Skip to main content

Picking the wrong Issues

Following the May 2009 elections, which brought in a second term for the UPA administration, some analysts believed that working relations between the Congress Party and the BJP opposition, would finally turn more cordial. That would, in the least, facilitate better floor-coordination for important legislation and, national interests would over-ride petty political bickering. The previous term of Manmohan Singh’s government are well remembered for perpetual squabbling. The subsequent election campaign too involved frequent run-ins between Mr Singh and BJP leader LK Advani. Unhappily, things have not improved, and this time the blame would appear to lie largely on the BJP’s parliamentary leadership.

The BJP walk-out during the budget presentation over a fuel price hike was in shallow form. It seemed odd that even experienced lawmakers, who have unhindered access to information on government finances, would seek to gain inane political mileage over an issue of national interest. Whilst no one really likes to pay more for petrol, the government is not spoilt for choice. Ballooning fiscal imbalances are unsustainable and could undermine a hesitant recovery. Had they been in power, the BJP would probably have done the same thing. More recently, the BJP accused the Prime Minister of keeping parliament in the dark about secret parleys with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. This is an incredibly unusual charge as they must know that back-door channels are clearly a valuable medium for engagement between conflicting positions. The Prime Minister and his government are hardly in a situation to sign a clandestine deal and subsequently present it as fait accompli to parliament. Eventually, if progress is achieved and the time is right, parliament is bound to be informed and a political consensus arrived at. The BJP too may have, during their term in office, engaged in discussions with various trouble makers and kept Parliament unaware. Dialogue on sensitive issues that is open to public scrutiny cannot make progress.

The BJP’s parliamentary leadership appears to be groping. Instead of picking real issues to challenge government (such as delivery of services; tardy execution of the NREGS; delays in infrastructure projects; cost over-runs on government sponsored schemes; etc) their energies are being wasted on pointless things in the hope of gaining political mileage. On the contrary, they even seem to be alienating their once strong middle-class constituency. Beginning with the expulsion of Jaswant Singh on charges as futile as free expression, their actions progressively reflect a desperate entity unable to come to terms with its dwindling popularity. The party’s parliamentary leadership has not only undermined the little that remains of its declining stock, but also performed a disservice to the nation by failing in its duty of providing political challenge on pertinent issues. Amusingly, the very people who had relentlessly accused Congress Party General Secretary, Rahul Gandhi, of lacking in political maturity are setting benchmarks in what constitutes imprudence. Mr Gandhi on the other hand, comes across as sincere. Moreover, his political instincts have evolved, giving his party the strength to take on challenges. He is gradually being recognised as Prime Minister substance – the BJP on the other hand, has no one acceptable on the national stage, that can fit this bill. In the company of bumbling regional politicians, seeking to make mountains out of trivial mounds, the Leader of the Opposition only undermines the credibility of a constitutional office.

Constructive opposition in our form of parliamentary democracy is as essential as effective government. This involves, supporting a consensus on strategic and economic issues, and challenging the administration where it has genuinely failed. If the BJP really applied their minds they would find no shortages on this score. Everyone expected them to serve this purpose. Perhaps there is hope yet as their new President Nitin Gadkari settles into Delhi and begins to exert his influence on parliamentary matters. But for now, the functioning of the opposition – or perhaps the lack of it – leaves the nation at a loss.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

All the Prime Minister's Men

The composition of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet would suggest a desire to resume the process of reforms, which had practically stalled during his somewhat uninspiring previous term. It is also indicative of a more assertive Congress Party within the larger coalition of the United Progressive Alliance. The Congress has retained key economic ministries and also taken control of other important ones that were previously with their allies. With Pranab Mukherjee at the Treasury, P Chidambaram at Home and AK Antony at Defence, three crucial departments appear to be in the most capable hands.

Mr Mukherjee, possibly the senior most member of the Singh administration, has over the years served in various positions in the government. He was India’s Finance Minister between 1982 and 1984 in the Indira Gandhi cabinet and brings to the table considerable technical competence and robust political acumen. Disinvestment of state-owned enterprises; financial sector reform; the implementati…

The Employment Conundrum

Over the last three months, I have had the opportunity of engaging with our clients across various forums and cities. What provided a platform for this interaction was my briefing on four critical initiatives that we believe will, if properly implemented, serve as game changers with a palpable impact on economic output. The question that consistently came up almost everywhere was on the perception of jobless growth and consequently, rising unemployment within India. This has possibly been based on recent press reports and television debates that consistently cite certain headline statistics. These suggest a fall in employment levels between 2011-12 and 2015-16 compared to vigorous growth in earlier years, since 2004-05. Even on the surface, this conclusion does not gel fittingly with other statistics. For instance, indirect tax collections and consumption expenditure, which are both proxies of aggregate spending and wellbeing, do not corroborate falling employment. Tax collections ha…

Uday: a federalist success story

At our 21st Annual CEO Roundtable in Thimphu last week, there was spirited debate over the performance of the current administration. A participant suggested that the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (Uday), a scheme to reform India’s downstream power sector, for all its fanfare was actually a failure of sorts and that India’s renewable energy programme, specifically on solar energy, was lacking on many counts. Whilst it was my intuitive belief that both claims were unsympathetic, I thought it would perhaps be in order to examine the facts in detail and subsequently provide an assessment. This paper, accordingly, presents an analysis of the first of the two issues – the Uday programme. The second will be addressed in a subsequent piece.
The electricity distribution crisis: background
Electricity distribution has been disastrously managed over the last three decades and in 2015 was on the verge of absolute collapse. Under-priced power, operational inefficiency, broken equipment, rampant th…