New Delhi, Sept. 7: The “wasted” session of Parliament has prompted probably the first appeal by an Indian Prime Minister to “all right-thinking people” to stand up and ensure that democratic institutions are allowed to function.
Prime Ministers have in the past resorted to addressing the people directly in times of trouble but Manmohan Singh’s written “message to the nation” stood out for its sharpness and sense of deep hurt.
Soon after the month-long monsoon session of Parliament wound up after passing just four bills, Singh said: “We have just ended a wasted session…. This is a negation of democracy. If this thought process is allowed to gather momentum, that will be a grave violation of the norms of parliamentary politics as we have understood it.”
The Prime Minister did not mention the BJP by name, choosing to use the word “Opposition”, but parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal made no bones about blaming “the old man in a hurry”, an ill-concealed reference to L.K. Advani, for the washout.
Singh stuck to the larger picture, raising fundamental questions about where the polity was headed. “This is the road to a dysfunctional politics which will only produce agitational politics and a deeply divided and disenchanted country…. I urge all right-minded Indians to stand up and unite against the forces of anarchy and disruption to secure the foundations of our hard-earned democratic and constitutional rights.”
The Prime Minister emphasised: “I feel very strongly that this is making a mockery of parliamentary democracy. We take pride in our parliamentary democracy and the tradition of free debate that it implies. Only a few months ago, during the 60th-year celebrations of our Parliament, I said that the story of the Indian Parliament is a story of India striving for freedom and dignity; for tolerance and equality; for peace and progress.”
The leading article in The Telegraph on Friday had begun with the same point: that the commemorative joint session was now a distant dream. The article, titled “Joint Action”, had also said the ruling party must “unlearn its habit of dictating affairs and the Opposition its habit of disrupting”.
But the country seems headed for one of the most acrimonious run-ups to the general election, officially scheduled two years later.
Minister Bansal poured oil into the fire by saying “the old man may be in a hurry but we have the mandate to rule for five years”.
Not that Bansal did not touch upon larger issues. “The baseless campaign has the genesis of fascism in it. They seemed to suggest only their writ should run and the Prime Minister must resign, in turn the government must go, which is against the democratic principle of rule by majority,” Bansal said. “The BJP is misleading the nation that its campaign is about morality but the truth is that it is born out of narrow partisan politics and lust for power.” The Prime Minister did not confine himself to lofty rhetoric. He said the issues raised in the CAG report, which “rightly or wrongly made certain allegations”, were not being swept under the carpet and whatever corrective action was necessary would be taken.
He pointed to the enormous challenges faced by the country — social, political and economic — and stressed the need for focusing energies on addressing them.
Singh, however, lamented: “We cannot do this if the government is constantly distracted by the actions of those who prefer obstruction over discussion. Those who follow this path detract from India’s prestige as the world’s largest parliamentary democracy. They are unwittingly only serving the ends of those who want to weaken the country and discredit its institutions.”
As if responding to the charges of policy paralysis and widespread criticism of his inability to take tough decisions, the Prime Minister said: “I hope Parliament can get back to business in the next session. Meanwhile, the government must act wherever it can without the benefit of parliamentary guidance. I am instructing all ministries to accelerate their consideration of critical issues where decisions are needed to get the economy moving again.”