Collusive Conflict

Prime Ministers do not resign just because the Opposition demands so.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published: August 26, 2012 2:06:55 am

Prime Ministers do not resign just because the Opposition demands so. The Vajpayee government lost a confidence vote but came back. Deve Gowda exited due to coalition pressures as did Morarji Desai. The fragile coalition governments of the 1990s lost outside support and ended. Thus the BJP knows it is on a quixotic mission when it demands the resignation of Dr Manmohan Singh. What would have been more effective was a Lok Sabha in which the Prime Minister’s response to the charges in the CAG report could be heard in complete silence. That would see an effective Parliament. What has happened again and again is a dysfunctional Parliament,which fails to do the job for which the people of India elected them.

Why do they do this? After all,the BJP leadership knows everything I mentioned above. They must have known that making a ruckus,which leads to adjournment,will get the government off the hook. Add to this,the mass resignation from the JPC which is on the cards. The BJP has given the government a carte blanche. There is even a rumour that all BJP MPs may resign en masse and cause by-elections. If they do that,they can only hope to weaken themselves and increase the UPA’s numbers. It is a rare example of turkeys praying for Christmas.

When intelligent people behave in a baffling way,one has to look for a more subtle explanation. Political parties in India like ruling but hate being accountable. Thus a disrupted Parliament is a must-have item. BJP hopes to be back in power some day and then it will need a disrupted Parliament just as much as the Congress now needs it. Any party,which hopes to be in power,wants a dysfunctional Parliament.

Over the years,the Indian system has converted the Westminster Parliamentary system into a caricature of itself. British Parliament acts to check the executive as much from its own backbench members as from the Opposition. Debates take on a forensic quality and the government is forced to change policy. No British Prime Minister has resigned in the last sixty-seven years because of a debate in Parliament but Margaret Thatcher,who never recovered from the debate about Scott Report on arms sale to Arab rulers. Indian Parliamentary system has over the years shunned open constructive debate about serious issues. Most things get decided in Standing Committees. Worse still,major decisions are taken at all party meetings and brought to Parliament pre-packaged as is about to be the case with the impending Constitutional Amendment to introduce reverse discrimination in promotions for SC/ST. This has happened before when the percentage reservations were suddenly raised because Arjun Singh wanted it. Only the Supreme Court guards the Constitution while Parliament eagerly subverts it by amendments.The insidious thing about all party conclaves off the floor of the House is that the leaders strike a deal which the backbenchers are forced to vote for,thanks to the anti-defection legislation. If anyone wants to reduce corruption in Indian politics,the target should be the Tenth Schedule,which has stifled real dissent. Most recently the coalition government in UK was forced to abandon the House of Lords Reform Bill because of opposition from its own backbenchers. It may be a good or bad thing but it showed that backbenchers may have stronger views than their leaders wish to impose on them. If that were possible in Lok Sabha,I bet the OBC based parties would put a stop to the proposed amendment which seeks to nullify a Supreme Court judgment about discrimination in promotions for SC/ST.

It is in this sense that there is collusion in the Indian political system beneath the façade of conflict. Parliament fails to do its job and lets the executive run rampant. Now,however,due to its own internal compulsions,the UPA government is as paralysed as the Lok Sabha is. The next coalition is unlikely to be stronger. Ultimately,indecision in the executive as well as the legislature harms the nation.

This is why increasingly the Supreme Court is the only institution which makes decisions. And it will have to make more. Parliament will then reverse them. So it goes on.

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