House of Scandal

Times of India 22nd March 2001

A natural expectation in the aftermath of the shocking Arms gate scandal was that the opposition would put the government on the mat in the course of debates in the Lok Sabha. But then that was too much to expect of  the Indian position, which regardless of the party performing this role, is almost  obstructionist, Thus it is that Parliament continues to be paralyzed. As far long-pending  legislation aimed at bringing greater accountability and transparency in government functioning, well, they pass on to the next disruptive session. Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi has predictably come up with a banal single point agenda Either Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his cabinet colleagues quit or Parliament stops functioning. By undermining Parliament’s role as a forum for discussion and taking its agitation to the streets, the Opposition has of course violated the principles of parliamentary democracy. Worse, it may turn out that this not even a particularly fruitful exercise. Of course, Mrs. Gandhi is following in the footsteps of her illustrious predecessors. Today, Parliament exists not to perform its legislative role, but to act as a boxing ring for Parliament can, in fact be used by the Opposition to oppose. Had the Congress president given this subject some thought, she might have realized that the government is best exposed through informed criticism on the floor of the House.


Thanks to a lack of understanding of this basic political craft, Mrs Gandhi and her colleagues in the Opposition may have lost a golden opportunity to turn the Tehelka aftermath to their own advantage. Think of what  a lawyer might have done with the explosive evidence. Think of the impact he would make should he put together a fool proof case and cross examine the accused on point after point and do before live television cameras. The answer will never make should he put together a foolproof case and cross examine the accused on point after point and do before live television cameras. The answer will never be known because all that people can now see is a street brawl fought between two major groups, each calling the other a thief; “Chor, Chor” has been the only ringing slogan in this session of Parliament. Tragically, among the many Bills waiting to be passed are some that the address the same chronic problem of corruption in high places. Chief among these are a clutch of important Bills like the Lok Pal Bill and the CVC Bill. The former, if enacted, will bring greater accountability to the decision-making process and directly place the PMO and the administrative services under public scrutiny. The CVC Bill will result in the setting up of a commission to probe charges against any government servant accused of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Then there is the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmer’s Right Bills which deals with the opposition’s stand on these Bills, each would have provided an opportunity for discussion. The CVC has statistics to show that if the level of corruption is brought down to what obtains in the Scandinavian countries, the country’s economy will grow by an additional 1.5 per cent and FDI will go up by 12 per cent. Surely these statistics should have been enough to spur the Opposition into behaving like the ‘credible alternative’ they claim to be and the people of this country so desperately need and deserve.