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Mainstream, VOL L, No 38, September 8, 2012

High and Low


Thursday 13 September 2012, by SC

While Parliament continues to be deadlocked by the BJP stalling the proceedings of both the Houses over ‘Coalgate’, the Rajya Sabha witnessed a new low in the history of the Upper House (known as the House of Elders) yesterday (September 5) with two members belonging to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) nearly coming to blows as they clashed over the contentious Bill to amend the Constitution to provide for reservation to SCs and STs in promotion in government jobs. While the BSP is fully supportive of the legislation, the SP is opposed to it as the OBCs, who constitute its key constituency, have all along been against the Dalit-only stance of the other political formations, notably the BSP. The two members who were involved in the fracas were the BSP’s Avtar Singh Karimpuri and the SP’s Naresh Agrawal.

Commenting on this development, The Times of India observed:
This session of Parliament will surely go down as one of the worst in its history. As if losing practically the entire session to disruption was not bad enough, we now have members nearly coming to blows over a piece of legislation. It is particularly tragic that this should happen on a constitutional amendment Bill. The founders of our democracy thought, with good reason, that amending the Constitution should be a really serious business, which is why they fixed two-thirds majority as the minimum required to get it done. In contrast, we see today a government that is happy to move such a Bill amidst chaos. And some of those supporting or opposing the Bill would rather use their muscle power than their arguments to settle the issue. If this is how our elected representatives conduct themselves, can they really blame the aam admi for losing his respect for them?

One could not agree more.

The government’s move to introduce the Bill put the BJP in a tricky situation. Having experienced good electoral results in reserved constituencies, the principal Opposition party in Parliament, whose core interests are served by the upper castes, could ill-afford to oppose outright a legislation directly linked to Dalit and tribal interests. But it could not have suspended its blockade of parliamentary proceedings over ‘Coalgate’ as per former UP CM and BSP supremo Mayawati’s request to it, because in that eventuality the Treasury Benches would have succeeded in outsmarting it. Hence, clearly cornered by the government’s strategy, the party—which by rebuffing Mayawati’s appeal and continuing with its vocal opposition to the smooth functioning of Parliament exposed itself to the charge of being anti-Dalit—came out with a laboured statement following the adjournment of the Upper House; the statement explained that cancellation of the allotment of coal blocks and an independent, impartial inquiry into the entire episode can set the stage for debate on both the coal allocations and the quota Bill thus trying to thwart the allegation of being anti-Dalit. Thereafter it accused the government of using the issue of introduction of the quota Bill to deflect attention from ‘Coalgate’. Meanwhile Mayawati accused both the Congress and BJP of being essentially opposed to Dalit interests as the developments in Parliament testified.

Incidentally, the DMK is learnt to be backing the SP on the issue. DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi pointed out that SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was not opposed to the Bill per se but had only insisted that the quota should be available to the OBCs as well.

In the meantime the CBI has filed its first set of cases in the coal blocks allotment scam. Among those named is Congress MP Vijay Darda and his brother Rajendra Darda, a Minister in Maharashtra. They have been accused of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misrepresentation of facts.

In the midst of the development in Parliament, the government’s over-reaction to a sharply critical article in the Washington Post on the PM’s performance of late has caused further embarrassment to South Block before the international media. In a despatch from New Delhi, headlined “India’s ‘silent’ Prime Minister becomes a tragic figure”, the daily’s correspondent Simon Denyer wrote:
…The image of the scrupulously honourable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

He further quoted political historian Ramchandra Guha as saying that Dr Manmohan Singh was fatally handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty”.

Stung to the quick, the PMO got into a face-off with the publication whereas I&B Minister Ambika Soni declared that the despatch was an instance of “yellow journalism”—a remark that invited instant criticism from influential sections of the press. Most observers feel that the comments could have been ignored for there is nothing in them that has not been conveyed by all analysts of the PM’s functioning in recent times. The over-reaction by the PMO and government functionaries only expose their inherent weakness and infirmity. But there is also a danger: would such sharp attacks on the PM from the side of the US media prompt the Manmohan Singh Government to embark on full-scale reforms to belie the observations made and without any consideration of the political consequences of such a step? That would indeed be disastrous for the country.

There are, however, two strikingly positive features in the prevailing scenario: one, the sentences meted out by the special court in Ahmedabad to the persons convicted in the Naroda Patiya massacre during the 2002 Gujarat carnage, and two, the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment on the Sahara case ordering a massive Rs 17,400 crores to be returned to the investors. The special court gave BJP MLA and former Gujarat Minister Maya Kodnani 28 years in prison, with Special Judge Jyotsna Yagnik characterising her as the “kingpin” of the massacre, a “black chapter in the history of our democracy”, wherein in one single act people were reduced to “grilled meat”; and erstwhile Bajrang Dal leader Babu Patil alias Babu Bajrangi to life in jail. Regarding Kodnani’s role, the Special Judge said:
Such offence by (an) elected member of a constitutional body needs to be viewed... very seriously... She was tremendously favoured by police. All care at the cost of the duty of the IO and... interest of victim was taken to see that her involvement does not come on the books.

On the Sahara verdict, Centre for Policy Research President Pratap Bhanu Mehta noted:

This is the first time a really big fish has been hauled up for what, based on the court judgments, seem egregious violations. This judgment will empower regulatory institutions like SEBI, whose effectiveness has been undercut in the past by the uncertain course of the law. Again, this judgment is a tribute to the profes-sionalism that still exists in the system. But the Sahara judgment, it has to be said, is also a psychological liberation of sorts. At one level, this was India’s most visible company. At another level, there was such a pall of fear around it, so much so that even reporting bare facts on it was difficult.

And The Hindu felt the Supreme Court order “will force the (Sahara) group to shed its secrecy. On that score alone it should be welcomed by all.”

These are the diverse pictures of the contemporary national situation marked as it is by numerous complexities defying any simplistic analysis.

September 8 S.C.

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