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Office Of Profit: CONFLICT OF INTEREST, TOH KYA?, By Poonam I Kaushish, 30 August 2022 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 30 August 2022

Office Of Profit

CONFLICT OF INTEREST, TOH KYA?

By Poonam I Kaushish

It started with BJP complaint February against rival Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren demanding CBI-ED probe into State’s mining scandal along-with corruption and conflict of interest filed against Soren for misusing his position as Mining Minister and allocating a mining plot to himself last year. Typically JMM-RJD-Congress dismissed it as sour grapes, while political pundits read a deeper meaning: Of BJP out to kill two birds with one stone. Dethrone Soren and form Government.

Last week Election Commission disqualified him as MLA under Representation of People Act and all eyes are on Governor Ramesh Bais’s decision which could trigger political instability in a State which has seen 11 Governments and three President’s rule spells in 22 years. As BJP sharpens criticism, Soren-led JMM coalition is brazening it out stating no rules broken as lease surrendered alongside taking conspicuous steps to keep flock together. 

The issue is not whether it is end of the road for Soren in Office-of-Profit controversy? Nor is it about Governor upholding EC’s recommendation to disqualify him? Neither political costs of allies standing by him? What matters is what is morally and politically correct thing to do: Soren should resign and seek re-election.

Just as Sonia Gandhi did when accused of holding Office of Profit by being MP and Chairperson of National Advisory Council with Cabinet Minister rank in UPAI. She resigned as MP and sought re-election 2006. The controversy arose due to Congress' political managers’ oversight who forgot to seek exemption from Office of Profit Act for Chairman NAC post.

Industrialist Anil Ambani also pleaded guilty of holding Office of Profit and quit Rajya Sabha, ending his brief but controversial stint in politics. Ditto, Samajwadi Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan who doubled as UP Film Development Corporation Chairperson.

Importantly, Office of Profit Act states: To be in a position that brings to office-holder some financial gain, advantage or benefit’. Under Article 102(1)(a) and Article 191(1)(a) a person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being MP or Legislative Assembly/Council member if he holds an “Office of Profit” under Central or any State Government, other than an office declared not to disqualify its holder by a law passed by the Parliament or State Legislature.

The Supreme Court too underscored that issue was not whether an MP or MLA of an office in question received any remuneration but was potentially in a position to receive some remuneration. The word profit connotes the idea of pecuniary gain.  If there is really a gain, its quantum or amount would not be material; but the amount of money receivable by a person in connection with the office he holds may be material in deciding whether the office really carries any profit.

According to Constitutional expert Durga Das Basu, “The principle underlying this disqualification is that there should be no conflict between duties of a member of Legislature and his private interests and that the indebtedness of a member to Government is incompatible with his independence as a representative of the people”

Interestingly, “Office of Profit” is not defined anywhere.  Courts have been passing judgments whereby a vague pattern has emerged. The philosophy behind this prohibition is that MPs-MLAs should be free to function independently of Executive. By accepting Office of Profit, theoretically they become subject to pressure by the Executive. Arguably, if nearly half the House becomes part of Executive, then business of legislators holding the Executive accountable suffers. Certainly, not a happy state of affairs.

Pertinently, to overcome the disqualification issue Parliament and several States have enacted laws exempting and expanding certain offices from Office of Profit purview.  In 2015 when all 60 MLAs of Nagaland Assembly joined ruling alliance, the Chief Minister appointed 26 legislators as Parliamentary secretaries. In 2017, Goa’s 40 MLAs Assembly exempted more than 50 offices by an ordinance!

Worse, ex MP-industrialists like Mallya, Maharashtra’s newspaper baron Vijay Darda and Reliance Petroleum’s director YP Trivedi who were part of the Standing Committee on Finance and Consultative Committee of Commerce and Industry Ministry to Bihar’s deceased pharmaceutical tycoon Mahendra Prasad aka 'King Mahendra' were Office of Profit poster boys but took recourse to a loophole which bars a MP from occupying any Government positions but does not restrict him from holding a position in a corporate. Sic.

