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Monday, 29 August 2011 00:00
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After all the fumbling and bumbling, just when people had become to despair that India’s parliamentarians were as dysfunctional as those in the US, the MPs rose to the occasion, and magnificently. After conceding the role played by Anna Hazare and the salience of many of his points, MPs put aside their often vicious party politics and came together to reassert that it was only Parliament that has the power to make laws and that it wouldn’t be rushed into passing a law without examining it thoroughly in the standing committee, never mind the enormous pressure being exerted by the fasting Hazare. At the same time, however, the BJP’s Arun Jaitley rose to assure the government that workable solutions could be crafted to even the tricky points raised by Hazare, solutions that were within the federal structure of the Constitution. How the MPs finally come up with a solution that gives the country a strong Lokpal while ensuring it doesn’t become an all-powerful monolith remains to be seen.

 

Much of the current crisis, possibly the major reason why Hazare caught the public imagination the way he did, has to do with the government’s sluggish response in dealing with corruption to the extent of questioning the CAG’s credentials and even denying there was a scam—remember Kapil Sibal’s famous zero-revenue-loss press conference? But, that apart, as the Prime Minister said, the Lokpal, empowered or not, is no solution as it comes into play after the damage has been done. The government did well to drop the permission-to-prosecute clause that protects corrupt civil servants, and needs to move quickly on other solutions worked out by it. These include the proposal that all natural resources will be auctioned, a public procurement policy that will make government procurement transparent, and a law passed whereby many powers will be taken away from line ministries and would be given to Parliament-monitored independent regulators.

While the government has its task cut out to move on the reforms agenda, none of this can be achieved unless the Opposition behaves as responsibly as it did over the weekend. The Hazare crisis, in fact, is much smaller than the crisis facing the economy in the face of a possible double-dip recession globally. No country can escape unscathed, but if India is able to move on legislating reforms, the impact can be mitigated—from the 9% growth the government was targeting as recently as February, the consensus GDP forecast is now between 7 and 7.5%. Both savings and investment levels have taken a beating, tax-to-GDP levels have fallen considerably … in other words, with inflation proving difficult to combat, the economy is in trouble. In such a situation, India can’t afford the luxury of a situation where, to use Sushma Swaraj’s words, the BJP’s core parliamentary committee meets and takes a decision on whether to allow Parliament to function that day—as PRS Legislative Research points out, Parliament worked harder even during the height of the Bofors crisis. The old ways can no longer do.

Either for the government or for the Opposition.

 

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