Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The sham political drama

UPA, opposition duck debate

Indian politicians need not go on Facebook or Twitter to communicate. All they need to do is to speak up to avoid confusion. But for Indian politicians not speaking out is a weapon of sorts. Prevarication is the favoured method because the politicians think that it is the best way of keeping all their option open. It is something like the crude joke where the politician has a positive and a negative statement for every occasion to save blushes as it were. What politicians, parties and their leaders do not realise is that this is a shortsighted tactic and that it diminishes the shrinking credibility of the political class. But instead of demanding clarity, the media is happy with the politicians' insidious doublespeak – saying no retreat when one is being envisaged, saying that they will consider changes when they do not mean to consider any changes.

Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, to leader of oppisition in Lok Sabha and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and leader of CPI-M in Rajya Sabha Sitaram Yechury. What we have of what Mukherjee told them is what Banerjee, Swaraj and Yechury have told the media. Congress spokeswoman Renuka Chowdhary indicated on Friday that there will be a pause but no rollback. At the same time, she insisted that she was not speaking for the government but for the party. Minister of state for parliamentary affairs and Congress member Rajiv Shukla said that Mukherjee would make a statement in parliament on Wednesday but it is not yet clear what the content of the statement would be.

If Mukherjee has said that he would make a statement in parliament and stuck to that position it would have been an honourable if an obtuse position in the age of Internet and 24x7 television news. Bu he discussed the matter with UPA allies like Banerjee, and opposition's Swaraj and Yechury. Banerjee gave out that she had an assurance from Mukherjee that the government's decision to allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail will be kept on hold till consensus is evolved. Of course, Mukherjee would neither confirm nor deny whether that was what he told Banerjee.

Media had no option but to infer that the government was on the backfoot and that it would even eat its own words and make the necessary changes in its policy accouncement under pressure from allies and the opposition, showing its sensitivity to opinion from the other sections of the political class. Government is afraid to face a vote at the end of an adjournment motion, which could turn into a censure. So government would do what it can first to stall an adjournment motion, or if it fails to let the House stall rather than have a discussion.

There is a straightforward way of dealing with the situation, which neither the government nor the opposition would want. The straightforward way is for government not to be afraid of a discussion, even if it is an adjournment motion. And the opposition should know that they can criticise government's policy but they have no democratic right to force the government to roll it back threatening to disrupt the proceedings of the House if it is not done. If the opposition wants to bring down the government on the issue, it should move a no-confidence motion. But the opposition is not sure of the numbers, and even recalcitrant allies like the TMC and DMK would not dare to press their point. Of course, all this would require certain courage of conviction which is not exactly the forte of the political class. We are then forced to put up with this sham political drama.

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