Also, ex-UPA’s DMK Union Shipping Minister Baalu’s shenanigans who “put in a word” to then Petroleum Minister Murli Deora to provide gas to family-owned King Power Corporation run by his sons post his resignation as MD subsequent to becoming Minister. Tamil Nadu’s Marans were also entangled in conflict of interest cases in blatant allotment of 323 high-speed telephone lines to his residence to help family enterprise Sun TV network.

This apart, questionably, has ‘Office of Profit or Office-of-no-Profit’ become another facet of corruption?  Has it provided a legal seal to bribery of our Right Honourables through arbitrary fiats declaring Offices of Profit as non-profit? Enabling MPs-MLA’s to enjoy juicy lollipops of power?  Wherein one may not take any salary but enjoy royal perks, more than making up for it? Who needs a salary!

Instances are plenty at Centre and States wherein MPs/MLAs who cannot be accommodated in Cabinet are compensated by being appointed Chairman’s of various corporations and commissions enjoying status of Cabinet or Minister of State.

Look at the absurdity. A MP as member of airline board takes no salary but enjoys amazing perks ---- unlimited first class travel and entertainment. Legislators as members of various Standing Committees get public undertakings to pick up the tab for their five-star hotels, shopping, gifts etc.

The situation is worse in States. MLA-Chairmen lord over State Boards and Commissions and merrily convert them into their private fiefdoms of mini-Ministries with full staff and freedom to poke their noses into all deals --- buying, selling, price fixing etc.  

The best way to handle conflicts of interests is to avoid them entirely. For example, an elected MP might sell all corporate stocks that he owns before taking office and resign from all corporate boards. Or moves his corporate stocks to a special “blind” trust, which would be authorized to buy and sell without disclosure to him. Since the MP would not know companies the trust has invested in, there would be no temptation to act to his advantage.

Clearly, the Soren controversy on Office of Profit saga is a classic case of ‘100 chuhe kha ke billi hajj ko chali’, as this applies to all Parties, BJP, Congress, JD(U) Samajwadi, RJD,  BJD etc. It spotlights our polity’s recurring abuse of its authority to distribute patronage at will by nullifying the basic object of Article 102.

Thus, it is time for Government to desist from appointing legislators to ‘Offices of Profit’ and merrily promoting legalized corruption. Parliament needs to debate the issue threadbare. Private profit must not be permitted in the name of public service! ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

Corp Hit Peak Profits: SEIZE STATE, RAISE PRICES: WB, By Shivaji Sarkar, 29 August 2022 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 28 August 2022

Corp Hit Peak Profits

SEIZE STATE, RAISE PRICES: WB 

By Shivaji Sarkar

The high inflationary trend that has gripped India is stated to be a global phenomenon of corporate adventure to maximise profits through controlling the political system even in times of economic distress. The western inflation trends have severely impacted the Indian economy, forcing the government to squeeze expenditure, the Reserve Bank of India increasing interest rates, plummeting rupee and the society compromising on lifestyle.

The US and UK studies are concerned about the corporate ingress into the governance structure in different countries. The US studies are specific that the corporate are raising prices, having increase in profits and transferring costs to consumers.

Indian inflation has risen to 6.82 per cent in July from 6.43 per cent in June and 3.92 per cent a year back. As per the wholesale index it is at 13.93 per cent. Primary articles cost 15.04 per cent more, food 9.41 per cent, manufactured products 8.16 per cent and fuel and power 43.75 per cent. But International Monetary Fund puts India’s growth at 7.4 per, faster than the rest of the world, though some others show different lower figures.

In the US, inflation remains at 8.7 per cent, a bit lower than the highest reached in 40 years at 9.1 per cent. Inflation in Britain is at the highest level since 1982. At the August weekend, the UK hikes electricity and gas bills by 80 per cent, in a dramatic worsening of the cost-of-living crisis. Overall consumer inflation is at 10.1 per cent. It may head for a negative growth next year, the Citibank predicts, and prices are likely to rise by 18 per cent.

