.

The confusion in the government was such that the law ministry’s decision to ask attorney general of India G. E. Vahanvati to represent the Prime Minister in the Supreme Court attracted flak. If they had guided the government’s legal officers down the right path, the government would not have looked so silly, goes the argument.
To say that Parliament meets this week with the government in disarray is an understatement.
The Opposition has already tasted blood, having forced the government in the last session to buckle on Bills such as enemy property amendments, prevention of torture Bill and the education tribunals law. They are determined to make the government buckle again and concede to their demand for a JPC. It suits the Opposition fine since the JPC gives them the power to seek documents and extract information which the government may otherwise be reluctant to show.

The daily closed door sittings of the JPC will surely be followed by selective leaks that will have the government squirming or running for cover. There have been only two JPCs in our Parliamentary history. The first was on Bofors, the second on the Harshad Mehta scam. Both were set up during Congress regimes. Both times, the Congress lost in the elections that followed. It is easy to see why the government dreads another JPC.


Vijay said...

Prabhu Chawla ji kindly explain,-- NR- Prabhu tell me one thing. Judgement is fixed, right?
PC- Dekho in this country, donon side ko fix karne ka capacity hain

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