India Insight

Mining for votes in the middle of Coalgate

By Shashank Chouhan

It took more than 10 days for the chief of India’s ruling party to react to the ‘Coalgate’ episode that has tainted Manmohan Singh’s government and blocked parliamentary proceedings in the monsoon session that limped to its close on Friday.

But what was the reaction of Sonia Gandhi to alleged irregularities in coal block allocations that might have cost the treasury billions of dollars? Here’s what Gandhi told her party’s lawmakers at a meeting: “Let us stand up and fight, fight with a sense of purpose and fight aggressively.”

Instead of reprimanding her lawmakers over corruption allegations, she goaded them to take the fight to the enemy camp — the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Media reports about her speech said she made it clear that the Congress party must respond to the “negative politics” of the BJP in upcoming state assembly elections.

The Congress-led coalition government, now in its second consecutive term, has been unable to work out a fair, transparent method of coal block allocations. And when the country’s auditor smelled a scandal, Congress resorted to the easiest reaction: attack the opposition. Manmohan Singh preferred to keep silent – again — dismissing the auditor’s findings much like his government did in the 2G telecom scandal. Add to that the sheer absence of floor management in parliament, and what we get is chaos in a noisier, less productive parliamentary democracy.

Not that the BJP can come out of this unblemished. Its obstructionism points to its desperation. In fact, when corruption fighter and media darling Anna Hazare had raised his voice, the BJP closed ranks with the Congress, saying nothing was above parliament and its power to legislate.

Advani’s “withdrawal” may come back to haunt BJP

As soon as former Bharatiya Janata Party president and political veteran Lal Krishna Advani announced that his role in the party and the Sangh Parivar “is much more than the post of prime minister” — he made it pretty clear that he may not be the preferred BJP candidate for the prime minister’s post in the 2014 general elections.

And soon the media and most political analysts made a pretty safe guess that the party would back current Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its next PM candidate. Yet others named Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley as strong contenders.

But a lot may happen between now and 2014. And as things stand currently, our next PM may be a coalition leader from one of the regional parties. Let us examine why.

The dog days of India’s bizarre summer of politics

Perhaps the government’s decision to push back the opening of the upcoming monsoon session of parliament was not the best idea. For as the dog days of the sub-continent’s sweltering summer drag on, the parliament-less politicians sweat from the sublime to the ridiculous in the baking heat.

From the haphazard ensemble of senior ministers that flocked to New Delhi’s airport to greet yoga guru turned social activist Swami Ramdev with more fanfare than is reserved for visiting heads of state, to the current conspiracy swirling New Delhi surrounding espionage chewing gum found in the finance minister’s private chambers, it has been a bizarre summer for politics fuelled by the hungry media in the world’s largest democracy.

Kapil Sibal, as Human Resource and Development minister, could have spent his summer break drawing up plans to overhaul an education sector that looks dangerously inadequate to deal with the demographic dividend of millions of young Indians that New Delhi likes to trumpet. Instead, he spent his days holed up in five-star hotels begging Ramdev not to stop eating, and playing it coy in press conferences after quietly ignoring veteran activist Anna Hazare’s demands for a stronger anti-graft bill.

Disruptive opposition blames government for parliament woes

A lack of accountability from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a failure of consultation by his ruling Congress-led coalition and too few days of legislative business, rather than opposition protests that smothered months of legislative debate, are to blame for the paralysis of India’s parliamentary democracy, the leader of India’s opposition party wrote on Monday.

Arun Jaitley

Making no reference to the weeks of protest by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that saw opposition members shouting, chanting and waving placards in the well of both houses to force the cancellation of an entire legislative session and threaten the passage of the 2011-12 budget, Arun Jaitley called for more “proper conduct” from Indian MPs in an opinion piece in The Indian Express that appeared to lay the blame of parliamentary disruption at the government’s door.

“In the last few decades the participation of prime ministers in parliamentary debates has declined. Their effective intervention is confined to reading written texts prepared by their offices. This is unacceptable… The PM has to be the most accountable in a democracy. His depleting presence in Parliament compels one to suggest (the British system of Prime Minister’s Questions) be successfully replicated in India,” Jaitley wrote.

The bitter truth behind BJP’s deafening budget silence

To some, the parliamentary walkout by India’s opposition prior to the vote on the country’s annual budget motion marked the failure of India’s ruling Congress party to engage with its primary adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), over its claims that the Prime Minister had lied to parliament to protect his own reputation.

