‘For 15-20 years now,we have been attending the elongated funeral rites of the parliamentary system’

In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24x7 with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta,former telecom minister Arun Shourie says it’s important for Parliament to function and that he is worried about the state of the economy

Written by Shekhar Gupta | Published: September 18, 2012 3:10 am

In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24×7 with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta,former telecom minister Arun Shourie says it’s important for Parliament to function and that he is worried about the state of the economy

I am standing in front of Parliament House where no business got done. So,why not start a conversation outside Parliament House? Arun,what does it feel like not to have a whole Parliament session for the second time now?

Well,people don’t realise that a country like India cannot be run without institutions. This is the biggest institution under our Constitutional system and then you paralyse it. Whatever the issue,you are inflicting great harm on the country because the institution is getting reduced to what state assemblies are. In state assemblies,now the sessions are only four to five days each. So if you see the effective days,Parliament has already been reduced to the level of a state assembly. Can a country like India be run like that? So whatever the issue,the primary interest must be that you must adopt such methods which will strengthen the institution.

But the explanation is that the coal scandal was so big that to set it in public consciousness in a way that’s so deep that it does not go away,we had to block the Parliament session.

One session casts a shadow on the institution of Parliament forever. And this is not just one session. If you see over the last 20 years,these things have become more and more frequent.

One more winter session was written off on the 2G scam.

Also,each time you do this,it facilitates your doing it the next time. The second point is,consider it from the point of view of the Opposition.You might say,they have brought coal into focus. But consider this: today there is no session of Parliament,what is the result? When a new fact is published by The Indian Express or The Times of India about some aspect of the coal scandal,then the focus is on that fact. But when Parliament was in session and it was not allowed to work on the pretext of the coal scam,what was the result? You helped the government divert the issue from coal to why Parliament is not being allowed to function. So even from a very narrow point of view,that was,in my view,counter-productive. Let me assure you that for 15-20 years now,we have been attending the elongated funeral rites of the parliamentary system.

Elongated funeral rites. That is a very strong expression.

Each person’s rationalisation is that ‘you did it too’. So if you say to the BJP today,they will say ‘the Congress did it (too)’,which is true. If you tell the Congress they (disrupted Parliament) during Bofors,they will say ‘you did it during the Tul Mohan Ram time’,as Inder Malhotra pointed out in the Express.

There’s even a worse progression in Parliament and outside—that is,this notion of adversarial politics,that whatever you do,I will block it. Look at the Bills in the education sector. I don’t have great sympathy for Kapil Sibal but irrespective of him,there are Bills and not one is allowed to be discussed or passed.

It impacts the future of millions of young Indians.

We are spending $4.5 billion every year for Indian students to study abroad.

That’s actually our import of higher education.

Right. If you did not do that,then with those crores,you can set up 80 IITs and IIMs every single year. And India can be a great hub for education.

And for that process to start,you need these Bills to pass.

Unfortunately,because of the socialist era,there are so many straitjackets into which every sector has been bound. The education sector is certainly one in which the licence-quota raj has not gone.

Much else is held up. Look at an issue like coal. The Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill is pending for 12 years.

Yashwant Sinha told me that the de-nationalisation Bill was drafted in 2000.

And it has been pending in the Rajya Sabha.

Yes. Similarly for auctioning,somebody says,no,this will be taxation and therefore,you cannot even have profit sharing and so on. How can we compete with China like this? I personally feel that one of the things people should focus on is the duty of the presiding officers.

You mean,the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the Vice-President?

Yes. Let us say some 20 or 50 MPs are in the well of the House. Firstly,that is wrong. Under the rules of the House,under the unanimous resolution passed by the Houses on the 50th Anniversary of Parliament,whenever anybody comes into the well of the House,the Speaker shall name him and he will be automatically suspended. The words used are,‘It is forbidden to raise slogans,it is forbidden to tear a document.’ Now,all this is happening. So,why don’t you name them? Second,supposing they are shouting and screaming and not letting the House function,why do you adjourn it? From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.,(the presiding officer) should just sit there—nicely,quietly,relax. Let them go on shouting and let the whole country see who is shouting,who is preventing the House from functioning. In three days,things will be different. So I plead (to the presiding officer) to abide by and enforce the rules,tire (the members) out and let the country see. Don’t leave the coverage of Parliament to a single Doordarshan-type channel. Let others also see so that you actually have faithful reporting of what is happening.

