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02 May, 2011

Partisanship mars democracy

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s successful conduct of massive elections has earned praise, and countries like Egypt and Nigeria are trying to profit from its experience as they seek to democratise their political systems. But, then, democracy means much more than holding elections at regular intervals. It calls for an ability to rise above narrow loyalties with common good in view.

When the Indian constitution, which incorporates the good practices that evolved in all democratic societies, was finalised, its chief architect, BR Ambedkar said, howsoever good the document might be, it would turn out to be bad if those called upon to work it were a bad lot. Six decades later those words ring ominously true.

As the country grapples with the menace of growing corruption, there is unabashed display of partisanship by both the ruling coalition and the disparate opposition. They are more interested in scoring political points than in bringing to justice those who loot the public.

The 2G scam, brought to light by the Comptroller and Auditor General last year, is the biggest corruption case in India’s history. In a 77-page report tabled in Parliament, the CAG had slammed Communications Minister A. Raja for causing the state a presumptive loss of Rs1,766 billion in 2007-08 through allocation of second generation (2G) and dual technology licences.

The 2G allotment irregularities were already before the Central Bureau of Investigation but it was dragging its feet. Public interest petitions brought the Supreme Court into the picture and its observations after scrutiny of relevant documents forced the CBI to act. Raja, who belongs to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, resigned. He and several of his aides are now in jail awaiting trial.

The way the government and the opposition responded to the CAG report is a sordid story of political one-upmanship. Under the constitutional scheme, CAG reports are referred to the public accounts committee (PAC), which is headed by an opposition member and includes members from both the houses of Parliament.

The PAC’s mandate is to look into government spending and ascertain whether there had been any loss or irregularities. In view of the limited scope of PAC examination, the other opposition parties demanded the constitution of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to go into the matter. The government refused. Determined disruption of Parliament’s budget session by the opposition forced the government to yield.

As the PAC, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Murli Manohar Joshi summoned officials of the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) to testify, JPC chairman PC Chacko of the Congress asked that it pull back. He argued there was no need for parallel investigations by two parliamentary bodies.

Joshi turned down the suggestion and speeded up PAC work to finalise its report before his term as chairman expired on April 30. (He was yesterday renominated as chairman for another year.) Congress and DMK members created a ruckus and blocked examination of PMO officials. Nevertheless Joshi went ahead and produced a draft report.

The PAC meeting called to discuss and adopt the report broke up in confusion. Joshi left the meeting with his supporters when he found that Congress and DMK members, who had won over Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party members, were determined to block the report. In the absence of the chairman and his supporters, the remaining members adopted a resolution rejecting the report. Yet Joshi forwarded the draft report to Speaker Meira Kumar. She must now decide what to do with it.

It is not unusual for parliamentary committees to divide on party lines. Such bodies often arrive at decisions not by vote but by consensus. The well established practice is to prepare a report incorporating the majority viewpoint and for those with reservations to append dissenting notes.

Both the majority and the minority in the PAC are in breach of convention. How the Congress party earned the support of two parties and chalked up a majority in the committee is not known. It should cause no surprise if it transpires that it resorted to means that do not accord with democratic norms.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who protected the tainted DMK minister until it became impossible to do so, too has not emerged as a reliable upholder of democratic norms. Politicians guided by partisan considerations are dime a dozen. The Prime Minister must be a statesman who is guided by considerations of public good. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 2, 2011.

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