In contrast, the RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das says that the apex bank is moving towards the four per cent inflation target in a steady manner, without much growth sacrifice. After hitting its peak in April 2022, Das expects retail inflation to ease to four per cent by 2023-24. Assuming crude oil prices at $105 per barrel, the RBI Governor stated that current account deficit (CAD) will be manageable and its financing to be done in a reasonably comfortable manner in 2022-23. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth projection as per the August MPC is fixed at 5.4 per cent though overall growth rate forecast remains unchanged at 7.2 per cent.

It looks brighter but the way the corporate is raising prices and maintains a profit trend that may hurt the people world over and the Indian government in particular rushing through many infra projects. Rising prices have become a global trend for various reasons including that is attributed to Russia-Ukraine war that has changed lifestyle on both sides of Europe.

In 2021, US companies logged their most profitable year since the 1950s, as many took advantage of economies of scale and other more efficient production processes. Yet, firms increasingly held on to the savings they gained from these reduced costs, rather than passing them on to customers in the form of lower prices, according to Alexander J Mackay. He says that between 2006 and 2019 the difference between prices charged and the marginal cost incurred by a company climbed about 25 per cent.  The new US commerce department data show corporate earnings jumped 35 per cent in 2021, while workers got an 11 per cent bump.

In 2017, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse notes that America faces a crisis of corporate capture of democratic government, where the economic power of corporations has been translated into political power with disastrous effects for people’s lives. He warns that “corporations of vast wealth and remorseless staying power have moved into our politics to seize for themselves advantages that can be seized only by control over government” through what he calls, the “immense pressure deployed by the corporate sector in our government.”

Corporate interests can vastly outspend labour or public interest groups on the US elections, he says. In 2014, business interests spent $1.1 billion on state candidates and committees compared to the $215 million that labour groups spent. That same year, business political action committees (PACs), spent nearly $380 million in federal elections, while labour union PACs gave close to $60 million. In 2016, it is estimated that $1 out of every $8 went to super PACs. They, from corporate sources, raised $1.8 billion for the 2016 elections. He found that $800 million of political spending were from obscure donors.

Mackay apprehends that large political contributions will prevent Congress from tackling the important issues facing Americans today, like the economic crisis, rising energy costs, reforming health care, and global warming. In UK corporate lobbying is part of the politics and this helps change decisions in their favour.  The corporate power has turned Britain into a less honest state, a Guardian report says and are marked by government policy changes.

A World Bank publication “Seize the State, Seize the Day”: State Capture, Corruption, and Influence in Transition, says some firms in transition economies have been able to shape the rules of the game to their own advantage, at considerable social cost, creating what it calls a “capture economy” where public officials and politicians privately sell “a range of rent generating advantages ‘a la carte’ to individual firms.” “The State capture, influence and administrative corruption are all shown to have distinct causes and consequences”, the study says.

A 1981 report in Economic and Political Weekly says that dependence of the private economy in India has come to mean its dependence on the political parties. For the last over two decades they are supposed to have played roles in decision making. The top 20 companies continue to have 70 per cent profits, as per Mercilius Investment Managers, and higher product prices in a supposedly subdued market. Unilever, Suzuki Motor, and JSW Steel all are in the game of raising prices. They also opt for reducing the pack sizes. The official mechanism only occasionally delves into their affairs.

India has brought transparency into donations through electoral bonds in 2016, former minister Arun Jaitley mentioned in his 2017 Budget speech. Election Commission tells Supreme Court in March 2019 in an affidavit that the electoral bonds wreck transparency in political funding and with removal of cap on foreign funding, they invite corporate powers to impact Indian politics.