And don’t give MPs the protection of expunction. If they give gaali,then let the whole world know they give gaalis.

Absolutely.

We’ve got a book of unparliamentary expressions. If you go by that book,then most of what we have already discussed has already been expunged.

So when you expunge something,from whom are you hiding the cancer? From the people of India. When people used to come to blows in the Bihar Assembly,we used to say,arre yaar,Bihar hai,ya UP hai. Now when they come to blows in the Rajya Sabha,if I had anything to do with it,I would say,please focus (the camera),let them fight…let the country see what these fellows are making Parliament into.

And all of us have been defending the same Parliament against Team Anna’s attack on parliamentary institutions.

Yes,absolutely.

And they throw their privilege at you.

Somebody should take them all on privilege. ‘Privilege’ is to prevent the denigration of the sanctity of Parliament. So who is violating the privilege when he is coming into the well of the House or when he is having fisticuffs with another MP?

This is the city of conspiracy theories. The latest conspiracy theory is that the Congress was as much interested in Parliament not functioning as the BJP.

Whether it was their intention or not,it certainly served the interest of the Congress not to have a discussion in the House. Because the focus would then have been on the facts.

And the facts were damning enough.

Absolutely. Look at how some minister gives Rs 23,000 crore worth of coal mines to his brother and says I did not know that he was my brother or I did not know he had applied.

Are you surprised that your former colleagues—you have said for some time that you have nothing to do with the BJP,formally—chose this course (of paralysing Parliament)?

I am not surprised. Parties have enough lawyers in them,they can argue,they can give you 12 reasons for doing whatever they are doing,and tomorrow they will give 14 reasons for switching off what they were doing. So I am not surprised. Secondly,in all parties today,there is a sort of competitive radicalism. In the Congress,it is how to call BJP communal. In the BJP,it is how to show I am more anti-Congress or I am more determined to get to the bottom of the coal scandal and so on…

…Or how I can add one more zero to the scandal. Many BJP spokespersons now say the Commonwealth Games scandal is Rs 76,000 crore. The fact is,the total cost of the London Olympic Games is less than that.

Surjit Bhalla has written some wonderful articles puncturing the inflated figures. The other problem is that these large figures are not helping people to focus on corruption. They are legitimising corruption of a lower order. When you say so-and-so has made Rs 200 crore,(the reaction is) arre,what is Rs 200 crore when you have a Rs 1.86 lakh-crore scandal? Today,we don’t even open our eyes if it is less than Rs 1.86 lakh crore. So,these are counter-productive strategies.

How else could BJP have handled it?

They have very articulate people. They could have analysed these things. Is there a single fact which came out because of any Opposition party’s work?

Except for MP Hansraj Ahir,who has been writing these letters…

It was wonderful that he wrote these letters initially. It was a wonderful contribution to the country. Other than that,did the great leaders or anybody do any research on these matters? Can’t they set up a small unit to monitor the government,rather than relying on CAG’s printed reports and what some newspaper brings out in tomorrow’s headline? So that is one way they could have done it. Second,I feel there is a structural problem in these political parties now. Giani Zail Singh used to say there are two types of leaders in India.

In his prognosis of Punjab,he had said there are munde or juveniles,referring to Rajiv Gandhi and his group at that time,and gunde,as in militants,and you have to find a way of reconciling them.

So he said,there are two types of leaders in India. One,state leaders. He gave the example of Kamaraj,Vasantdada Patil,Atulya Ghosh. These leaders had feet in the state and power in the state. And in Delhi,the stateless leaders—VP Singh et al. You are running after these stateless leaders. That is the problem in all political parties.

