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11 February, 2014

Price of mismanagement

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

For a party with a tradition of more than 125 years and parliamentary experience that goes farther back than the republic’s 64-year history, the Congress party is displaying amazing political ineptitude.

With opposition parties holding up the proceedings to register protest on one issue or another, Parliament has transacted little business at recent sessions. Legislative business has been the biggest casualty of disruptions. Bills are either held up or passed without much debate.

A research group has reported that out of 118 bills adopted by the Lok Sabha in the past five years, 20 were passed in less than five minutes, 10 in less than 30 minutes, 11 in half to one hour, 24 in one to two hours and 26 in two to three hours.

The last session of the current Lok Sabha is now on. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, which has to face elections shortly, wants to take up at this session some important legislative measures, including some which Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has described as important tools needed to fight corruption. Many of them are doomed to fail.

All bills pending in the Lok Sabha, which is directly elected, lapse automatically when the term of the house expires.

On the opening day of the session, the government tried to take up in the Rajya Sabha a bill to deal with communal violence, which had been pending for nine years. Its original draft was prepared by the National Advisory Council, a group comprising civil society representatives, headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, in 2005.

The NAC felt that a measure of this kind was needed to prevent immobilisation of the state police during communal riots, as is believed to have happened during the Gujarat riots of 2002 under the watch of Narendra Modi, whom the Bharatiya Janata Party recently named as its prime ministerial candidate.

The BJP opposed the measure vociferously, arguing it was an attempt to appease the Muslim minority. The government revised the draft in response to this criticism. But the BJP was not satisfied.

The Samajwadi Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Trinamool Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazgam and the All India Anna DMK joined the BJP in opposing introduction of the revised draft.

Law Minister Kapil Sibal’s argument that the measure will not bestow any new power on the Centre did not impress the critics. Sensing the hostile mood of the house, the Deputy Chairman deferred consideration of the bill.

The responsibility for the debacle rests on the Congress party which heads the ruling coalition. Its parliamentary managers did not show due diligence. Since the government lacks a majority of its own, they should have worked out a consensus, at least among those who sustain it in power, before bringing the measure before Parliament.

An uncertain future awaits the bill to carve a separate state of Telengana out of Andhra Pradesh, which is expected to be placed before Parliament this week.

Here, again, the blame rests with the Congress party which wasted much time. It had committed itself in principle to the formation of a new state when it tied up with the Telengana Rashtra Samithi in the 2004 elections. The TRS which joined the coalition government walked out later as the Congress did not keep its word.

As the party wielding power in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress should have sorted out the differences over matters related to division of the state, including the status of the capital city of Hyderabad. The leaders whom the party’s high command entrusted the task of dealing with these matters proved unequal to the task. Consequently it is now in a mess.

The Andhra Pradesh Assembly recently voted against separation of Telengana. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, who does not want the state to be split, is in a rebellious mood.

Ordinarily, passage of the Bill through Parliament should have posed no problem as the BJP, the main opposition party in both the houses, favours formation of small states. But now it may yield to the temptation to add to the Congress party’s woes.

The Congress is paying the price for the ineptitude of its managers. Whatever the fate of the Telengana bill, the party is sure to suffer losses in the forthcoming elections in a region which was considered its stronghold.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 11, 2014

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