Corporate are becoming cleverer and know their ways. To counter big money, rebalancing of democracy and empowering people to engage politically as a countervailing force across the globe are necessary through rule changes. It sounds good, but not easy, so prices and profits may not be put in check for the consumers. – INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

AAP-BJP Row: DELHI’S ‘OPERATION LOTUS’?, By Insaf, 27 August 2022 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 27 August 2022

AAP-BJP Row

DELHI’S ‘OPERATION LOTUS’?

By Insaf

‘Operation Lotus’ has miserably failed in Delhi. A claim made by AAP, after accusing Prime Minister Modi and BJP of trying to dislodge its government by offering “its MLAs Rs 20 crore to join it or Rs 25 crore to get others.” On Thursday last, AAP ensured all of its 62 legislators in the 70-member Assembly were accounted for, both physically and online, at a meeting lasting minutes, at Chief Minister Kejriwal’s home. The BJP rubbishes the claim saying the MLAs “may have got such offers from liquor mafia, they should name them…Kejriwal is trying to dodge attention on his skewed excise policy and Dy CM Sisodia under ED scanner.” The AAP demands ‘ED must probe how Delhi BJP got Rs 800 to poach AAP MLAs.’ Both camos seem to be getting incoherently high amidst the liquor scandal.

After the meeting, the AAP flock even went to Rajghat to pray for failure of ‘Operation Lotus,’ with the BJP retorting: ‘The fact AAP leaders have gone to Mahatma Gandhi’s Samadhi means they have definitely committed an act which is to be considered a sin. So, in order to purify it, the BJP workers will sprinkle Ganga Jal on the Samadhi.” Surely, the histrionics wouldn’t amuse the public. On a serious note, the AAP has called a special session of the Assembly over the CBI, ED raids targeting its ministers and so-called “poaching” attempts by the BJP. The AAP will have a free run here undeniably given its majoritarian rule as BJP has only eight members. Rest assured the climax will playout over a long period of time, Hic!

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *                       * 

Jharkhand Nagging Suspense

Are Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s days numbered? Will he eventually have to give up his kursi? News from Raj Bhavan is keenly awaited as a BJP MP tweeted on Thursday last: The EC letter has reached the Governor...I had announced that It will be done within August...”. More or less confirming news that in the morning NirvachanSadan ‘recommended’ to Governor Ramesh Bais his disqualification as an MLA, following a petition the BJP filed seeking the same for violating electoral law by extending a mining lease to himself. Soren’s office, however, had no word till then. But Soren wasted no time in hitting out. He alleged ‘blatant misuse’ of constitutional authorities and public agencies and its “complete takeover by BJP HQ in this shameful manner is unseen in Indian Democracy…It apparently seems that BJP leaders, a BJP MP and his puppet journalists have themselves drafted the ECI report, which is otherwise in a sealed cover report.” Bais has kept the suspense going as he told media he will be in a position to comment once he takes stock of developments after reaching Raj Bhavan. However, there are no two opinions that his decision shall be final. Nagging wait indeed for the ruling JMM United Progressive Alliance government and Soren.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *                       * 

MahagathbandhanOn Firm Ground

Expectedly, it was comfortable sailing for the newly-formed ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar Assembly. In all 160 MLAs voted in favour of the confidence motion for Nitish-Tejashwi government and none against as the BJP MLAs staged a walkout on Wednesday last. The going may not be easy as a smarting BJP intends to play an aggressive opposition’s role, with one of the matters listed in House business being related to ‘misconduct of some MahagathbandhanMLAs’. What the old ally churns out would be worth a watch, but Nitish is not worried as he admitted severing ties with RJD in 2017 over corruption cases against Tejashwi, sating “five years have since passed. Not one thing has been proven”. A reflection on his judgement too?He lambasted the BJP for raising a rowover IT Minister Israil Mansuri visiting Vishnupad templewith him. “What’s their grouse? Have their ministers not visited temples with me?”(a hint at senior BJP leader Syed Shahnawaz Hussain). But this didn’t cut any ice with the saffron party. It’s Gaya unit held a purification ceremony of the temple after bringing water from Falgu river and offered prayersthere. Much water has flown over the politics being played out!

