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Between the line

PM bats on sticky wicket
December 22, 2010


WHEN the efficacy of parliamentary system is doubted in a democratic polity, the finger may well be pointed at governance. The rulers make a mess of things and blame the system. This is what has been happening in India which, otherwise, remains an open society. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remark that he is “worried over the future of parliamentary system” in the country is misplaced and speaks more of his government’s failure than the system.

No doubt, the winter session of parliament has been a washout and both the houses were stalled for 21 days (224 hours and 40 minutes), a record of sorts in India’s parliamentary history. Yet the problem is not the failure of the system. Both the ruling Congress and the opposition could not agree upon a mechanism to probe into the 2G spectrum concerning mobile telephones. (The scam runs into an abnormal figure of Rs 175-lakh crore, $12 billion).

There has naturally been a countrywide debate on corruption. Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s attack on the BJP does not absolve the Congress because both the parties are corrupt in the public estimate. One was found guilty when it ruled for six years from 1998 to 2004 and the other since then.

The Congress has stuck to its stand that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by an opposition leader, is the best authority to hold an inquiry. The opposition which includes the Left has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe. The BJP was first alone but then the government’s obduracy led other parties, including the Left, join a common front to have a comprehensive investigation by the JPC.

Probably, it would have been better if the PAC had come to be accepted because the JPCs in the past have not done an effective job. But is the inquiry by the JPC such an impossible proposition that the Prime Minister should go to the extent of questioning the parliamentary system? The United Progress Alliance (UPC), headed by the Congress, has a majority in the JPC. But it is a divided house now. The more the Congress opposes the JPC, the firmer becomes the conviction that the party wants to hide something because the JPC is an open-ended inquiry.

The Prime Minister’s “worry” ventilated before the press is not an off-the-cuff remark. He did not say anything for 21 days when the two houses did not transact any business. That he should now doubt the future of parliamentary system is indeed disconcerting. The standoff in parliament is nothing new. I was in the Rajya Sabha when the Congress had stalled the proceedings for nearly two weeks. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, never said that the parliamentary system was in jeopardy.

In fact, Manmohan Singh’s “worry” tantamount a threat to the political parties that the parliamentary system could undergo a change if the Congress stance is not accepted. The situation may worsen because opposition leader Sushma Swaraj from the BJP has said that the confrontation may spill over to the Budget session. This should be a warning for the ruling party that it has to either break the opposition unity or think of reaching a consensus.

Otherwise, the Congress must consider going back to the people to ask for a verdict on its stand. A mid-term poll, when the present Lok Sabha has still another three years to go, is a hard choice to make. Yet there is no option when both sides do not want to resile from their position. There is no other way out in a democratic society.

In fact, the Prime Minister should be more concerned what Wikileaks has revealed in the assessment US ambassador David C. Mulford conveyed to the State Department on the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai. He has said that a section of the Congress leadership was seen playing religious politics after one of its leaders, A.R. Antulay, implied that Hindutva forces may have been involved in the attack. The Congress explanation is that it cannot react until Mulford’s cable is authenticated. This is neither here, nor there. Probably, the party felt that way. Unfortunately, the State Department is not willing to either to confirm or deny on Mulford’s communication.

The suspicion gets strengthened when Congress secretary-general Digvijay Singh, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, says a few hours before Mulford’s cable became public that police officer Hemant Karkare, who was killed during the 26/11 rang him up (Digivjay Singh) hours before the attack began to say that he (Karkare) had received death threats. The people threatening him, Karkare said, were those opposed to his probe in which Hindu groups were allegedly involved. Mystery deepens when Mumbai Police allege that there was no call made to Divijay Singh according to its records. Digvijay Singh sticks to his statement that he did receive the call.

Karkare’s wife has justifiably criticised Digvijay Singh for politicising the terrorists’ attack. He has not withdrawn his words and has stuck to the line that Karkare was “harassed by the BJP leaders.” It is true that the Congress has distanced itself from Digvijay Singh’s disclosure. But that is not enough. The Manmohan Singh government must look into Digivjay Singh’s charge which is very serious and has wider implications.

More so because two years ago, Congress minister Antulay had said: “They (terrorists) had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know. Karkare found that there are non-Muslims involved in the act of terrorism in some cases. There is more than what meets the eye.” Antulay was a member of Manmohan Singh’s cabinet in the first term. He did not question him, nor was there any action taken on his allegation. Antulay was defeated at the polls and hence it cannot be said that he was not included in the new ministry because of his allegation. Still, the charge remains hanging.

The BJP is understandably angry. It has attacked Digvijay Singh for “helping Pakistan and Ajmal Kasab.” The RSS too has made some harsh remarks against Digvijay Singh. Since he continues to stick to his charge, the Congress-led government, for his credibility sake, has to entrust the matter to a Supreme Court judge who should have his own special investigation team as has been done in certain cases of mayhem in Gujarat in 2006. They were closed by the Narendra Modi’s government.

The parliamentary system sustains confidence when people know, particularly the minorities, that those who indulge in killings and excesses will not go unpunished. The Prime Minister’s worry should be on this point, not on the deadlock in parliament that a democratic nation can take in its stride.

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