(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 12, 2013
Govt Responsible for Parliamentary Impasse
AS we go to press, the Supreme Court has expressed its strong displeasure at the government’s interference in the CBI’s probe on allocation of coal mines. It questioned the credibility of the CBI calling for a thorough qualitative investigation. It asked the government to make the CBI impartial and ensure that it functions “free of all external pressures”. Expressing its displeasure, the apex court said that “the heart of the (CBI) report was changed on the suggestions of government officials”. In a strong statement on the functioning of the CBI, it said, “It is a sordid saga that there are many masters and one parrot” and said that the CBI was like a “caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice”.
Making the law minister’s continuation in office much more untenable, the Bench observed that the minister can ask for a report but cannot interfere with the court. In an attempt to defend himself, the Attorney General, who had earlier deposed that the government has not interfered in the CBI’s report, said “My meeting with the CBI officials took place only on suggestions of the law minister”. Given this, the law minister cannot continue to remain in office and he must go.
Perhaps anticipating such comments from the apex court, the government decided to abort the ongoing budget session of the parliament by adjourning it sine die today. The second half of the budget session was a complete wash out. Of the eleven scheduled sittings, the Lok Sabha could not function on a single day. The Rajya Sabha began a discussion on the serious issue of the rape of a child in Delhi on April 22 and the overall rise in sexual crimes against women but could not conclude the debate. It lost ten out of the eleven sittings.
Such a pathetic situation has arisen out of the UPA-2 government’s decision to brazen out its acts of commission and omission that kept tumbling out of its cupboard in rapid succession. The budget session began with the government brazenly defending the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha (who is not part of the government) over the allegations of his role in the Kerala Suryanelli sex scandal. Such brazenness continued with the government, through the chairman of the Joint Parliament Committee on the 2G spectrum scam, preparing a report which is a complete cover-up. Even before the report was circulated to the members of the JPC, it was leaked to the media. Eventually, the Lok Sabha speaker had to extend the time of the JPC to present a report till the end of the monsoon session.
On all issues of corruption that surfaced, like the coal block allocation and the appointment of high level officers in the railways, the government refused to accept the legitimate demand that the law minister and the railway minister should resign. The latter demand was rejected on the grounds that investigations are still on. How can any proper investigation proceed with the railway minister himself presiding over the ministry? Any investigation has to be publicly perceived as being unbiased. Such public trust is undermined by the Congress party’s brazenness.
Interestingly, the Federation of Railway Officer’s Associations, after reports of the minister’s nephew accepting bribes in return for postings surfaced has written to the cabinet secretary with a copy to the principal secretary to the prime minister a letter detailing the complete lack of transparency and the manipulations in the postings of senior officials in the Indian Railways and pleaded their intervention to help repair systems in Indian Railways and restore its old glory. And, yet, the railway minister continues to remain in office!
Following the apex court’s observations, some resignations may follow. This however, totally distorts our constitutional scheme of things, both on the issues of the delicate balance and separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary and in the exercise of the centrality of our constitution where supreme sovereignty lies with the people. “We the people” exercise this sovereignty through our elected representatives who are accountable to them and to whom the executive is in turn accountable to. This chain of accountability is now being grievously distorted. When parliamentary functioning is paralysed its mandate to make the executive accountable to it fails. This in turn distorts the parliament’s accountability to the people, thus undermining the very foundation of our constitution.
The current parliamentary impasse raises this fundamental question of how the very organs of power vested to implement the constitution themselves subvert it. When the parliament cedes its ground and when the executive abdicates its responsibility, then blaming the judiciary for ‘activism’ is futile.
The paralysis of the parliament crucially breaks the linkage that is central to our constitutional scheme of things. The BJP, by disrupting the parliament demanding the resignation of the prime minister, has played into the hands of the government which found this very convenient to avoid being accountable. On many of the scams like the 2G spectrum or Coalgate, the earlier NDA government also has many acts of commission and omission to conceal. Thus, once again, there appears to be an element of match fixing here.
There is a serious issue involved here. The executive and the legislature are given responsibility under the constitution to manage public affairs and in the final analysis be accountable to the people. Accountability, in fact, differentiates democracy from other systems of governance. It is precisely the abdication of such accountability that we are seeing now.
Such grievous distortions of our constitutional schemes of things need immediate correction. The government of the day cannot be allowed to continue being non-accountable to the parliament. This requires the parliament to function properly. This in turn requires of the government to accept the legitimate demands of the opposition, as in this case, the resignation of the concerned ministers. Much of the disruption can be avoided if the government rises to the occasion to consider the issues raised by the opposition. At the same time, unreasonable demands by the opposition should also not be allowed to stall parliamentary proceedings. Indeed, the time has come for us to seriously consider an amendment to the constitution mandating a compulsory at least a hundred days of parliamentary sittings in a calendar year.
As a result of such disruption of parliament, the government has managed to get its most indefensible anti-people budget proposals approved without any debate or dissent. Many important issues that should have been raised, debated and the government forced to act could not be taken up by the parliament. The issues raised during the CPI(M)’s Sangharsh Sandesh Jatha directly connected with improving people’s livelihood could not be raised. The unprecedented drought in vast parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and other regions that have forced lakhs of farmers to migrate could not be raised. The crucial issues of price rise, money laundering by private and public sector banks as exposed in the Cobrapost sting operation, unsubsidised diesel price for bulk consumers like railways and public road transport which hikes the transportation costs for bulk of our people, the fraudulent activities of micro finance corporations and chit fund operators ruining the life of lakhs of people and leading to many suicides etc and a host of issues related to foreign policy could not be taken up.
These issues will now have to be taken up in powerful people’s mobilisations outside of the parliament to force the government to take decisions that will improve the livelihood conditions of the vast majority of our population. The forthcoming countrywide mass picketing programme called by the CPI(M) in the second half of May must be the theatre for such powerful popular people’s struggles.
(May 8, 2013)