February 09, 2014

Prevent Cynical Manipulation of Parliament

THE last session of the parliament before the forthcoming 15th general elections to the country has begun as we go to press. The manner in which this session has been conceived and structured, created apprehensions at the outset about the government's intentions to use this session more as a launch pad for its election campaign, rather than to transact business to implement important, long-standing, pending legislations, particularly those aimed at providing relief to the already beleaguered vast mass of the people. The way the first day of the session has unfolded, has only confirmed this. The manner in which the principal opposition party, the BJP acted on the first day, confirmed its own efforts to use this session likewise, to launch its election campaign. It is therefore most likely that this session will end without transacting any business that could have provided the much needed relief for our people. In this background, the decision of 11 secular, opposition parties, opposed to both the Congress led UPA and the BJP led NDA, to come together and announce that they shall coordinate their efforts and function as a secular opposition bloc in the parliament, assumes significance. This relates to both, concerted effort to transact business in the interests of the people and the country and, secondly, as a pointer towards the future direction that must emerge from the current political churning that is taking place in the country. Apart from the four Left parties, the CPI(M), CPI, RSP and the Forward Bloc, the Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United), Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, Janata Dal (Secular), Asom Gana Parishad and the Jharkhand Vikas Manch together addressed a joint press conference to this effect. First, consider how the government had conceived this session. Normally, our constitution ordains that the first session of the parliament in every calendar year would be addressed by the president of India at a joint sitting of both the houses. This session is the normal budget session of the parliament. Once the president addresses, the first item on the agenda of both the houses is to mandatorily discuss and adopt a motion of thanks to the president. Members of both houses can move amendments to the president's address, as this is approved by the union cabinet and is considered as a balance sheet of the government's performance during the last year. This procedure normally requires a structured discussion and adoption of the motion by both the houses separately. Clearly, the government wanted to avoid this, in order to prevent a scathing justifiable attack on its policies that have both heaped miseries on the people and undermined the economic sovereignty of our country. Thus, the government chose to technically treat this session as the continuation of the last winter session, thereby technically negating the need for the president to address the joint session and the associated procedural formalities. Though according to the letter of the constitution, the government can take recourse to such subterfuge, it constitutes a gross violation of the spirit of the constitution. The UPA-2 government, in its utter desperation, has thus chosen to violate our constitutional sanctity. At the routine all party meeting preceding the beginning of any parliamentary session, the government informed that there are 39 pending legislations to be considered in a session consisting of a mere 12 days for legislative business. This in itself was an absurdity, which could never be achievable. However the government could not dispense with this session altogether, even if it so desired, as no funds could be drawn from the consolidated fund of India for routine governmental expenditures and most importantly for the conduct of the general elections, if parliamentary sanction for withdrawal from the consolidated fund is not given prior to April 1. The parliament hence needs to pass a vote-on-account, authorising the withdrawal of funds in accordance with the last year's budgetary allocations, for the first four months of the financial year ending July 31, 2014. Before this, the next government is duty bound to present a full fledged budget. It is under these compulsions that this session has been convened. The real intentions of the government however, became evident when on the first day it moved for the introduction of the Prevention of the Communal Violence Bill. Such a Bill was on the anvil from 2004 and was part of the common minimum programme of the UPA-1. The CPI(M) had objected to the draft Bill then on two counts. First, the draft went beyond communal violence to encompass all forms of violence that could include tensions arising out of caste, regional, labour disputes etc. Second, that draft contained provisions that blatantly transgressed the constitutional rights of the duly elected state governments as contained in the federal principles, one of the fundamental features, or a basic structure of our constitution. After considerable deliberations in the parliamentary standing committee, the government was to have brought an amended Bill, taking care of both these valid objections. The UPA’s prevarications ensured that the amended Bill was not brought to the parliament for ten long years. It was suddenly presented to the Rajya Sabha without adequate consultations with political parties, leading to legitimate protests against the violations of our constitutional federal structure. The CPI(M) had clearly stated that while it fully supports the need for such a Bill and its provisions to prevent communal violence, speedy compensation for the victims and delivery of justice by acting firmly against the perpetrators of such violence, the federal structure cannot be compromised, leave alone violated. Instead of meeting these legitimate concerns, the government chose to have the Bill deferred by the Chair. This exposes its real intentions. Its effort is to take the issue to the people in the election campaign by saying that its determination to adopt such a legislation was thwarted by the opposition. The whole country knows that the BJP, with its communal agenda, seeks to sharpen communal polarisation and hence, would obstruct any such legislation. However, the government's reluctance to address the legitimate concerns of the secular opposition parties, many of whose credentials like the CPI(M) and the Left are above any iota of doubt on this aspect, betrays its intentions to use this as an electoral issue rather than act against the perpetrators of communal violence as well as providing speedy relief, compensation and rehabilitation for the victims. Such cynical use of this parliament session to further its electoral campaign, will surely dominate the rest of the proceedings of this session. On the agenda the government has placed before the parliament, are six Bills aimed at combating corruption, laid out as the agenda by the Congress party’s newly anointed election campaign in-charge. Needless to say that this session does not have the required time to consider and adopt these legislations. The UPA-2 government may seek to pass these Bills without any discussion and in the midst of a 'din'. Even otherwise, it will shamelessly seek to propagate that while it was interested in such legislations, the opposition prevented it and therefore it is the opposition parties who patronise corruption! The CPI(M) and many other secular opposition parties had warned the government, particularly the Congress party, that unless it puts its house in order on the contentious Bill for the creation of a separate state of Telangana, this session will witness a complete disruption by the sharply divided sections of MPs belonging to the Congress party itself. This has not been done and this appears to be in accordance with the Congress party’s game-plan to have the parliament face continuous disruption. In the ensuing din, the Congress party and the government, appear intent to pass what they wish to and to use the other proposals to convey an impression to the people that while they are sincere to further peoples' interests, they are being prevented to do so. This they hope will fetch them some electoral dividends. It is in this background, in order to prevent such cynical manipulation of the parliament that these 11 secular, opposition parties have decided to strengthen their floor coordination against the Congress and the communal forces represented by the BJP, in the parliament. Further, the leaders of such parties, addressing a press conference jointly, announced that such parliamentary floor coordination will proceed further to draw up an alternative policy direction for the country, which will provide the much needed relief to the people on the one hand, and, on the other, rejuvenate the Indian economy and thus the country. The Left parties had already outlined an alternative policy trajectory for the country in July 2013. Keeping in mind the historical experience of coalitional governments in India in the last few decades, when on every occasion a government was formed on the basis of a front that only emerged post-elections (for example, Janata Party in 1977, United Front in 1996, NDA in 1998 and 1999, UPA in 2004 etc), the leaders of these secular parties announced that while there would be no pre-electoral front, these parties would nevertheless arrive at an electoral understanding in various states. They further asserted that this alternative policy trajectory will be their leader and not any individual that would be their future prime ministerial candidate as being tom-tommed, for instance, by the BJP. The current political churning in the country must take a direction of an alternate policy trajectory in the interests of both our Republic's secular, democratic foundations and for creating a better livelihood for our people. Emphasizing the CPI(M)’s support to and the urgent need for the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill’s objectives, the leader of the CPI(M) Group said in the Rajya Sabha on February 5, 2014, “On this issue of communal violence etc, there can be little dispute. The question is of the competence of the legislature to enter or encroach upon the rights of the State. This is the issue.” (February 5, 2014)