Thursday, August 13, 2015

Land Acquisition Amendment Withdrawal - Hasty Retreat or Canny Politics?

Hum Saath Saath Hain - NDA Chief Ministers Talking to Narendra Modi at a NITI Aayog Meet (Source: Indian Express)
In the din of the last three weeks in Parliament, the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act (2013) was shelved without much notice. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, during his meeting at NITI Aayog with the respective state Chief Ministers clearly stated that states will have to take the lead on this matter, since the issue cannot be resolved at the federal level very easily. The numbers in the Rajya Sabha would never allow the passage of such a bill; also, constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) expressed their reservations on the bill repeatedly. Contentious clauses such as the ones on Social Impact Assessment and minimum compensation amounts were hot potatoes that most political parties think were too problematic to their electoral prospects.While it is a pity that electability has become an excuse for not taking decisions on 'sensitive issues' or stalling them into perpetuity, one has to wonder if the government has done the right thing by calling off the matter altogether.

Will it be classified as a hasty retreat for the Modi government? Hardly. The government has still not put out any statement where withdrawal of the bill in the form it stands. In fact, clause-wise amendment withdrawal was a last-ditched effort to get the Parliament functioning, which an acrimonious Opposition led by the sanctimonious mother-son duo disallowed at any cost. Rather, the government decided to spare political capital on a non-issue that has turned out only because of misrepresentation of facts and the intellectual bankruptcy and ineptitude of the media to understand where assistance ends and cronyism begins. Since the Indian National Congress (INC) made it personal by dragging Sushma Swaraj's daughter and husband repeatedly into the picture, the carping that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went personal as seen by Sushma and Arun Jaitley's pointed jabs is laughable to say the least. However, the government can carry on through the ordinance route as it has been doing on some provisions, and let no difference occur.

Can we classify this move as canny politics? Certainly. States have, under the Seventh Schedule of Article 246 of the Constitution of India, the right to frame laws that supercede provisions laid out by the federal government at the 'discretion of the President'. As can be seen in the case of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and increasingly Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, many issues like labour reforms and land acquisition policies under the governments of the states, ruled directly by BJP or its allies, pockets of business friendliness are being created. The specific plan as can be seen and pointed out by several experts, is that the BJP and NDA can create exclusive economic corridors amongst themselves and feed off each others' prosperity and well-being, thus creating stretches of developed zones that put the other states to thinking. For instance, as Mihir Sharma (yes, of the Business Standard fame) had said, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa are all BJP or NDA ruled. An exclusive economic corridor amongst them would do magic on a huge chunk of the country's population, and the resultant synergies can put states like Odisha and West Bengal to serious scrutiny. The model of coopetitive (cooperative+competitive) federalism can be bandided by the BJP as the advantages that states can have with the NDA/BJP rule at the state gelling well with the Center, putting significant political pressure on INC, Trinamool and other state leaders.

In either case, the NDA has all the aces up its sleeve. The impacts can be visible within two years, and the Acche Din for one part of the country can unnerve the state chieftains in other parts. This round goes to the NDA so far, and the INC and its allies, even if they want to, cannot beat this formidable yet unexpected challenge.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Can We End This Mexican Stand-Off in Parliament Please?

Last Man Standing - Sonia Gandhi Protesting Outside Parliament During this Monsoon Session
In Parliamentary democracy, it is not that we do not see stand-offs. Taiwan and South Korea's National Assemblies are notoriously famous for the brawls that the elected representatives regularly indulge in. Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria are quite famous for their punch-ups, and Jordan has the unique reputation of a member of parliament firing an AK-47 in the building. Kicks, slaps, moshes (oh yes, they look no different), blockades - you name it, they do it. Despite this confrontational approach of the opposition benches, irrespective of who occupies them, business eventually does get done. Vibrancy of the democratic set up gets displayed in a rather perverse manner however; brazenness is considered to be an undesirable trait by everyone, and efforts are never stopped to reconcile the various parties. The effort never stops - not only because there is no intransigence on the part of the ruling party, but the Opposition too accepts the futility beyond headline grabbing of holding national business up for too long.

For all those who have been shouting themselves hoarse on how the current stand-off in Parliament is the fault of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - you are wrong. The roots of this problem do not lie in 2004. Rather, they lie in 1999, when Sonia Gandhi officially became the Leader of Opposition from the Indian National Congress party, which had a strength of 97 MPs at that time. Does anyone even remember the boycott of George Fernandez - first of its kind in the history of Indian Parliament - that was initiated by Mrs Gandhi and her coterie - on the charges of corruption related to misconducts and commissions for coffins purchased for the Kargil martyrs? That is the real root of the whole stand-off that we see today. Ironically, what one perceives to have worked to good use for the Opposition at one time seems to become the panacea for all ills for the next occupant party as well. Ever since 2004, we have seen quite a ruckus created by the BJP benches too. But to rule out the ruling party's contribution during this period is just not possible. L Rajagopal, the pepper sprayer in Parliament, is one prime example of disruption from the ruling benches. Another was the ruckus created when L K Advani during a debate called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government illegitimate. Neither is suspension something unprecedented - Meira Kumar had suspended 10 Members of Parliament from the Opposition benches in 2010 at the behest of Mrs Gandhi, who seemed to remote control every possible position of authority without taking responsibility. Any attempt to have debates on issues of importance were shouted down and rejected straightaway instead of trying to find a middle path. Even now, despite six all-party meetings by the Speaker the Opposition led by Mrs Gandhi refuses to come to the discussion table. In her false belief that the resignations on the floor of the house of Mr Ashwani Kumar and Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal were victories for the BJP in 2014, she is indulging in the same suicidal game, earning only scorn and disgust of the public in turn for wasting public money. Repeated public surveys online, an indicator of the public mood, has shown that people believe the suspension done by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is appropriate.

This Mexican stand-off is entirely the fault of the Congress, and the sooner it realizes that it stands o slippery slope on this one, the less political capital it loses. Important bills such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which it is stalling even in the Parliamentary panel of Rajya Sabha, shows its lack of intent to let the government function at all. Pretentious cries of "return of Emergency" and 'black day for democracy" sounds hollow when the disruption is entirely your fault Mrs Gandhi.

So Mrs Gandhi, now can we please end this Mexican stand-off in Parliament, since there is only one loser irrespective, and that is you and your son?


The Economic Slowdown Needs Immediate Address

The Buck Stops With the Duo (Courtesy: Bloombergquint) The fracas in Maharashtra notwithstanding, things are at a critical juncture ...