Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Midnight Sham

Discord, disruption, derailment--are some of the most prominent words which we have come to associate with parliamentary proceedings in the recent debates that take place in the Parliament. While we certainly witnessed an intense debate marked by rationality, dissent and even dialogue between Arun Jaitley and Abhishek Manu Singhvi on the floor of the Rajya Sabha which recently took up the Lokpal Bill for discussion. The impassioned debate rose up magnificently above the largely trivial cacophony of recent months, restoring a sense of respect in the highest lawmaking body which appeared to be manned by people of political acuity and intellectual rigour. The proceedings in Parliament brought back memories of a time when towering orators like Jawaharlal Nehru, Piloo Modi and later Atal Bihari Vajpayee who added lustre to debates and discussions through their reasoned arguments by engaging wit and humour. 

However, by afternoon it could be foretold that the Government was not really keen on having voting as it realized that it lacks a clear majority to pass an effective Lokpal Bill. In the night, nearly two hours before the actual drama that unfolded on the floor of the house, CNN-IBN mentioned a possibility of having a "bitter exchange" which would disrupt the house and lead the proceedings to extend till midnight. It even mentioned Rajniti Singh by name. 


While the Opposition was ready to sit through the night considering there have been instances in the past where crucial bills were legislated at 04:00 a.m. in the morning but the Government claimed almost on the stroke of the midnight hour that it needed more time to consider the proposed 187 amendments moved by the Opposition which eventually caused the house to be adjourned sine die without the bill being put to vote. 

Indian democracy witnessed a new low with the adjournment of the house which confirmed the prophecy predicted by CNN-IBN. I believe initiating a few policy changes would not amount for a collapse of democracy but the actions of the Government showed that party interest takes a higher precedence over national interest. While Trinamool Congress MPs came out siding with the Opposition that the proceedings were "choreographed", if a government which cannot introduce new key measures if its own allies reject them, then it is probably is not a government that is fit to govern and nor is it its leadership fit to lead.


As the popular English saying goes: "Actions do speak louder than words" proved the accuracy of the saying. The buck must begin and come round to stop with the UPA government for choreographing a needless controversy which eclipsed the many hours of rational debate.When the hollowness of its confidence was finally exposed on the TV channel, it behaved with a complete lack of grace. There is no shame in losing a vote while it does show incompetence on the part to have strutted into the house without getting adequate support. A defeat in the Rajya Sabha does not amount to resignation and is not something which has long-term consequences. 


When it became clear that the Congress could not get a majority for its bill, it should have behaved with grace and dignity with the Prime Minister rising up to the occasion and stating that there were differences and that he would withdraw the bill in order to bring other parties on board since it was a promise to the nation that an effective Lokpal Bill would be in place by the winter session of Parliament. It would have been graceful enough had he taken a lead by reassuring the nation that it is not difficult to forge a consensus and the commitment for an effective Lokpal remains undiminished and that it would have been the first bill to be introduced in the next session. I agree that we would have been disappointed but at the same time we would have appreciated the Prime Minister's sincerity because he is also the leader of the house. Instead, we saw the Prime Minister and Pranab Mukherjee slouching on the first row of the Rajya Sabha witnessing the drama like silent spectators.


It is not hard to recall the dubious means that the Congress had employed in order to win support during the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in 2008 and we had our MPs showing neatly bundled notes at the television screens. This time around we had the graceless spectacle of chaos at midnight. The problem as always is that this is a government in which the leading party deludes itself into believing it has a mandate. When the allies refuse to go along with the Government and its whims, it responds with the worst behaviour possible. Sadly, this was true in both the terms of the UPA Government as history repeated itself in 2011 the way such an incident occurred in Loksabha in 2008.

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