Arun,you don’t spend much time in Delhi these days,you also stay out of the national discourse a little bit. But something seems to have provoked you this time to come and join back. Are you worried?

I am really worried about the state of the economy because there is a sort of disarray. We are now at the tip of yet another spiral downwards. Take the case of the economy. Individual industries are now coming under stress. They are actually silently laying off people,including in the media. That layoff will mean a spiral—that is,layoffs,then unionism increases,then strikes increase. Therefore you have a certain militancy of the 1970s and 80s coming back.

And we have seen some of that already,not far from Delhi,in Manesar.

In Manesar,maybe there was a local factor. But the general thing I find when I go to various factories in the country is that the waters are building up. Secondly,we are in a very difficult neighbourhood,as you know. I am sure one day Pakistan’s army will decide that the only way to deal with the militants we have created is to put them back into India. Similarly,China is going into great difficulties. Leadership transition,their property bubble may well explode,there is a great apprehension on that front. How will China react? Will they react like 1962 to the Great Leap Forward? I am really worried,especially since that is compounded by the decay of institutions.

And a million mutinies breaking out all over India.

Because there is no government,everybody is a government. So 15-20 people can force a Chief Minister to lower the level of water in a particular dam. And tomorrow,if drought persists and there is less drinking water,there will be another agitation on the opposite side.

Are you disappointed with what Shivraj Singh Chouhan has done?

I certainly feel that. My attitude to this direct action is,Dr Ambedkar has been vindicated. In his last speech to the Constituent Assembly,which was a wonderful speech,he said that we must stop this business of satyagraha and non-constitutional methods or extra-constitutional methods,because,he said,“this is the grammar of anarchy”. And that is what has happened. Every clutch of persons now feels that he can bring the state of India to a halt. And if you are a Chinese strategic expert,you think you will not be watching this?

And everybody is getting his share of power multiplied by the media.

Yes. As Mrs Thatcher used to say,“the oxygen of a terrorist is publicity”. The oxygen of these small little groups is also publicity. So one of the things that the media should do is just deny them their photo-ops.

A recent NDTV poll showed that 80 per cent people support nuclear power.

I opposed the nuclear deal with the US. I don’t know enough about nuclear power to say if it is good or bad. But there has to be a scientific forum for the assessment of that. If people say there are inadequate safety measures,let some group examine that. How can people on the street be knowledgeable on those matters? These are extremely technical matters. So even on direct action,we should really now think again. Second,we must give primacy to institutions,and third,you don’t have to worry too much about the government now. It is not going to change,it is working full time to prove its own worthlessness. The Opposition should now concentrate on convincing the country that it is a responsible group,that it can actually govern,that they have better ideas and that they have a better record of implementing those ideas. They should do these things rather than stopping an institution,which is worrisome.

When Arun speaks,everybody listens. And now particularly,when you speak as a non-partisan,although many of us would much rather have you in Parliament,and to get our Parliament functioning.

We look forward to our Parliament functioning.

All we can do is to resume a dialogue.

Yes,it is very important. I will give you one instance. People should go to YouTube and listen to (Bill) Clinton’s speech at the National Democratic Convention. He said,“We believe in working with everybody.” What an important message for us. Similarly,he said,“We have to prepare our people for the New Economy. The Old Economy is not coming back.” Here we are convincing ourselves that I can hold time by the hindlocks. Stop time? How can that be?

How can we stop fighting in this country when the main slogan is tum sangharsh karo,hum tumhare saath hain!

Everything is sangharsh. When everything is sangharsh,dialogue is impossible. Everybody in India today is a single-issue fundamentalist. And many of these lawyers and so on are fundamentalists of the issue which is convenient to them at that moment. It might go opposite tomorrow.

But we journalists can do what we can do best,which is to resume a dialogue,and hope it will carry on. One needs your intervention at times like this,just to kickstart the talking process. Otherwise,everybody goes back into their shells.

Transcribed by L Ramakrishnan

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