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *                       * 

UP Focus on Jats

Long term planning. That’s the USP of BJP’s Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Eyeing the 2024 General elections, the party appointed Cabinet minister Bhupendra Singh Chaudhary, a Jat leader, as its State’s chief. Clearly, the message is to reach out to the Jat community, which recall was upfront on the Farmers’ protest against the controversial bills. Besides, it’s also a bid to counter the RLD and SP alliance influence on the Jat voters in western UP, which has 29 Lok Sabha seats. Apparently, the move is an ongoing process of the BJP to plug in any weakness viz its vote bank as a Jat leader has been appointed as State party chief in two other States—Haryana and Rajasthan. On taking over, Chaudhary maintained there was no problem between the organisation and government and said the party has fixed a target of winning all the 80 seats in 2024. He has time on his hands, but will he deliver is the test.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *

Kashmiri Azad Discards Cong

The Congress suffers another blow. It’s senior leaderGhulam Nabi Azad who had joined the party in the then erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir in mid-70s “when it was considered a taboo given its chequered history’ from 8th August 1953”, resigned from all party positions, including its primary membership on Friday last. In a five page letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, he said he ‘has lost both the will and the ability under tutelage of the coterie that runs the AICC to fight for what is right for India’. Recall Azad was part of the rebel G-23 group seeking a change in the party. The hit was directly aimed at Rahul Gandhi, wherein he said that unfortunately after the entry of the young scion into politics and particularly after January 2013 when he was appointed as VP, “the entire consultative mechanism which existed earlier was demolished by him”. Accusing the leadership of committing a “fraud” on the party in the name of “sham” internal polls, he said “Before starting a 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'(unite India), the leadership should have undertaken a 'Congress Jodo Yatra' (unite Congress). A bruised Congress reacted a day later saying his resignation was ‘unfortunate’ and termed the timing ‘awful’, as it has come when the party is engaged in combating the BJPon issues of price rise and unemployment. The party also said that the contents of the letter were ‘not factual.’ Instead of splitting hairs, it would be better for the grand old party to make requisite amends to keep its flock together, whatever is left. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

26 August 2022

 

India-Australia Ties: BOOSTING THE RELATIONS, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 26 August 2022 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 26 August 2022

India-Australia Ties

BOOSTING THE RELATIONS

By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Relations, JIMMC) 

The sixth meeting of the Australia-India Education Council (AIEC) took place at Western Sydney University on Monday last. AIEC is a unique platform in India-Australia partnership for ministerial engagement on policy and operational issues across the education sectors in both countries. In addition to deepening and widening this collaboration, it also marked the growing ties between the two countries, which are increasingly bonding in view of the convergence of their concerns in various sectors, especially in security. Both countries face a common threat posed by a belligerent and expansionist China.

The meeting was co-chaired by Union Education & Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and his counterpart Jason Clare, as per procedure, including representatives from government, academia and industry. The  forgoing premise of India-Australia bilateralism was endorsed by Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal earlier on while addressing the students of New South Wales (NSW) in Sydney, “I believe that such partnerships are important for the world as we increase our strategic engagement between Australia and India. Education will act as a bridge between the two countries; it has always been an important element of our partnership”.

Carrying on with the same spirit, Pradhan, who is on a four-day visit, at the time of writing to Australia, said, “AIEC is a highly effective forum to further advance ties and boost engagements in skill development, in education and in research priorities.”

In the education summit, the two ministers agreed to establish a working group on trans-national education for the sake of increasing institutional partnerships and exploring new opportunities for collaborations between universities of both the countries. Pradhan called on the Australian universities and skill-building institutions to set up campuses in India and for collaborating with their Indian counterparts on other areas. The meeting focussed on enhancing “bilateral cooperation in education, skill development, research collaborations, innovation and entrepreneurship.” It was also agreed to offer dual degree programmes in order to encourage two-way student mobility and enhance people-to-people linkages.

