The start of the monsoon session on Monday raised hopes that it may end up doing some productive work after all. Though there were disruptions and noisy scenes, these essentially resulted from those who felt aggrieved by the precipitate decision to divide Andhra Pradesh. Members belonging to the TDP were joined by ruling Congress Party members from Seemandhra to protest the division of the composite state. For a change, members of the NDA and other opposition groups watched in silence. Of course, no one party is responsible for often turning Parliament into a fish market. On Monday, it was the turn of the ruling Congress members from Seemandhra to disrupt proceedings in the Rajya Sabha while they moved into the well of the House. Clearly, they were not taken into confidence by the leadership while it unilaterally granted Telangana, with the sole objective of salvaging improving its prospects in the coming elections. Hopefully, members from Seemandhra would be persuaded to allow Parliament to function. But there are a number of issues which could still cause uproar in the two Houses. The suspension of the young IAS officer by the UP government can prove incendiary, specially when the Samajwadi Party virtually stands isolated on the issue. Another issue that could generate much heat is the demand by OBC and Dalit leaders to nullify the Apex Court decision which had voided reservations in promotions in higher category of government posts. The rationale underpinning the court ruling is strong, but the OBC lobby is exercised over it, demanding a constitutional amendment to restore such reservations. Frankly, it will be a retrograde step if, say, a doctor having got admission in a college on the basis of reservations and later a job in a premier government hospital, insists on being promoted as the head of department only because of his caste and not on performance. Entry-level concessions for the weaker sections make sense. But continuing those reservations all through their careers, which could also result in disturbing the merit-cum-seniority linked hierarchy, will play havoc with the system. Already, a number of meritorious doctors have quit the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences for private hospitals due to caste-based promotions, which leaves them at a great disadvantage. Therefore, further constricting space for merit and performance in government posts would denude prestigious institutes like the AIIMS of all talent. As an aside, we may ask why the OBC leaders do not insist on being treated for serious ailments by the `quota doctors.’ Simple. Because they suspect that they may lack experience and proficiency of their peers who had come up through pure competition route. The point is simple. Entry-level reservations are fine to offset the ingrained disadvantages associated with certain castes. But upon entry into a medical or engineering college, or IAS or IPS, in-service reservations will only inflict great and lasting institutional damage. Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Laloo Yadav, etc. have sought to reverse the court ruling through a constitutional amendment. This should be resisted. However, from the mood of the OBC chieftains it looks that this issue could blow up into a huge crisis for the ruling coalition.
As for the food security bill, it is clear that no party wants to play into the hands of the ruling party by opposing it. Even Mulayam Singh has now clarified that he would support it. The BJP is committed to support the bill, but it wants it to incorporate some changes based on the Chhattigarh model. The government should not stand on false prestige and sincerely consider the suggestions of the main opposition party. However, the government has shown a complete lack of commonsense in restricting the session to a mere 14 working days, but with an agenda of 44 new bills. The unwillingness to hold longer sessions reflects a sense of unease the government feels in facing Parliament. Once in power, ministers are happy doing their own thing without being made to be answerable to Parliament. It is a shame that the Parliament of the largest democracy in the world works on far fewer days than its counterparts in the US, UK, etc. The executive branch in India has become used to taking the legislative branch for granted. That was fine when the Congress was a monolithic party with huge majorities in Parliament. In a fragmented polity, with coalitions becoming the norm, the executive will have to live with a more demanding legislature. A government which has a lot to hide wants to slink away from accountability. That is the only way to look at its decision to call a very brief session despite a crowded legislative agenda.