Given the furore over the rape of a five-year old and the BJP’s resentment over the handling of the JPC report on the 2G scam—statehood for Telangana and the heckling of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee also figured, among other issues—it was not surprising that Parliament was not allowed to function after its post-recess opening on Monday. The BJP will meet later today for yet another discussion on its strategy since the JPC report talks of huge telecom losses at the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister—chances are, if party managers are not able to resolve the wording of the JPC report, the entire session would be at risk. While politics is an integral part of what political parties do, it has to be kept in mind that with each passing day, India gets that much closer to the general elections, which means it will become increasingly difficult to get any serious business done. This session offers perhaps the best chance to pass a few critical Bills. Indeed, despite its shortcomings, it was heartening to see BJP leader in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj agree that her party would support the Land Acquisition Bill since the government had agreed to the amendments the NDA had proposed. Such maturity, sadly, was missing on Monday when Parliament had to be adjourned over the demand for the home minister’s resignation, and the BJP has already said it will move a privilege motion against JPC chief PC Chacko in both houses of Parliament for the draft report’s leakage—indeed, you can expect all manner of charges to be levelled by both the NDA and the UPA over the next few days.
There is a lot, it is true, the government of the day can do to speed up economic growth even without Parliament being in session. Speeding up clearances for around R8 lakh crore worth of stalled projects is one such example, and the Cabinet Committee on Investments is engaged in precisely this exercise. Attempts are being made, similarly, to hike FDI caps in certain sectors, to abolish artificial distinctions wherever possible between FII and FDI. There are many such other exercises being planned, but it will be a very brave investor who will invest in a country where there is a legislative logjam at a time when the official date of elections is still 14 months away. Moreover, it is difficult to see merit in the BJP opposition to raising FDI limits in insurance and pensions. The official position, as articulated by BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, is that after the global financial crisis most countries have been looking at financial sector liberalisation through a different prism. This is undoubtedly true and the way in which financial firms hid losses through complex off-balance-sheet SPVs comes to mind. But whether an insurance firm has a 26% FDI level or a 49% one—or even a 0% one—this risk is something the insurance regulator has to deal with. Besides the insurance and pension Bills, the Parliamentary logjam has meant even Bills on which there is little disagreement—the forward contract and Sebi amendment Bill are two immediate examples that come to mind—have got stuck. It is perhaps time to bring in legislation that stipulates a minimum time that Parliament has to function in each session.