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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

In aggregate, barely one day in 23 was spent by either House in transacting business. The rest was riotously obstructed by the BJP and Left calling for discussion and answers on the 2-G and other matters but yet not permitting Parliament to function.

A Time for Reflection

The persistent disruption of both Houses by BJP and Left MPs constitutes a pervasive and sinister attack on Parliament that cannot be condoned.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 20 December, 2010

The wasted session of Parliament just concluded should be reason for reflection over the negativism that has seized the polity like a malignant fever of which corruption, factionalism, greed, parochialism, lynch-mobs, and gnawing self-doubt are symptoms. This is surely a distressing ending to 2010, the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Indian National Congress that marks a great democratic tradition.

In aggregate, barely one day in 23 was spent by either House in transacting business. The rest was riotously obstructed by the BJP and Left calling for discussion and answers on the 2-G and other matters but yet not permitting Parliament to function. This, on the anniversary of the December 2001 attack on Parliament House. That terrorist attempt to target the core symbol of India’s democracy was foiled. But did the security personnel protect the structural edifice merely to witness the disablement of Parliament as an institution?

The persistent disruption of both Houses by MPs constitutes a pervasive and sinister attack on Parliament that cannot be condoned. That the Government refused to accede to the Opposition demand for a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the 2-G episode, offers little extenuation. The Government, including the Prime Minister, could have been arraigned and compelled to offer credible answers or face obloquy. Further, the CAG report was due to be scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee comprising members from both Houses and chaired by a senior Opposition leader. As events unfolded, these procedures were reinforced by a CBI probe monitored by the Supreme Court and an investigation by a former Supreme Court judge.

None of the four earlier JPC’s was terribly effective and got embroiled in partisan politics. Hence that route offers little comfort barring opportunity to prolong the controversy for electoral gain. The PAC is a vital limb of Parliament embodied in its rules whereas the JPC is an ad hoc body that has occasionally been set up. Having two parallel bodies examining the identical matter could have created contradictions and fresh controversies to the detriment of clarity and a clear finding. Unfortunately, the Opposition appears bent on continuing its disruptive tactics into the Budget session. Hopefully better counsels will prevail.

The Government may be guilty of dereliction of duty and delay or of having succumbed to the pettiest pressure of self-serving coalition politics. If this is established, it will undoubtedly pay a political price while those guilty of criminal misconduct will not go unpunished. But if due process is abandoned for mob justice, the consequences for the nation could be dire.

Emotions have unfortunately been whipped up by media-led public opinion that has turned totally cynical with the breakdown of the criminal justice system and deliberate efforts by those in authority, across party lines, to scuttle police reform, deny autonomy to the CBI, lok ayuktas and similar watchdog bodies, the refusal to drop the notorious “single directive” that has provided protective cover to senior level bureaucrats and politicians from penal action, or to adopt the UN Convention on Corruption, a powerful tool that India, a signatory, has been singularly loath to implement. The mafia has greatly enlarged its footprint and the criminalization of politics and politicization of crime continue.

Added to this is the open soliciting of bribery and corruption to grease an increasingly venal electoral system that runs on money and muscle power and crude vote bank politics. Robbing the people of India to win elections (only to disrupt legislatures at will) has become endemic. The media, perhaps the most powerful institution in India today, has also abandoned mission, as trustees of the people’s right to know, for commerce. Barring exceptions, competitive trivia and hype have dumbed sensibilities. The 2-G transaction undoubtedly saw considerable leakage. But the Rs 1760 lakh crore figure bandied about is largely notional and ignores the social benefit of low spectrum prices leading to falling call rates and an exponential growth of telephony which, on current reckoning, might be estimated to be worth part of the impugned “loss”.

Why should the intensified CBI investigation, backdated to 2001, be considered a whitewash? Either one wants to get at the whole truth, even belatedly, or not. And how was the Prime Minister wrong to admit corporate and wider public nervousness about misuse of telephone taps officially ordered on security consideration or grounds of criminal investigation? Surely he was right, even while noting an “ethical deficit” on the part of corporate India, to offer assurances that privacy must be protected against possible access of telephone conversations “outsides the institutional framework of government”. It is strange that Advani faulted this statement as too trivial to warrant the attention of a head of government and termed it a red herring to confuse the trail of a corporate-official nexus revealed by the Radia tapes!

Likewise, there was a pointless furore over Salman Khurshid’s statement that his Corporate Affairs Ministry might look into the need for regulating lobbyists. A lobbyist or middleman is not necessarily a nefarious interloper but often performs a useful intermediary function. But this should be licensed and made subject to certain standards of accountability and not left totally unregulated. To register lobbyists and middlemen is not to license corruption.

Again, too much has been read into some of the WikiLeaks tapes detailing subjective American diplomatic despatches. The charge that US diplomats are “influencing India” is laughable. What else is diplomacy other than reporting, analysing and influencing?

Similarly, the lather over Rahul Gandhi’s statement to the US Ambassador is excessive. What Rahul reportedly said was that while there was evidence of some support for the LeT in India, “the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups which create religious tensions and political confrontation with the Muslim community”. This was stated as a possibility and not an existing reality. The view merely echoed Jawaharlal Nehru’s conviction that majority communalism is more dangerous than minority communalism. All extremist religious ideologies are based on self-love and implicit dislike, fear or even hatred of the other. The argument may be disputed but cannot be dismissed. To assume Rahul’s remarks gives a clean chit to Pakistani jihadis is unfounded.

So while we reflect on our follies and seek to correct them, we do not need to lose our heads or be intimidated by unreal and exaggerated fears.

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