The Prime Minister made a strong statement yesterday blasting the BJP for its disruption of parliament. The intent was possibly to silence his critics about his “silence” on the burning issues affecting the country, from corruption to the unchecked economic slide.
But did it really do the trick, or was it an exercise in evasion? Here’s a full decoding of his statement and some questions and observations on it.
He started, as expected, with the “wasted session” of parliament. Our comments are in italics.
The PM said: We have just ended a wasted session of Parliament when both houses were not allowed to function. The cause of the repeated disruption was that we had received a report of the CAG on the allocation of coal blocks which alleged some infirmities in the process.
Comment: Sure, the session was “wasted” and the BJP must also be held responsible for it. But Manmohan Singh cannot dismiss the cause of the disruption as something irrelevant. And with the CBI filing cases in the coal blocks allocation scam, the issue is no longer “some alleged infirmities in the process.” It is a gigantic scandal.
The PM said: Instead of discussing this report in the PAC, which is the normal procedure, or even discussing it immediately in Parliament, which we offered to do, leaders of the opposition saw fit to demand my resignation before Parliament was even allowed to take a view on the report.
Comment: The BJP may have jumped the gun to demand Singh’s resignation, but, unlike 2G, it seems the PM as Coal Minister had a direct role to play in setting up the process of how the coal blocks should be allotted. This morning papers tell us that it was the PM himself who endorsed the idea of using a non-transparent Screening Committee to allot coal blocks instead of competitive bidding.The CAG said the Committee process had no clear method. Moreover, we know what happened to the 2G report at the PAC. The report has been consigned to the dustbin since the UPA majority in the PAC has meant no report critical of the Congress will come out.
The PM said: I feel very strongly that this is making a mockery of parliamentary democracy. We take pride in our parliamentary democracy and the tradition of free debate that it implies. Only a few months ago, during the 60th year celebrations of our Parliament, I said that the story of the Indian Parliament is a story of India striving for freedom and dignity; for tolerance and equality; for peace and progress.
We do not live up to these high ideals if we simply do not let Parliament function. The government and the opposition both have a sacred obligation to strengthen our parliamentary system. We do incalculable damage to the reputation of India’s Parliament if we resort to disruption of Parliament to make a political point.
Comment: These are good homilies for any politician to make, and we should not grudge the PM for plunging the knife in. However, as the BJP points out, the government has not exactly been the picture of cooperation either. Mere jaw-jaw in parliament would not have elevated Coalgate to a national issue that needs fixing. The BJP’s obstructionism has put Coalgate on the national agenda. We now need to see if it delivers something good, or ends up as another Lokpal debate – just fire and brimstone, and no result.
The PM said: Those who prevent Parliament from functioning disable the voice of the people. They take away their right to hear their representatives debate issues in a reasoned manner when the case for and against a point of view can be heard. They force them to listen instead only to voices in the street, which is not the place for reasoned discourse.
This is the road to a dysfunctional politics which will only produce agitational politics and a deeply divided and disenchanted country.
Comment: This is true, but politics in the fractious last two decades has always been a dialogue of the deaf. We know how a major issue like a constitutional amendment to extend reservation in promotions is being sought to be pushed through without thought or actual “reasoned” debate, which the PM claims he wants. It is all being done to please vote-banks. Why pretend a debate will change anything? Will women’s reservation come through debate? Will Lokpal come through debate when no political party is keen on it?
The PM said: I have high respect for the CAG as an institution. I believe we strengthen it only by taking its reports seriously enough to discuss them in the PAC and in the House. PAC reports deal with complex issues on which there can be different points of view and all these must be heard fully before rushing to judgement. We do not strengthen the CAG as an institution by using its reports to prevent discussion and cause disruption.
Comment: The PM is surely being selective in his respect for the CAG. In his statement in parliament on 27 August, he went out of his way to discredit CAG and its views by distorting it. He went on to rubbish the CAG’s suggestion - that competitive bidding for coal blocks could have been introduced through an administrative process without a change in legislation - as “undemocratic and contrary to the spirit of the functioning of our federal polity.” The CAG wasn’t suggesting anything “undemocratic” – just a way out. The bulk of Singh’s speech was focused on denting the CAG’s conclusions in the coal blocks report. He ended up discrediting himself.