The Australian leadership in education had expressed their wish to see “Australian students flocking to India to get educated”. The proposed dual degree will enable a student, Australian or Indian, to do a part of the degree in either country. This will also necessitate close formal collaboration between the universities. In particular, Pradhan invited collaboration with the digital university and Gati Shakti University set up in India. Both countries can offer joint skill certifications in areas like mining and logistics management. The offer fits into the Government of India’s initiative in setting up campuses of foreign universities in India. The University Grants Commission has constituted a committee to develop the modalities and facilitate the process.

The aforesaid developments in education sector signify the growing closeness between India and Australia. Both countries have historical, structural commonalities. Both are strong, vibrant, secular and plural democracies. They share multiple ties - political, economic, security, education, lingual and sporting. Both countries were part of the British empire and are currently members of the Commonwealth. Since 2008, Australia is the Observer in SAARC. More important, Australia and India are active members of the Quad.

India-Australia relations go way back to the colonial times when the Consulate General of India was first opened in Sydney in 1944; India’s first High Commission to Australia was appointed in 1945. Likewise, the first Australia’s High Commissioner came to India in March 1944. The Australian Prime Minister, after the independence of the country in 1950, Robert Menzies had supported Republic of India admission into the Commonwealth. As of now, Australia has placed India at the forefront of its international partnerships. 

In 2009, a ‘strategic partnership’ was set up between the two countries and the relations have been being growing ever since. In 2013, A.K. Antony of the Congress Party became the first-ever Indian Defence Minister to visit Australia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Australia in November 2014 a few months after he took over the office. This was followed by the visit of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull to New Delhi and Mumbai in April 2017. 

Like AIEC, Australia-India Council (AIC) is a larger forum established on 21 May 1992 on the advice of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The Council came up following a thorough inquiry into various aspects of India-Australia relations. AIC has a broad spectrum covering entire gamut of relations between two countries. AIC also raises awareness about each other and promotes exchanges between two countries. Having talked a bit about the latest developments in educational collaboration in the wake of the India’s Minister for Education visiting Australia, it is in order that we look at few other sectors.

Perhaps the front-running sector is defence relationship which is guided by four major agreements: The 2006 Memorandum on defence cooperation; the 2009 joint declaration on security cooperation and the 2014 bilateral Framework for Security Cooperation; and the 2020 Australian-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The cooperation consists of strategic dialogues, period inter-actions between respective services, staff and training exchanges. In military partnership, the cooperation is quite comprehensive involving dialogues, coordination, information exchanges including on third countries, military exercises in air, water and on the ground, defence commerce and technical cooperation.

In military, a joint naval exercise called AUSINDEX is conducted between India and Australia every year starting from September 2015 at Visakhapatnam, India. The objective of this exercise is to strengthen and enhance mutual cooperation and inter-operability between the Indian Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. Australia also participated in the Malabar exercise which is an annual tri-lateral naval exercise between the India, USA and Japan.

The people-to-people contact could be traced to the colonial period when the British East India Company shifted Indian workers and labourers from the Indian Sub-continent to Australia. Presently, out of Australia’s 24 million people, about half-a-million are of Indian origin. As of 2017, more than 60,000 students from India are studying in Australia. More than two lakh Indians visit Australia every year. The fastest-growing foreign language in Australia is Punjabi. Notably, India is now the third largest source of immigrants to Australia after the UK and New Zealand, and the second largest source of skilled professionals.

