Monday, February 24, 2014

Preventing a repeat of the disaster...

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:

“Worst Lok Sabha ever“; “Democracy at its worst” – since the last one week, there has been no dearth of these headlines. Every single news outlet in the country has used these headlines, maybe the description changed, but the essence remained the same. But not a single news outlet took the name of the Leader of the Lok Sabha (Pranab Mukherjee earlier, and Sushilkumar Shinde now); not one of them took the name of the Speaker of the House; not one of them took the name of the Prime Minister; and lastly, not one of them took the name of the UPA chairperson. It is only to the credit of Indian media that they can dedicate reams of pages and hours of coverage on a topic like “Worst Lok Sabha ever” and not mention a word about those who were incharge of it becoming the “worst ever”. They haven’t even mentioned the amount of time lost because members of the ruling party themselves obstructed the proceedings.
One of the prime reasons for this outrage are the latest developments in the last Session – an MP used a pepper spray; and the live telecast of the Telangana Bill was blacked out. In an earlier article, I explained why these are not the worst things to have happened in this Session. Much worse things have transpired; a dangerous precedence has been set that threatens to destroy the federal fabric of the country too. One leader’s will ensured that a very important Bill was bulldozed through Parliament; caught in a quagmire, the Opposition had no choice but to follow suit.
Recently, on NWR Live, a talk show was hosted in which a very important topic was discussed – Should the Governments be allowed to bulldoze such important Bills in the last six months of their tenure? I made a point that any Bill, whose financial and administrative burden has to borne by the next Government should not be taken up in the last 6 months of the incumbent Government. My friend, KVJ Sarma, has explained in more detail in his blog, on what the learnings of his disastrous Session are. And he has also given his take on what kind of Bills should not be taken up – Any Bill that proposes Constitutional Amendments; that imposes emergency – internal or external; that introduces new reservations in legislature, UPSC, SPCSs; that entails reorganisation of States.
I wish to underline a few more points before going into other specifics on what additional learnings we need to take from this disastrous Lok Sabha. Venkaih Naidu gave a detailed interview in one of the regional channels – ABN Andhra Jyothy. One of the key advantages of watching interviews on regional channels compared to the famed “national” channels, is that our anchors go into detailed specifics. In this interview, a volley of questions were posed to Venkaiah Naidu’s, which included the unconditional support of the party in the Lok Sabha; the Amendments proposed in the Rajya Sabha; why the Bill had to be passed through such a hurry etc. If you are a Telugu speaking person, chances are you must have already seen this. I will summarise a couple of key arguments that Venkaiah Naidu made:
Question 1: When the BJP (especially Sushma Swaraj) was constantly announcing that they will pass the Bill only after a debate; that there must be order in the House that representatives of AP must participate in the debate; that they don’t agree that the Bill was introduced – what changed so drastically – as to abjectly give in to the Government, and pass the Bill after just 23 minutes of discussion.
Answer 1: Venkaiah Naidu’s answer simply exposed the arrogance and incompetence of the Congress. In a meeting, the Congress representatives agreed to bring back the suspended MP’s to the Lok Sabha, provided the BJP takes the responsibility of ensuring that they will not enter the well of the House and participate in the debate. Have you ever heard of such a lame argument by an incumbent Government? The protesting MPs are from the Congress, but the BJP must ensure they don’t create a din.
uble standards on this Bill. After Sushma Swaraj made the announcement that they don’t consider the Bill to be introduced, there was some unrest in Telangana region. So, they had no option but to go back on that demand.  After steadfastly committing itself to formation of Telangana, there was no way the BJP could get away with such fine nuance – that this Bill is a bad Bill. Congress gave everyone literally two days to agree or disagree – either you are for the Bill or against; there is no other way. He also gave other instances of how the Congress went back on other promises during discussions on how to debate the Bill.
Even assurances that Jairam Ramesh gave to them in writing were not included in the Bill – something that the party could not digest. He looked uncomfortable talking about the Lok Sabha strategy, so moved on to the strategy adopted in Rajya Sabha, of which he was a key player. There was at least some semblance of a detailed debate in the Rajya Sabha. Venkaiah Naidu explained how many members and colleagues became better informed when he was presenting some facts in the debate – a debate the Government did not want in the first place.
Question 2: How good are the Amendments proposed and the how believable are the assurances given by the Government?
Answer 1: Venkaiah Naidu said that they are not fully satisfied with the assurances and when they come to power, they will ensure Seemandhra gets “justice”. Though the credibility of this Government is at an all time low, the BJP had to choose between believing them or voting against the Bill – and they took a call.
This interview got me thinking – what exactly can be done to avoid such a disastrous precedent in the near future? The Congress knew that the BJP will have no option but to support this Bill, however, bad it is. It knew it had the upper hand if the Bill was not passed in Parliament – a game that the BJP could not anticipate. Should the splitting up of a State that is not yet ready for the change, take place in such an acrimonious and unhealthy manner? Should Opposition parties be in such a helpless position? This fiasco would have been averted if the rules were much more clearer. The only way to ensure that this fiasco is not repeated or used a precedent for any future decision on re-organising State boundaries, the rules must be changed and made very clear:
1. A State Re-organisation Bill must be considered only if an SRC recommends so; if the Assembly recommends so; if a committee headed by a judge recommends so. (None of this happened in the case of the AP Reorg Bill. Infact, the Sri Krishna Committee recommended to keep the State united. The Government has not explained why they rejected the finding of this committee)
2. A State Re-organisation Bill must be debated in each House for one full day (8 working hours).
3. At least 50 per cent of members from the State must be given a chance to speak and propose Amendments.
4. The views of the Assembly must be taken into account and a detailed explanation has to be given by the Government as to why recommendations of the Assembly have been rejected, if any.
5. If any Amendments proposed by members are rejected, the Government must explain why it is doing so, on the floor of the House.
6. A State Re-organisation Bill cannot be introduced in the last 6 months of the tenure of incumbent Government.
It is imperative on our part to insist that the “Worst Lok Sabha ever” doesn’t repeat its performance. One of the key reasons for this “worst” performance is the arrogance of the leadership – that they can simply get away by the existing rules. Even when the Opposition is fighting for legitimate debates, the ruling party did not care for procedural issues – it merely resorted to rhetoric and set up a very bad precedent. It becomes incumbent on the part of the next Government to ensure no Government in the future can resort to such tactics – the procedure must be set in stone; not changed whimsically to suit the fancies of arrogant political leaders.
A fellow tweeter, Srikanth (@Modi4India), commented that “gone are those days when we used to sit in front of the TV to watch engaging debates in Parliament”. We can bring back those days – only the will and the implementation of changes of rules are required. In this article, I discussed only about one Bill, but this has been the story of pretty much every Bill in this Session. Let’s hope the next Government heeds to this clarion call – there should not be a repeat performance of the 15th Lok Sabha ever.


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