Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The BJP seems intent on destroying parliamentary democracy in India whatever the arguments it employs in a barrage of bizarre rhetoric. Its logic is fascist: whatever I say is right and I shall prevail.

Danger: Parliamentary Saboteurs at Work

The BJP seems intent on destroying parliamentary democracy in India.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 26 August, 2012

The BJP seems intent on destroying parliamentary democracy in India whatever the arguments it employs in a barrage of bizarre rhetoric. Its logic is fascist: whatever I say is right and I shall prevail. This comes days after celebrating Independence Day and the hard-won triumph of freedom and democracy it symbolises.

Having disrupted the winter session, it is at it again, insisting that the Prime Minister must resign for the so-called Coalgate scam before Parliament is allowed to function. Led by Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj in the presence of Advani and cheered on by Nitin Gadkari from outside, it rejects a debate in Parliament as the matter will merely be talked. A non-confidence motion is however ruled out as the numbers do not favour the saboteurs. Meanwhile, disruption of Parliament is being paraded as a national duty. The argument is that ssmilar disruption alone forced the resignation of Raja and Maran following the CAG’s 2-G Report. And if Raja could resign as minister for Telcom, Dr Manmohan Singh must resign as he held additional charge of the Coal Ministry during the years when “Coalgate” occurred.

The reasoning is flawed. Raja did not resign because of or to end disruption. And the resignation of a Minister is very different from the forced resignation of a Prime Minister. The latter implies the fall of the Government with all its attendant consequences. So what Jaitley is seeking is the overthrow of the Government through street action noisily enacted on the floor of Parliament till the totally unconstitutional demand of a boisterous and unruly minority is met. This is dangerous politics and to cite previous disruptions by the Congress is to argue ever so crudely that one murder justifies all murders and damn judicial process.

The CAG has submitted a Report on the Coal Ministry which is now the property of Parliament. Instead of allowing Parliament to debate the matter and send it to the Public Accounts Committee for detailed scrutiny before the House takes a final view on the matter, the Jaitley argument is that the part is entitled to trump the whole, thus enabling a strident minority in the House to impose its will on the majority, and that too without requisite parliamentary debate and investigation, in violation of every rule and canon of democratic process and conscience. This is the kernel of the matter, not the bogus, political spiel spewed out by BJP and other persons before TV channels looking for meaningless but high-TRP-rated gladiatorial fights night after night.

The CAG has clearly overreached himself, making recommendations on policy as much as reporting on performance and then computing presumptive loss under various hypotheses on the basis of hindsight. From these findings, political partisans have sought to interpret genuine errors of judgement or innocent misappraisal of future market trends as acts of deliberate mala fides on the part of officials and ministers who are held accountable long after the event. Who in Government then will take clear and timely decisions without procrastination and seeking immunity by securing a multiplicity of irrelevant signatures? Both decision-making and governance have grievously suffered while the opportunity cost of delay has been truly enormous.

Even in the 1950s, the politically juiciest section of any PAC report was “procedural irregularities”. These were the “scams” of those days, outcomes be damned. Indeed, official reports routinely indicted industries that produced in excess of their licensed capacities, not by clandestinely adding to production capacity but by improving systems and process efficiency.

More recently, the Vajpayee government was gleefully slammed by the Congress for the “Kargil coffin-gate scam”. Since the wooden caskets carrying the bodies of those killed in action to their homes for the last rites were found oozing body fluids, emergency purchases were made of metal caskets. The Kargil war ended too soon for the auditors and the number of fatal casualties had therefore by audit calculations been grossly underestimated by the Defence Ministry. This was the “coffin-gate scam”. Imagine the unstated reasoning : excessive caskets and a dearth of dead bodies for audit; no proper tendering for competitive rates and quality; nor a timely forecast of the Kargil war, its duration and unique features, or any prudent estimate of when the next war might occur and how many fatalities there might be to justify such a huge and hurried purchase!

The media and political class fell on ‘coffin-gate” like vultures. The same thing happened over 2-G and Coalgate, except that the BJP and Congress have exchanged positions. The CVG’s estimates are “presumptive” losses based on different sets of assumptions and timelines. In the 2-G case, the lowest estimated loss was but a third of the highest figure, which was uncritically accepted. Why? And the huge social and even indirect revenue gain and empowerment from the dynamic growth of telephony with falling call rates was simply ignored in the calculus. Some money was possibly made by a few original allottees through resale of spectrum but the astronomic “loss” linked to the 2-G “scam” is a chimera.

The same is true of Coalgate with its Rs 1,83 lakh crore “loss”. The original figure leaked was almost six or seven times larger but was recalled by the CAG’s office itself. But who has made this illicit gain if only one out of 57 relevant coal blocks has actually been mined up to date. Otherwise too, as Surjit Bhalla cogently explained in a recent article, the CAG based his “losses” for 2006 allocations at 2010 prices without discounting them, nor did he take into account the 30 per cent corporate tax that would have accrued to the exchequer.

Earlier, the Opposition was baying for Chidambaram’s resignation on the ground that he colluded with Raja in the 2-G matter. This caused disruption of the House. But now the Supreme Court has dismissed the two plaints preferred before it indicting the Minister.

In the Coalgate matter, four Opposition-led State Governments (Chattisgarh, Orissa, Rajasthan and West Bengal) and Jharkhand had opposed coal auctions as proposed by the Centre and recommended allocations of coal blocks in their states for local power and cement manufacture. Taking federal sensitivities into account, the Centre did not press its case for open auctions, a factor indirectly noted with some approval by the Chief Justice of India in a lecture delivered in Delhi last Sunday.

Yet, despite all this, Jaitley insists the Prime Minister must resign without a Lok Sabha debate or PAC scrutiny in accordance with normal parliamentary procedure. The argument has nothing to do with the so-called Coalgate scam. The calculation is that the UPA is on the back foot regarding corruption and the economic slow-down. But the Congress still has the numbers in the Lok Sabha as its allies and some others do not want early polls. Even the BJP was not in favour of early polls as it is a house divided; but now it sees an opportunity to strike before Narendra Modi has time to become a real challenger to the old guard at the Centre.

Whatever happens, as before over Ayodhya, the BJP is riding a tiger. And it will lose.

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