To others, the sight of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj leading her MPs out of the chamber as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee prepared to deliver the most important parliamentary bill of the year encapsulated the sorry state of India’s increasingly bitter partisan politics that show no signs of repair since trumpeting corruption became the opposition’s raison d’etre.
Lawmakers and leaders of India's main opposition alliance led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including Sushma Swaraj (front, L) and L.K. Advani (front, R) attend a protest against rising prices wearing aprons with protest slogans inside the premises of the Parliament House in New Delhi REUTERS/Stringer(INDIA)
Swaraj would later tell The Hindu that her walkout was to avoid disrupting the passage of the bill, but the damning point rang out loud and clear: the opposition had decided the corruption drumbeat was more important than the budget.

Mukherjee had earlier pleaded with senior BJP leaders to allow the budget to be debated prior to any discussion on a parliamentary privilege motion submitted against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by Swaraj, promising a two-and-a-half hour debate on the issue after the budget had passed.

Does Swaraj hint at a more politically sharp future for the BJP?

India’s main opposition party, the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have had much to crow about in recent months.

From the minute that the much vaunted Commonwealth Games began to – literally – crumble despite the hundreds of millions of rupees spent by the central government, a seemingly endless run of corruption scams linked to the ruling Congress party has seen much chest-beating and finger pointing from across the parliamentary aisles.
Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition

Riding high on damning headlines, and egged on by a lacklustre defence from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the BJP have trained both barrels on Congress, with party leaders Arun Jaitley, L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari missing no opportunity to squeeze government and corruption into each and every soundbite.

A Republic Day to forget for India’s opposition party

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched India’s 61st Republic Day parade in the New Delhi sunshine on Wednesday morning, senior opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were in a Jammu prison, where they had spent a night under arrest.

Detained for attempting to lead thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers into India’s northern state of Jammu & Kashmir to provocatively raise the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule, Swaraj and Jaitley’s politically-driven mission had ended in failure.

Workers of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold national flags and shout slogans during a protest on a bridge at Madhopur, in the northern Indian state of Punjab January 25, 2011. Thousands of Indian Hindu-nationalist opposition supporters massed on a bridge to the disputed Kashmir region on Tuesday as officials sought to stop a flag-raising ceremony that could spark violence. Police faced off with flag-waving BJP workers as authorities sealed routes into Kashmir to thwart the planned raising of the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

The BJP appear to have thought that the nationalism-drenched plan to hoist the flag in the centre of Srinagar, the state capital, would galvanize their Hindu support base, and show the ruling Congress party as ineffective in defending the disputed state from separatists who rile against New Delhi’s rule.

Karnataka governor’s sanction: Sagacity or political mischief?

File photo of a worker preparing for a rally by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Lucknow, April 4, 2004. REUTERS/Kamal Kishore/Files The tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Karnataka governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj has reached the President’s House with BJP leaders demanding the recall of Bhardwaj.

Could the Governor have avoided sanctioning the prosecution of Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa in the alleged dubious land allotment deals?

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Bhardwaj defended his decision, claiming there are “documented acts of corruption which have cost the state nearly 500 crore rupees.”

Is Congress digging its own corrupt grave?

Telecom Minister Kabil Sibal’s attack on the competency of India’s independent state auditor appears to show Congress’s growing desperation at its inability to silence corruption charges, and the inevitable backfire may illustrate just how out of touch India’s ruling party has become with the current political climate.

Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister of Telecoms attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 31, 2009. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener

Last week’s allegations by Sibal of the “utterly erroneous” calculations in a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimating a $39 billion loss to the exchequer during the 2008 2G spectrum sale have led to a barrage of criticism from opposition politicians and the CAG, and appear to have only resulted in increased pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is reportedly mulling a breach of privilege motion against Sibal – a Congress heavyweight – for his insinuation of “serious errors” in the independent investigation, the CAG has suggested his remarks were “in contempt of the House” and the opposition, already riding high on the ruling party’s seemingly endless list of corruption-related woes, accused the minister of attempting to “overreach the Parliamentary process.”

Playing politics over fuel price hike?

INDIA/For the first time in parliamentary history, the entire opposition led by the BJP walked out during the Finance Minister’s budget speech.

The walkout was to protest against the hike in petrol prices.

The opposition is saying the government move adds to the burden of the people.

However, the united front put by the fractious opposition also hints at some pre-planning by the opposition leaders.

Was this reaction justified?

Shouldn’t the parliamentarians have stayed back and argued the point in the House?

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