Monday, November 28, 2011

PM must get his House Maths right/Power&Politics/November 27, 2011, The Sunday Standard

Power & Politics

Prime Minister must get his House Maths right for the people

Anyone who has something to hide or fear runs away from dialogue and debate. Instead of taking detractors head on, they take refuge in whispers, vendetta and verbal vandalism. Such cowards are subjecting India’s parliamentary democracy to the worst kind of assault.

The UPA Government doesn’t want to face reality. The Opposition is insisting on dictating terms rather than the agenda. For the past few sessions, Parliament has transacted little business. All its bright, earthy and absentee members will continue to get their perks, salaries and daily allowances by merely marking attendance. The substantive blame for parliamentary paralysis lies at the UPA’s door. Its leadership lists bills to be discussed in the House, but lacks the will to see them through by building consensus. Instead of creating an environment for reconciliation, the Government is resorting to confrontationist tactics. Its reluctance to accept some of the genuine demands of the combined Opposition stems from insecurity. Going by the arithmetic composition of the house, the UPA is in a hopeless minority. It is hobbling along on crutches given by some of its allies who are but providing only outside support. The Opposition is legitimately exploiting the mathematical discomfort of the Government. Both the BJP and the Left have been confabulating on rules regarding voting in the House once discussions on politically volatile issues like inflation, corruption and Telangana are done. Even during the last two sessions of Parliament, both Houses had to adjourn without transacting any business because the Government didn’t concede the Opposition’s demand to allow either a censure motion against the UPA or to vote on various issues. Since the Opposition is aware of the contradictions and conflicts within the UPA, it has always tried to corner the Government by bringing controversial resolutions on corruption and black money on the floor of the House. Since the Congress has only 206 members in the Lok Sabha, it needs 70-odd more votes from its allies for survival. So far, only NCP and the National Conference—whose combined strength is barely 19 MPs—haven’t served any ultimatum to blackmail the government. But the TMC and the DMK with 40-odd MPs are always threatening to walk out of the Government. Last month, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced unequivocally that she would withdraw support to the UPA if the Government raised petroleum prices again. She also openly opposed the Cabinet decision on allowing FDI in retail. Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi of the TMC even left the Cabinet meeting after the Prime Minister and finance minister chose to ignore his reservations on the matter; though he did seek the Prime Minister’s permission to leave. M K Alagiri, the only DMK nominee in the Cabinet, was conspicuous by his absence as his party is also opposed to the move.

With the numbers stacked against the Congress, its floor managers are not willing to take any risks. The conduct and posturing of UPA leaders betrays their lack of confidence. Last week, its floor managers used every rule in the book to stall any debate that would expose the Government’s numerical minority. For voting on the floor of the House on subjects like inflation and black money, even UPA allies and sympathisers wouldn’t want to be seen being on the Government’s side. Opposition leaders like L K Advani, Sitaram Yechury and others are determined to prove that the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of not only the allies who are part of the Government, but also of those who are supporting the Government from the outside. On the other hand, Manmohan’s floor managers and promoters are equally aggressive in preventing Parliament from giving any number-driven verdicts against the Government. Political compulsions prohibit all political parties from wanting a mid-term poll and hence they are refraining from making any move that might bring the Government down.

In fact, the ruling establishment is seriously divided over the manner in which parliamentary business is managed. No UPA minister has been able to infiltrate the Opposition. Worse, hardly any of them commands respect or has a reasonable rapport with those who matter in the BJP or in other powerful opposition parties. Sadly, the weakness and irrelevance of the few individuals in the Government has made the Prime Minister’s position shaky and untenable. Already weakened and crippled by various scams, any question mark over the majority the Government enjoys in Parliament subverts the Prime Minister’s authority. If Manmohan wishes to regain his political clout, then both he and the Congress has to dispel the impression that the Government does not enjoy full support in Parliament, even though public perception feels so. The sooner this is done, the better it is for the stability of India’s political system.

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