Onus for ending the logjam

The Speaker’s suspension of 25 Congress MPs for disruption of Parliament has united the opposition parties. The government didn’t expect this. It thought the expulsion would isolate the Congress.

The smooth functioning of Parliament is as much the responsibility of the government as the opposition. During the 15th Lok Sabha, the BJP had obstructed the Parliament session after session, demanding resignation of the UPA Ministers. It took a high moral ground on the issue of propriety and probity in public life. Some 830 out of 1350 working hours of the Parliament were wasted to secure the resignations of Natwar Singh, Shashi Taroor, Pawan Bansal, Ashwin Kumar, besides A Raja, Dayannidhi Maran, Vilasrao  Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan. And now Rajnath Singh says, “We are not UPA, our Ministers don’t resign”, implying the UPA had succumbed to the BJP’s bullying.

It is argued that the Congress is playing tit for tat and taking revenge on the BJP, with the roles reversed, and that the two wrongs don’t make a right. But what surprises is the double standards of the BJP. If the obstruction of Parliament was legitimate and “beneficial to the country” then, why not now? Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, as the opposition leaders, were on their feet on slightest excuse to corner the UPA. They led the opposition offensive over various issues, leading to series of disruptions. The entire session of 2010 was washed out. The BJP disrupted Parliament over the 2G scam in 2010 and the CVC’s appointment in 2011 and the coal block allocation in 2012.

On August 26, 2012, Arun Jaitley said: “Our strategy does not permit us to allow the government to use Parliament for debate without being held accountable. We do not want to give government an escape route through debate… Parliamentary obstructionism brings its dividends.” And on August 28, he reiterated, “If Parliament accountability is subverted and a debate is intended to be used merely to put a lid on parliamentary accountability, it is then a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government…” Speaking of the debate in Parliament, even A.B. Vajpayee had said in December 1995, “We don’t want debate for debate’s sake”, demanding the resignation of the then Communication Minister Sukh Ram. L.K. Advani, Sharad Yadav had resigned when their names cropped up in the Jain Hawala case.

The Modi government is adopting double standards.  It has no respect for Parliamentary practices.  How can it justify that the charges against Sushma Swaraj, Vasundara Raje Scindia and Shivraj Chauhan are fabricated?  They have already been given a clean chit. Then what purpose does the debate in parliament serve? Sushma Swaraj’s defense falls flat. To say that she had not requested for the travel papers to Lalit Modi, in spite of her going out of the way to help him, when he was wanted by the ED for economic offences, facilitating to procure his travel documents by talking to the Labour Party Leader Keith Vaz and the British High Commissioner in India James Bevan, is to deny truth.

It is difficult to understand why Narendra Modi is keeping quite amidst all this uproar. When he expresses views on practically every issue through social media and ‘Mann Ki Baat’, why is he totally silent on such serious scandals?  It demonstrates that he has no moral authority to command. The monsoon session is being washed out. Some important Bills like, the GST, Whistle Blowers Protection, etc are still pending. But these were the same Bills held up earlier because of disruption by the BJP.

It is true that public money is wasted due to the logjam in Parliament. It is widely believed that only 15 paise, out of every rupee spent on social welfare programmes, reach the beneficiaries. The corruption is the single most destabilising factor in our society.  The Vyapam is the biggest scam since independence that put 75 lakh aspirants’ future at stake.

This is not to justify the disruption of Parliament. But to say that the opposition must relent and allow the Parliament to function is to accept our inability to ensure good governance. If the opposition relents, nothing would come out of the Lalitgate and the Vyapam Scam and the corrupt would be shielded. The government should have announced a probe into the allegations. But then, a probe without resignation of the ministers will not be just and fair. The BJP is caught between the devil and the deep sea.

A clean corruption free government is a sine quo non. If there is no probity, transparency and accountability in public life, the development per se has no meaning-the development for what and for whom!

Now Parliamentary Affairs Ministers Venkaiah Naidu and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi are saying- “Why should our leaders resign? They have committed no wrong.” This stand of the government will not help to break the logjam in parliament.  The people will not buy this.To say no wrong is done by the ministers, inspite of so much material in the public domain indicating gross impropriety, conflict of interest, abuse of power and massive corruption is to hoodwink the nation.

The people have begun to think that Narendra Modi is replicating the ‘Gujarat model’ in Parliament – of suspending en bloc the Principal Opposition party, stifling the dissent, and then carrying the legislative work unilaterally without any discussion and debate. This is a blot on the world’s largest democracy.

It is important to realise that the disruption is caused because of the government’s disdainful disregard of the opposition’s demand for resignation of the External Affairs Minister and the chief ministers, pending inquiry. This is an established parliamentary norm. In hindsight, we might say the disruption of Parliament may indeed do well in the long run in that ruling dispensation would be cautious about resorting to unethical and illegal practices, mindful of political rivals.

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