India Insight

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.

Reticent Singh is typically media-shy, but a slew of corruption charges against his party compelled him to hold a rare press conference live on national television in February, where he vowed he would not step down despite increasing pressure from Jaitley’s party.

“To meet for less than 70 days in a year is inadequate. Short durations lead to paucity of time available for debates, issues of public importance and legislation. When members, particularly from the opposition, want to raise several issues, the privilege is denied for paucity of time. The gagging of debate leads to obstructionism. Parliamentary obstructionism then becomes an acceptable mode to highlight an issue of public importance,” Jaitley wrote, without making reference to the BJP protest of parliament.

Congress dithers on Lokpal bill as pressure builds

As the scandal-tainted Congress coalition in India struggles to deal with graft allegations, the focus has shifted to an anti-corruption bill that may well be the bane of future governments.

A view of the parliament building in New Delhi February 12, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur/FilesThe Lokpal bill, which aims to bring the prime minister’s office and lawmakers under the purview of an anti-corruption ombudsman, has been introduced, rehashed and abandoned several times since 1968, the year it was first proposed.

Under growing pressure from the opposition and a hunger strike by 72-year-old activist Anna Hazare, the government may find it difficult to ignore the bill further.

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.

Has Congress lost the plot on inflation?

“Government Plan To Tackle Prices Is Just Hot Air” screamed the front page of Friday’s Mail Today, as India’s political media lined up to belittle what was billed as a list of anti-inflationary remedies but was robustly rejected as “already failed measures and oft-repeated homilies.”

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ruling Congress party Chief Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stand to attention as the national anthem is played during an oath-taking ceremony inside the presidential palace in New Delhi May 28, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meetings this week with senior cabinet ministers to tackle year-high food inflation dragged on long into the night, keeping editors on tenterhooks and assuring Congress of front page headlines.

This morning, those headlines would have made for painful reading. After rumours of export curbs and future markets tweaks, what emerged to be a paltry list of recommendations was seen by many as nothing but ineffective band-aids for a broken economy requiring surgery.

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.”

Adviser’s attack on Congress shows party tensions

Appearing to signal dissent in the ranks of India’s ruling Congress party, the Prime Minister’s media adviser told reporters last night that the “status-quoist” party was only concerned with winning elections.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C), Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi (R) and India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel (L) attend the inauguration ceremony of the newly constructed Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi July 3, 2010 REUTERS/B Mathur“The Congress is by nature a status-quoist, pragmatic party,” Harish Khare, media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was reported by the Hindustan Times as saying on Tuesday.

“It does not believe in any conviction. (Its) only conviction is to win elections,” the Indian Express added.

Commonwealth Games besieged – now diseased?

Plagued by endless corruption accusations, vast overspending claims and huge construction delays, you would be forgiven for thinking none of Delhi’s inhabitants were overjoyed about the city’s upcoming Commonwealth Games.

But you’d be mistaken, at least according to India’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

On Sunday, he said that the construction sites for the Games, which kick off in just over 40 days, were providing perfect conditions for the city’s mosquitoes, and laying the blame for the city’s record-breaking dengue outbreak squarely with the organising committee.

A rare news conference by the PM

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/INDIA“The prime minister of India rarely gets to speak, face-to-face, with the people of India,” writes historian Ramachandra Guha.

We might add the next-best-possible substitute ‘the media’ to this plaint.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will indeed have a rare conversation with the media on May 24, while presenting a report card on his government’s first year in office.

Right to education: a leap that falls short?

INDIAIs the government short-changing the nation on right to education?

Not all is hunky-dory with the ‘right to education’ law that has come into force.

The law puts to work a constitutional amendment of 2002 that made education a fundamental right.

Fali Nariman, the famous jurist who argued the landmark ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution case, points out that the amendment took away more from the children than it gave to them.

Should NRIs get voting rights?

USA-INDIA/Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have set the ball rolling for granting voting rights to Non Resident Indians.

“I recognise the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in who governs India,” Singh said at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas meet in New Delhi.

According to reports, the law ministry is working on amending the Representation of the People Act to include those living overseas as citizens.

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