In economic relations, India is Australia’s largest export market for gold and chick-peas, the second largest market for coal and copper ores and the third largest market for lead and wool. Indian exports to Australia consist largely of refined petroleum, outsourcing services, pulse, gems, jewellery and medicaments. Significantly, in 2007, Australia supplied Uranium to India, which went a long way towards strengthening the relationship. Note that this was the first case where Australia was supplying Uranium to a country that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  

Negotiations for a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement started in 2001 which is somewhat deadlocked. This should materialise. India and Australia should build a strong and formidable partnership as former allies in view of common stakes in the region. It is up to the leadership in both countries and vibrant track-two diplomacy. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

CONSENSUS NEEDED ON BASIC ISSUES, by Inder Jit, 25 August 2022 Print E-mail

REWIND

New Delhi, 25 August 2022

CONSENSUS NEEDED ON BASIC ISSUES

By Inder Jit

(Released on 1 November 1983)

Consensus has become a fashionable word in New Delhi these days. Everyone who is anyone now talks of a national consensus, thanks to the AICC (I) meet in Bombay and the varied Opposition reactions to its Political Resolution. The AICC (I), according to the resolution, “is convinced that in the overall interest of the country some basic concepts should be held inviolate and beyond political controversy”. It adds: “The policies and programmes of the Congress (I) provide the basic framework for a national consensus on such issues as national unity, secularism, planning, self-reliance, defence, non-alignment and world peace. The AICC (I) feels apprehensive that the attempt of the Opposition parties to wreck this consensus is ominous portent.” While the BJP Chief, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the CPM General Secretary, Mr. EMS Namboodripad, have doubted the Congress-I plea, reinforced by Mrs. Gandhi’s own remarks on the occasion, the United Front, led by Mr. Chandra Shekhar, has reacted constructively notwithstanding the attack on the Opposition parties.

In a resolution on the subject, the United Front has stated: “The Prime Minister has talked about the need for a national consensus on vital issues that face the nation…. We propose the following agenda for evolving such a national consensus and call upon the Prime Minister to fix the time and date for the meeting of all political parties.” Nine points were listed for the agenda. These are (1) Fixing national priorities and formulating policies for economic development; (2) Ban on defections and toppling of democratically elected governments; (3) Ending money power in elections; (4) Preventing the use of State-owned radio and television as organs of the ruling party and ensuring freedom of the Press; (5) Upholding the freedom and independence of the Judiciary and of the Election Commission; (6) Implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission; (7) Protection to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Muslims and other minorities from violence and exploitation; (8) Settlement of Punjab and Assam crises and (9) Restructuring of Union-State relations.

The AICC (I) General Secretary, Mr. C.M. Stephen, has since pointed out that the Opposition and, more especially, the United Front has misinterpreted the AICC (I)’s Bombay resolution and its reference to consensus. He has declared that the Congress (I) at no stage called for a national consensus of all the political parties. The Congress (I) party, he has asserted, was only interested in securing the consensus of the people on the basic issues, not of the Opposition parties. Mr. Stephen’s statement only confirms what some astute observers have opined: the reference to consensus in the political resolution is essentially political and poll-oriented and designed to project the Congress-I as the only champion of the laudable principles of national unity, secularism, planning, self-reliance, defence, non-alignment and world peace. Dr. Subramaniam Swamy of the Janata Party has publicly agreed with the views of Mr. Stephen and stated that there is “no common ground for evolving a consensus in approach between the Congress (I) and the Janata Party.”

Sadly, an excellent idea has got shot down even though it may have been inspired solely by political or poll considerations. India today needs a national consensus on basic national issues as never before since the country adopted the Constitution. The system provided under the Constitution worked well under Nehru --- and for some years after him. This was only to be expected. The Constitution reflected the national consensus. All the major issues were thrashed out in the Constituent Assembly and an agreed democratic system evolved. Simultaneously, healthy traditions and conventions were established. Not everything, after all, can be provided for in a Constitution. The system stood up magnificently to two severe tests --- Pakistani aggression in 1965 and again in 1971. But the harsh truth is that the system has got increasingly run down during the past decade and is no longer functioning as it ought to. Even in its present condition, the system, I am certain, will respond gloriously in the face of another major crisis. Our people’s patriotism fortunately overrides all other considerations. But the crucial point is that the system should also work from day to day in normal times.

