Sunday, 7 August, 2022

Jan Lok Sabha

Before the next Parliamentary session, it is important to analyse the scandals, cover-ups and popular anger around the Lokpal Bill that threatened to collapse the system.

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What a pleasant feeling it is writing a curtain-raiser of sorts to a new Parliament session. A resumption of old-fashioned politics will give the political class a chance to recover from recent reverses. It will also be its opportunity to redeem itself by showing this country how it is actually governed, and how the opinion of its people is reflected by the government of the day, as also its opposition.

Unless somebody conjures up a clever face-saver quickly, Anna Hazare and his team will be back at Jantar Mantar a day after Independence Day, and exactly in the middle of this one-month session. There is no chance in hell Parliament would even consider his deadline of passing any Lokpal Bill by 15 August.

In fact, chances are this bill may first have to go to a parliamentary committee for the usual fine-tuning. It is too important a law to be passed in a hurry with a gun pressed to your temple. To that extent, the political class finally got its focus back.

It is one thing for a motley civil society group fuelled by news TV and middle-class rage to hold an already embarrassed government to ransom. Taking on the institution of Parliament is a different story altogether.

First evidence that sanity had begun to be restored somewhat came last month as Anna Hazare started leading his delegation to the leaders of the various political parties (the opposition as well as the Congress) pleading the case of his version of the Lokpal legislation.

That is how it should be done in a parliamentary democracy. The idea of writing a law from outside and forcing it down Parliament’s throat was both arrogant and obscene. As if you believed that your Parliament was illegitimate, full of dummies and would not be able to resist the gale-force of your presumed intellect or moral authority.

Also read: Yes, chief minister

As this session begins on Monday, the important thing would be to analyse what exactly happened in those bizarre weeks when it looked like the entire political (democratic) system was going to collapse. There were the many unresolved scandals, cover-ups and popular anger.

But the main reason it was able to acquire the dimensions it did was the fact that the winter session of Parliament had been such a total washout. The BJP stalled Parliament, demanding a JPC into the telecom scam. The Congress resisted, even at the cost of writing off an entire session.

This will remain a slur on its record, considering that it conceded a JPC in the end anyway. But even for the BJP, in the end, it was a totally pointless exercise in point-scoring. Because the loss was not just the UPA’s, but that the entire political class was undermined. People said, here are the two coalitions, together accounting for around 430 Lok Sabha members, only interested in either stalling investigations into a great scandal or exploiting it for petty political mileage.

It is convenient now to complain that the judiciary is indulging in over-reach, or that civil society is attempting a coup or that the media has become an accuser-judge-executioner. But it happened only because a totally short-sighted political class so cynically wrote off an entire session and undermined the institution it draws all its power and authority from, the national Parliament.

Also read: Parliament lament

This short monsoon session is an opportunity now to reverse that slide. Many of the issues that destroyed the winter session are still there. The Congress-BJP relationship is no better than before. So the choice of ruining this session again is still there.

But you can take encouragement from the fact that, chastened by the anti-politician mood, the two parties have been talking behind the scenes, even negotiating successfully to resolve issues with some pending legislation, particularly where bills have been sitting with committees headed by MPs of the BJP. On the Lokpal Bill, many of the finer changes suggested by Arun Jaitley on the BJP’s behalf have already been made.

Of course, the BJP may take a position on putting the prime minister under the Lokpal’s jurisdiction in some qualified way, but that won’t be sufficient reason to stall Parliament. You can also sniff a secular sense of unease in the political class over the loss of face it has suffered vis-a-vis the activists, and also with what is seen as an increasing tendency on the part of the courts to encroach upon the political-executive turf.

You can see that convergence quite clearly in the way the BJP tacitly supports the Centre’s challenge to the black money order and, similarly, the Centre quietly hopes that the Chhattisgarh government’s appeal against the SPO judgment succeeds to some extent.

It also helps that the BJP starts this session firmly on the defensive, having lost one of its most popular chief ministers to the indictment of a Lokayukta who also happens to be among the most important members of Hazare’s team.

It is still possible that the Congress and the BJP will return to their basic instincts and resume hostilities over one thing or another. But you see indications that they might be a bit more circumspect now, and respectful of the institution through which India speaks, and is heard and governed.

Of course, the prime minister himself could initiate that positive new outlook by attending this session more often than usual, and speaking, intervening, answering questions. He has nothing to lose but his utterly uncalled for reticence.

Also read: Generation Ex


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