Friday, July 31, 2015

Government Disrupting Parliament to Protect Guilty

Government Disrupting Parliament to Protect Guilty


Govt Disrupting Parliament

To Protect Guilty

Sitaram Yechury

CLEARLY, this BJP government is brazening out the turmoil in the parliament
and is hoping to `ride the storm' and escape parliamentary scrutiny over
grave charges of corruption that have been raised by the united opposition.
On the eve of this monsoon session of parliament, this BJP government and PM
Modi, celebrating their first year in office, bombastically claimed that
they have provided a corruption-free government as opposed to the
scam-ridden UPA-2 government. The recent revelations in the Lalit Modi scam,
the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, the involvement of two BJP ministers in
the scams in Maharashtra and the public distribution system connected scams
by the BJP government in Chhattisgarh have busted this myth.

The issues causing the current disruptions in both houses of parliament are
the serious allegations of misuse of office pertaining to the union minister
for external affairs and the chief minister of Rajasthan regarding the undue
favours they have shown to a fugitive from Indian law, former cricket IPL
czar, Lalit Modi.  It is alleged that their recommendations, facilitated
this fugitive from remaining beyond the jurisdiction of Indian law. It is
alleged that they facilitated the procuring of a legal travel document to
this fugitive from a foreign government (UK).

Outside the parliament, the BJP counters these charges by saying that these
actions by the external affairs minister were prompted by feelings of
humanism to help the concerned fugitive to attend to his ailing wife in
Portugal. It was argued that this fugitive requires to sign the papers
sanctioning medical treatment of his wife. Subsequently, it was shown that
Portugal does not require the concurrence of the spouse in such medical
cases. Further, many media reports have shown how this limited objective
could have been met through a limited travel permit from London to Portugal,
even if that was necessary and, at the same time, ensuring the return of the
fugitive to be tried under Indian law without recommending the issue of a
general travel document. The current parliamentary disruptions are also
connected with demand for action on serious allegations against the Madhya
Pradesh chief minister in the Vyapam scam. This scam represents a deadly
cocktail of crime and corruption that has claimed the lives of scores of
people, many outside the state.

This BJP government charges the opposition of avoiding a discussion in
parliament when they are prepared to (mercifully!) allow one.  The
opposition correctly maintains that a parliamentary discussion cannot be a
substitute for an investigation. These are serious charges that need to be
investigated at the highest level.  Till such an investigation continues, as
is the norm for any government servant, the accused demits office in order
to ensure strict impartiality.  It is precisely this that is being asked of
this BJP government.  After all, PM Modi declared from the Red Fort that he
is not the `Pradhan Mantri' but he is the `Pradhan Sewak'!  Surely,
therefore, the same rules and norms that govern a government servant in such
cases must apply to ministers as well.

All that the opposition is now asking this Modi government is that it
applies the same yardstick that they were asking for earlier. Consider the
utterly duplicitous positions now being taken by the BJP compared to their
own utterances in the past.  Much has appeared in public domain on the
positions taken by the minister for external affairs as the leader of
opposition in the Lok Sabha and the finance minister as the leader of the
opposition in the Rajya Sabha when similar disruptions rocked the parliament
during the UPA government's tenure.  On the oil for food scandal (Volker
disclosures), the 2005 parliament's winter session was disrupted leading to
the resignation of the then external affairs minister, Natwar Singh.  Then
the present minister for external affairs, Sushma Swaraj had said, "It was
only due to the pressure mounted by the opposition that the government
yesterday talked about probing the issue..No probe can be impartial without
Natwar Singh quitting office" (November 4, 2005).  Later in September 2012,
on the coal scam, Sushma Swaraj as the then leader of the opposition said,
"I would like to remind the prime minister, when he was leader of opposition
in Rajya Sabha (Dr Manmohan Singh), they had stalled parliament over the
Tehelka issue.  Even over the coffin scam, they stalled parliament and
called us coffin thieves."  Further, "Debate under 193 would mean a
`talkout' by the government and walkout by opposition. If we would have
taken debate under (rule) 184, they would have won because they have
numbers. Numbers however do not give the license to loot the country."
Also, "Not allowing parliament to function is also a form of democracy like
any other form".  She contended reacting to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's
statement that the BJP's stalling of parliament was a "negation" of
democracy.  The Congress and BJP roles now seem to have been reversed!  The
only consistent anti-corruption voice in the parliament remained and remains
that of CPI(M) and the Left.

