The same failure

CBI-law minister controversy frames a sobering pattern involving government,opposition,courts

Written by The Indian Express | Published: April 30, 2013 12:41:25 am

CBI-law minister controversy frames a sobering pattern involving government,opposition,courts

The controversy over the law minister’s vetting of the CBI’s status report on coal block allocations,against the explicit instruction of the apex court,perfectly mirrors the UPA’s standard operating procedure when confronted with evidence of its own impropriety or misdemeanour. By all accounts,instead of removing the law minister,the government has decided to brazen it out,unless the court issues a public reprimand. Be it the allocation of 2G spectrum or coal blocks,the UPA’s first instinct is to dismiss the accusation outright,or offer a perfunctory explanation. As incriminating details pile up,it goes silent. And then it waits for the court to move the issue forward,instead of offering a credible rationale for its policy decisions,or taking prompt and proactive action against errant ministers or officials.

The opposition,particularly the BJP,also contributes to the dysfunctional pattern. It undermines its own effectiveness by making its first response an apocalyptic one. It demands the prime minister’s resignation,to begin with and in every instance. Instead of weighing information,choosing its battles and strategising judiciously,it gives the impression of seizing every wisp of opportunity to obstruct Parliament,rather than demanding accountability through it. Its positions are often inconsistent with its own behaviour in office,and in many cases,including coal allocation,the BJP’s record is tangled with that of the Congress. Its all-or-nothing rhetoric dilutes its credibility,even when it has genuine grounds for protest — it is difficult to determine whether it is agitating for the public interest or merely being opportunistic.

The third element in the dismal pattern is related to the abdications of government and opposition. Increasingly,an unelected institution,the judiciary,is compelled to intervene and set the terms. Slowly,but inexorably,decision-making is shifting out of the democratic arena because of the executive’s failure to defend its judgments and admit errors,and to justify itself to the public. The legislature,too,has been rendered ineffective in wresting that justification on the floor of the House. As a result,courts often appear to overstep their bounds,dictating policy,as happened in the 2G case before the presidential reference corrected matters. The judiciary’s growing tendency to venture and trespass into other domains is directly related to the inabilities and lapses of the political forces,in government and in opposition.

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