The Congress-I has identified seven subjects for a national consensus. Curiously, however, a consensus already exists on these matters explicitly or implicitly both among the political parties and the people at large. Everyone accepts the need for national unity, secularism, planning, self-reliance, defence, non-alignment and world peace. True, there was time when some people in the country were opposed to one or more of these concepts. Rajaji and his Swatantra Party, for instance, strongly disliked socialistic planning and denounced the system as a “licence-permit raj.” Some people once unwisely regarded non-alignment as neutrality and, like America’s John Foster Dulles, even dubbed it as immoral. Prior to Independence and thereafter, a few small political parties or groups have advocated the establishment of a Hindu rashtra (nation). But all these are now largely a thing of the past. A fresh national consensus on the seven issues proposed by the Congress-I is thus unlikely to help matters much. It will neither tone up the system nor ensure its smooth and purposeful functioning.

Democracy provides a delicate but vital balance between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. This balance has regretfully been gravely disrupted during the past decade and more. Parliament today is no longer what it was originally intended to be or what it was during the Nehru era. (Mrs. Gandhi herself has voiced reservations about its present functioning.) The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. But India’s judiciary and its independence has been repeatedly under attack. Only the other day, the Bar Council of India deplored further erosion of the independence of the Courts. In fact, the Executive today has become all powerful. In the bargain, other autonomous institutions have also come to suffer. The Election Commission, for instance, no longer enjoys the respect it did until a year ago. It has mindlessly tended to take orders from the Government as in the case of the undemocratic and unconstitutional Assam poll, ignoring its statutory status designed to give our democracy strength and stability through free and fair elections.

The system has come to acquire many more distortions both at the Centre and in the Union’s relationship with the States, Nehru, Patel and other leaders, for instance, recognized the key role of the services in providing an element of continuity in a parliamentary democracy, as reflected in the adage: Governments will come and governments will go, but the civil servants will go on forever. They accepted the concept of a neutral and impartial civil service, committed only to the Constitution and the country. Civil servants were consciously encouraged to give their advice independently in the best national interest and to implement the Government’s decisions honestly and impartially. But the civil servants have slowly but surely been pushed towards giving up this healthy approach. In fact, commitment has been sought to be given a new connotation and the civil servant encouraged through the use of both the carrot and the stick to commit himself to the party in power and its best interest. The IAS and other Central Services were designed to underpin national unity. But here, too, regional chauvinism is being allowed to run amuck.

Democratically elected Governments have been toppled wantonly in the States --- both by the Janata Party in 1977 and by the Congress-I in 1980. Article 356 of the Constitution, which provides for President’s Rule in the States, has been misused for party ends. Time and gain, State legislatures have been kept in animated suspension by the Congress-I when the Founding Fathers only provided for dissolution of the Assemblies and fresh elections. The Governor’s office was intended to play a key role in India’s federal set up --- both as the Constitutional head of the State and as an agent of the Centre. Nehru bent over backwards to build healthy conventions around the office. But all these have fallen by the wayside. The Governor today is no longer supposed to be appointed for five years, as stipulated in the Constitution. Instead, he is now expected to hold the office only “during the pleasure of the President”. Provoking an erstwhile Governor to candidly comment: “Governors can now be fired at will. How can you expect anyone to be impartial and objective under such conditions.”

Most of the trouble and tension in our polity today can be traced to the distortions in the system as also violating of healthy traditions and conventions both in regard to substance and style. Repeated pandemonium and uproar in Parliament (and State Assemblies) rightly angers people. But few pause to see the problem from the viewpoint of the Opposition. Not long ago, a top leader said: “What do you expect us to do when questions are not answered and lies are brazenly told? What are we to do when we are barred from raising issues?” Do we have a choice?” One simple truth needs to be remembered. What we are witnessing today is not violence but counter violence --- a reaction to destruction of accepted norms and conventions and distortion of the system. In the final analysis, there is need to forge a fresh national consensus on the basic structure of our system. Details in regard to planning and policies must be left to the individual parties. We can ignore the slow destruction of the system only at our peril. --- INFA

 

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

 

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