Monday, November 26, 2012

A House Divided .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/November 25, 2012

A house divided cannot stand, and a house that won’t work will destroy India

Democracy was born to demolish dictatorships. Democracy was meant to debate, dialogue and differ. Parliamentary democracy was created for the people to elect their representatives who would follow the principles of democracy. After 60 years of existence, Indian Parliament has been reduced to just a magnificent piece of architecture from the British era. Our new age politicians have redefined the concept of democracy and the role of Parliament. It hardly legislates, which is its primary responsibility. Legislation is now an exception, and not the rule. It rarely debates issues of those who elect Parliament members. For the past few years, more than half of the time of each session of Parliament has been wasted by disruptions, filibustering and jumping into the well of the House.

Parliamentary democracy is not the only victim of petty politics. While the Parliament hardly conducts any business, other institutions like the Public Accounts Committee and the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India have become new targets. With personal rivalries and erosion of ideological commitment growing, the authority of Parliament has been blunted. India is perhaps the only democracy where the government has become stronger with the weakening of Parliament to which it is expected to be accountable.
The pathetic decline of parliamentary debate stems from the decline of leadership in the country. With over 40 political parties led by leaders of all colours and tastes, it has become almost impossible to come to an agreement on any issue. Every leader now wants his or her casteist, regional, personal, and not any national, agenda to set the tone of the debate. For each one of them, the institution of Parliament has been reduced to just a symbol of political power which gives them enough clout to dictate and determine the fate of the executive. Last week, all of them swore by parliamentary democracy, yet none of them was willing to yield an inch to another party.
With over 18 months left for the next general elections, the ruling UPA was expected to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament and get through its legislative business. But it seems they are more interested in creating a logjam than persuading various political parties to come to the table. Surprisingly, many senior ministers and the Congress claim that the UPA enjoys full majority in both Houses of Parliament. Yet, the government has always devised ways and means to avoid voting on any contentious issues like FDI in retail, no-confidence motion or even Women Reservation Bill. It is the first time in India’s history that a minority government has been able to survive for such a long time. Though it is known as the UPA government, but it is primarily a Congress government with over 90 per cent ministers belonging to the Congress alone. Even in an era of coalition, the Congress has perfected the art of divide and rule which it inherited from the British. Since it doesn’t want to expose its numerical infirmity, the Congress leaders have been quite successful in provoking its friendly parties to raise issues which are in conflict with its own allies. For example, the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party has been goaded into making reservation for SC/STs in promotions as the first condition for smooth functioning of the House. On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee ensured that both the Opposition and Treasury benches had no trust in her no-trust motion on the first day of the House. While for BSP members, it is their leader who is the Parliament, for the Trinamool Congress, ‘long live Didi and hell with Parliament’ is the slogan for survival. For the Left parties, it is the left-over space in the media which matters and not any meaningful motion in Parliament. For the Samajawadi party, extracting more funds to finance its freebies for wooing voters is the only criterion for letting the government survive in the office without facing the House.
But much of the credit for not letting Parliament function goes to the BJP which is still searching for a leader and ideology. Its only agenda is to keep raking up issues which it thinks will get them votes outside Parliament as they don’t have any  hope of getting the support of any other party in the House. It wants the government to keep the appointment of the CBI director in abeyance but its leaders don’t make the passage of the proposed Lokpal Bill a precondition for calling Parliament in order. The party made hardly any serious attempt to get the report of the select committee prepared earlier. As the second largest party in both Houses, the BJP is not willing to concede the demands of smaller party for debates on other issues so that it can get their support for its own agenda. For the past three sessions, it is the BJP that has been raising the correct issues but has always failed to nail the Congress in the House because its leaders are afraid of exposing their majestic isolation. Since 2004, when it lost power to the Congress-led coalition, the BJP has failed to add a single ally to its fold. With its leaders shrinking in stature or getting older, it is young and more focused younger leaders from other parties who are now defining the contours of national politics. In a fight between giants, it is a cabal of politically empowered regional leaders who have either made Parliament irrelevant or are using it for striking deals to expand their bases. Sadly, no leader understands that the collapse of parliamentary dialogue will eventually sow the seeds of disintegration or the rise of anarchy.; Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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