In this context, it is necessary to highlight, once again, that neo-liberal
economic reforms engender corruption at high places by nurturing `crony
capitalism'. This Modi government is pursuing neo-liberal economic reforms
more aggressively than the Manmohan Singh government; scams, familiar under
UPA governments, thus, are bound to recur, if not, intensify under this Modi

Further, take the case of the present union finance minister who is also the
leader of the house (Rajya Sabha).  He has been popping up and down like the
proverbial "jack in the box" raising "points of order". On every occasion
that he has done so in this current session, the house was disrupted
prompting opposition leaders to say that he is raising "points of disorder".
However, under the UPA government, while leading the disruption of
parliament as the leader of the opposition, he had said, "There are
occasions when obstructions in parliament brings greater benefits to the
country.Our strategy does not permit us to allow the government to use the
parliament (for debate) without being held accountable..we do not want to
give the government an escape route through debate".  Further, "We, in the
opposition, are not interested in merely the issue being talked out through
a one day debate in parliament." (August 26, 2012)

In this current session, the same person charged the opposition by saying,
"Why are you running away from a discussion? are scared of a
discussion. (July 21, 2015). Further, "I dare you to start the discussion.
You don't have a single fact. Therefore noise making is all that you want to
do, and you don't want to discuss..."  (July 22, 2015)

Can there be greater duplicity?

Parliamentary disruptions during the 15th Lok Sabha eventually resulted in
the resignations of some UPA-2 ministers - A Raja, Dayanidhi Maran, Sashi
Tharoor, P K Bansal, Ashwini Kumar etc.  (Today, the union home minister
says, unabashedly, that this BJP government is not the UPA government and no
minister shall resign!) We can go back even earlier to expose the BJP's
current duplicity. Atal Behari Vajpayee in December 1995 said, "We don't
want a debate for debate's sake" demanding the resignation of the then
communication minister Sukh Ram.

Surely, two wrongs do not make a right.  The point is not to score points
with the BJP on what they said when they were in the opposition.  In this
context, it is important to underline the constitutionally mandated
responsibilities of the parliament.

Specifying separation of powers and spelling out the mechanics to work in
harmony where the three wings - executive, legislature and the judiciary -
play a joint and participatory role, our Constitution defines the centrality
of the will of the people. The preamble defines this most eloquently by
stating, "We, the people of India" and "do hereby Adopt, Enact and Give to
ourselves this Constitution". The eternal message is the sovereignty of the
people and its primacy in our constitutional system.  The people exercise
this sovereignty through their elected parliamentarians who, in turn, are
accountable to the people by making the government accountable to the
parliament.  The executive and the legislature given their responsibility
under the Constitution to manage public affairs are in the final analysis
accountable to the people. Accountability, in fact, differentiates democracy
from other systems of governance.

The effectiveness of the parliament in ensuring such accountability by the
government is paramount for "good governance".  PM Modi and the BJP had
campaigned ad nauseum in the 2014 general elections that they will provide
good governance as opposed to the `paralysis' and `silence' of the Dr
Manmohan Singh government.  By negating the parliament's discharge of its
important responsibility of making the government accountable, they are
seriously undermining "good governance", in fact, negating it.

The parliament, thus, can only ensure executive accountability through
effective legislative scrutiny not through a debate but by pressurising the
executive to order an investigation into the allegations. This BJP
government is escaping being accountable behind the veil of conducting a
"debate for debate's sake".  It is this BJP government that is today, thus,
causing parliamentary disruptions.

Further, the BJP argues that the recommendations given by the external
affairs minister and the Rajasthan chief minister do not constitute an act
of corruption. This is patently wrong.  The Prevention of Corruption Act
1988, article 13 (1) (d) (iii) states: "while holding office as a public
servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage
without any public interest;".  Surely, obtaining a travel document from a
foreign country for an individual staying abroad to escape action under
Indian law and when the Indian passport of this fugitive is declared invalid
under Indian law, is a `valuable thing' and `without any public interest'.
This is corruption, plain and simple.

In this context, recollect how a western democracy deals with similar
situations. The resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Tony Blair
government in the UK is appropriate. In early 2001, British media reported
that Mandelson had raised money for the `millennium dome' from the  Hinduja
brothers, in return for a `favour' of securing a passport for one of them,
Srichand. The passport was delivered within six months of applying against
the average 20 months, in breach of the British Nationality Act, 1981. This
was done on the basis of Mandelson's recommendation to the immigration
minister in the UK home office.  There was a hue and cry in the British
parliament. Mandelson had to resign though Srichand Hinduja was not accused
of wrongdoings and was not a fugitive from justice. Also the `millennium
dome' was a national edifice not involving any personal pecuniary gain.
Further, there was no suggestion of any "cosy relationship" between
Mandelson and Srichand Hinduja unlike in the present instance (both external
affairs minister and Rajasthan chief minister have publicly stated their
closeness to Lalit Modi).  It was the sheer impropriety in the act
recommendation for which Mandelson had to resign.

Here in India, persons committing graver offences are being protected by
this BJP government! Such is the `good governance' that PM Modi promised to
deliver in 2014. Such promises cannot be allowed to be betrayed. This Modi
government must be made accountable to the parliament and, through it, to
the people.

(July 29, 2015)

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