The PM said: I assure all of you that the issues raised in the CAG report are not being swept under the carpet. They will be discussed in parliament as they should be. Whatever corrective action is necessary will be taken.
Comment: The matter is now well and truly out of the PM’s hands – since the zero-loss theory on coal blocks has been shown to be a joke. He has no option but to change the policy that he himself suggested, and then changed his mind on it under political pressure. In 2G, CWG and in Coalgate, the PM seemed to start with the right idea, but he has invariably shown that he will take the line of least resistance under political pressure and allow wrongdoers to rob the exchequer.
The PM said: We are faced with many internal and external problems and challenges. There are problems of communal tension, ethnic violence and the ever present threat of Naxalism. Terrorism remains a serious threat. The nation should be concerned about what is happening in the Northeast. There are attempts to divide communities which led to thousands fleeing from some of our cities. We have to contain the forces of lawlessness. These are some of the issues that should have been discussed in parliament so that our countrymen could have been better informed of these problems and ways of addressing them.
Comment: This is the classic diversionary tactic. Its underlying theme is, look I have a thousand things to attend to, so don’t focus on one scam like Coalgate. If we can start fighting about the infiltration in the north-east or communalism, the heat will be off me in Coalgate.
The PM said: On the economic front too we face major challenges. The world is passing through an exceptionally difficult phase. Our economy is also experiencing problems. We must work hard to ensure that the Indian economy returns to high growth. I have no doubt we can do it.
We can rebuild our growth momentum and encourage entrepreneurship by stimulating investment in infrastructure, in power, in roads, ports, railways, and telecommunications. This will send a clear signal to the world that India is on the road to recovery. This in turn will bring back the momentum of growth, generate productive employment and also enable us to direct more resources to help the poor and weaker sections.
Comment: This is absolutely untrue. The economic challenges at home and loss of business confidence are UPA’s self-created crisis, brought on by its inability to take sensible decisions. The world may be facing problems, but the failures on the economic front are all within the UPA’s ability to respond to. But the UPA’s only policy has been to spend, spend, spend to seek re-election, and so economic prudence is alien to it. The allies may have added to this problem, but if allies can’t be talked to for a compromise, isn’t this a failure of party boss Sonia Gandhi?
The PM said: We cannot do this (help the economy recover and direct resources to the poor) if the government is constantly distracted by the actions of those who prefer obstruction over discussion. Those who follow this path detract from India’s prestige as the world’s largest Parliamentary democracy. They are unwittingly only serving the ends of those who want to weaken the country and discredit its institutions.
Our job in Government, I have always maintained, is to grapple with the problems of mass poverty, ignorance and disease which still afflict millions of our citizens. We will not be distracted from this task.
Comment: What cheek. Decoded, this means I have too many problems to deal with, so don’t waste my time with Coalgate. The UPA’s “distraction” has less to do with the BJP and more with the unwillingness of Sonia Gandhi to countenance anything smacking of economic reform. The government is distracted with Sonia’s NAC and its spendthrift agenda, and its own allies, who have used this government-party policy rift to block everything from FDI in retail to increases in oil prices. The UPA with its allies has an overwhelming majority – and the BJP could never have scuttled any of this with its puny strength in the Lok Sabha.
The PM said: We have had one wasted session. I hope Parliament can get back to business in the next session. Meanwhile the Government must act wherever it can without the benefit of Parliamentary guidance. I am instructing all ministries to accelerate their consideration of critical issues where decisions are needed to get the economy moving again.
I urge all right minded Indians to stand up and unite against the forces of anarchy and disruption to secure the foundations of our hard earned democratic and Constitutional rights.
Comment: Only one thing needs to be said. The “anarchy and disruption” are the result of the failure of communication between the ruling party and the opposition, and the complete failure of the UPA to ensure governance in any sphere of activity – from the economy to social tensions and politics. Maybe the PM should work on this in the remaining months of his “wasted” tenure in UPA-2.