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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 51, December 10, 2011

Logjam broken in Parliament, but...


Monday 12 December 2011, by SC

After several days of deadlock with Parliament unable to transact any business due to Opposition protests on various issues, including and notably FDI in retail, the logjam has finally been broken with the UPA Government giving in to the BJP and Left’s insistence against operationalising FDI in multi-brand retail. The government’s latest decision, spelt out in the Lok Sabha by Leader of the House and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, agrees to keep the original permission granted for 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail “suspended till a consensus is developed among various stakeholders”. Obviously this is not a reversal as the Left in particular was demanding, even though sections in Left parties have described this as a “virtual rollback”.

Pushed to the wall the government was forced to step back in order to let Parliament function. Hence it is now more than transparent that the Treasury Benches alone were responsible for the logjam and once under intense pressure, mounted by the united Opposition reflecting the public mood against the FDI proposal in this vital area that would have thrown countless people (retailers) out of employment, it was compelled to retreat thus bringing Parliament back to normal. Of course the corporate world has articulated its “deep disappointment” at the turn of events but there is wide public appreciation for the Opposition role as well as the dogged resistance offered by the Congress’ allies in the UPA like the Trinamul Congress whose supremo stood like a rock in her consistent defence of the interests of the aam aadmi the Congress had chosen to ignore and jettison.

Cooperation of all sides is necessary to make up for lost time especially when as many as 31 Bills have been lined up for adoption in this winter session. However, apprehensions of more fireworks continue to haunt both the Houses if the proposed Lokpal Bill falls far short of the expectations of not just Team Anna but the major Opposition parties as well. Hopefully saner counsels would eventually prevail on all sides.

Meanwhile an indignant youth’s assault on Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has been magnified beyond proportion by the media in the light of Anna Hazare’s ill-advised comments. At the same time Telecommunication Minister Kapil Sibal’s hint at policing the web has been roundly decried by social media companies as also the people at large with The Times of India aptly observing:

The internet, by its very nature, is something of a wild west environment. Look hard enough and you are bound to find something that will qualify as objectionable to one group or another. The question is whether it’s truly an issue worth focussing on at a time when the government is facing any number of pressing problems of far greater relevance to the common man, and the entire legislative machinery seems to have ground to a halt.

The recently-held international conference on Afghanistan, attended by a thousand delegates from as manyas 100 countries in Bonn, has pledged sustained assistance to that country for at least a decade post-2014 when foreign combatant troops are to leave the region. This is an expression of renewed commitment by the international community at a time the prospect of the Taliban overruning the territory is most potent. Nevertheless, the absence of Pakistan at the conference because of the Islamabad Government’s decision to boycott the meet in protest against the NATO airstrikes on the Pakistani landmass in the Afghan-Pakistan border region that killed scores of Pakistanis has complicated matters with the US yet to tender an unconditional apology beyond conveying regret for the incident.

Against this backdrop the possibility of a coup in Pakistan has gained currency as the country’s embattled President, Asif Ali Zardari, has flown out to Dubai ostensibly for medical treatment after reportedly having suffered a minor heart attack. However, it is doubtful if the Pakistani military would directly take over power as it did on four occasions in its history, rather it would like to rule by proxy. But this kind of indirect military takeover can have its inevitable fallout on India-Pakistan relations and New Delhi would have to closely study the course the leadership charts out in our neighbouring state.

The situation in the country and its neighbourhood has thus become more complex than in the recent past. To tackle the complexities what is required is statesmanship of a high order that is unfortunately missing at this juncture.

December 8 S.C.

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