Conflict Between Institutions is Dangerous for Democracy

Democracy is near decimation when intense institutional conflicts begin to arise. The contemporary scenario of democracy in India is indeed very critical. The Union Government is locking horns with the Army Chief in the Supreme Court of India and is engulfed in a tussle with the ex-chief of a premier space organization. Political chaos also resulted in the CAG revolting against the Government and that too in public domain. We had people occupying the power corridors accusing the judiciary of overreach during the CVC fiasco and also when the judiciary questioned the policy of “first come first serve”. In states like Karnataka we’ve seen the CM embroiled in a bitter war of words with the Governor and a virtual fight erupted between the Gujarat Governor and the State Council of Ministers on the issue of the appointment of the State Lokayukta and the matter ultimately went to a court of law.

Union Ministries and Agencies like Finance, Home Affairs, Rural Development and Planning Commission also appear to be in a mood of conflict, various states governments are also on collision course. State governments of Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been warring with one another on the issue of the Mullaperiyar Dam and Kerala has even accused an empowered committee appointed by the Supreme Court of bias. Innumerable confrontations are taking place between the Central Government and various State Governments with the States accusing the Centre of acting in a step motherly manner and the Centre responding by accusing the States of non-utilization of the funds granted by them. The ugly brawls between the Centre and States are visible threats to the principle of federalism. The list doesn’t seem to end. Such tussles need to be terminated to ensure that democracy doesn’t get subverted.

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Active Advocates in Parliament – Conflict of Interest?

Ever since a lot of legal professionals have forayed into politics, we have witnessed politics drenched into legalism which has resulted into administrative inaction, freeze in decision making, policy paralysis and governance deficit.

Lawyers practicing as politicians inside Parliament and as legal luminaries in law courts is a lethal combination but along with themselves lawyers have brought an inseparable and intrinsic aspect of their profession inside Parliament and that is of delays and pendency. But is this thing really worth caring about? Because if you delve deep into the history of politics of any democratic country with India being no exception, you will find out that an overwhelming majority of politicians happened to be lawyers either by degree or profession but the worrying factor is that earlier active politics provided no space for any other sort of activity to be carried out simultaneously but now scenes of politicians putting on their black robes when the Parliament is not in session is a very frequent phenomenon.

This dual tasking maybe a healthy prospect for money making but it raises certain serious questions which are primarily related to another indirect encroachment on the institutions of Parliament and the Executive by judicial officers. Is India’s judiciary (comprising of both lawyers and judges) being the law maker, law enforcer and also the one interpreting laws ?

Lokpal Logjam

Will the Lokpal logjam ever end? Will any side ever come up with such a formula for the anti-corruption ombudsman agency which will be acceptable to all the stakeholders (Government, Opposition and Team Anna) and to all those who have vigorously followed this movement in the anticipation of a historic legislation (eminent activists, decorated jurists, celebrated authors, the media, freelance journalists and thinking intellectuals like me & most importantly the people of this country)?

What lies in the destiny of this nation, an omnipotent ombudsman, a lacklustre lokpal or a reasonable organization which will function with utmost efficiency? These are questions which are not going to fade away anytime soon as consensus eludes and truce seems too far. The standoff doesn’t seem like ending and this stalemate is heading towards a titanic showdown between Team Anna and the Government. It will take a supernatural effort to dismantle this impasse. As we head towards the conclusion of the Winter Session of the Parliament which will be followed by the third phase of Anna’s mega protests there are certain things which remain to be the basic sticking points.

How will the final face of the Lokpal legislation shape up like? The most basic questions are in connection to the inclusion of the Prime Minister and of lower bureaucracy within the purview of the Lokpal, the fate of the CBI and along with these there are many more contentious issues concerning the Judiciary and the formation of Lokayuktas which are yet to be resolved. And will the Lokpal be a constitutional body as Rahul Gandhi wants it to be? But that also means 2/3rd majority in the Parliament and that requires a genuine consensus among various political parties. How will things finally turn up? I think that this debate is going to rage on endlessly and the answers to all our questions will surely be unveiled in the days to come. Let’s keep our fingers crossed till then.

Politics Over Parliamentary Rules

The Parliament of India, its sanctity, its relevance, its role and its jurisdiction have all been in the news since the past few days. I must say that the Parliament is being wrongly portrayed by some individuals as an institution which prohibits its members from actively engaging with the people. Some have been using parliamentary provisions as a political tactic to destabilize the ruling alliance and some are citing parliamentary rules and regulations as a blanket to dodge all criticism and justify their actions or deeds. I just want to bring certain contemporary issues to light in order to expose the way in which the Parliament in itself is getting politicized and is being used as a weapon.

Recently the Congress gave the debate organized by Team Anna at Jantar Mantar a miss. I think it was a wise decision. Team Anna has turned itself into a primarily anti-congress organization; it campaigned against the party in the Hisar by-polls and has hugely ridiculed the Congress Party, its leaders and ministers. Since the debate was organized by Team Anna at a place which was by no means neutral it was justified on the Congress’s part to give it a miss. But the Congress should have been brave enough to state this in public. They should have come out and said we don’t believe in engaging in a discussion at a place where we are bound to get jeered down, be ridiculed and have our opinions unheard. Instead of doing that the Congress Party came out with immature and absurd arguments to justify its action. It lambasted at those parties who shared the stage with Team Anna and accused them of disobeying the Parliament by discussing the bill at Jantar Mantar. This is an extremely laughable point. Yes, the Parliament is the ideal place for debating on legislation, it’s the Parliament’s prerogative but that doesn’t stop individuals from debating on an issue or a bill on a public stage. All of us are entitled to do that. Politicians from all parties come and debate on issues on television channels. In fact parties appoint certain spokespersons to do this task. When they go and debate on issues on television channels, isn’t it then an insult to the Parliament? We all respect the supremacy of the Parliament in terms of lawmaking but similarly it is everybody’s right to have a discussion on any bill at any place. This does not amount to disobeying the Parliament.

The BJP, the party which is most responsible for repeated stalling of the Parliament moved a privilege motion against Home Minister P Chidambaram accusing him of violating the Parliament’s rules by issuing a statement to the press when the Parliament was in session instead of coming up with a clarification on the floor of the House. I think the BJP needs to indulge in some introspection. They are the ones who never allow the Parliament to function, they’ve not even allowed Mr Chidambaram to speak during this session, no member from their party acted in a legitimate and dignified way by actually addressing a question to Mr Chidambaram during the question hour and asking for an explanation for him on the controversy as it should have been rightly done. All they did was baseless sloganeering and ensuring that the House did not transact any business. The rule says that the Government cannot announce any policy decision when the Parliament is in session. It doesn’t stop ministers from issuing clarifications on certain controversies by means of the press and this is what Home Minister P Chidambaram did. There is nothing wrong in this. When you’ll not allow the Minster to speak in the House then what else he’ll do?

Secondly, his clarification on a controversy is not a policy decision and therefore he has committed no wrong. In fact privilege motions need to be moved against the whole of the BJP for repeatedly stalling the Parliament and for purposely searching for issues in the name of which they can disrupt Parliament. We also have Team Anna with us. A bunch of arrogant and rigid individuals who resort to extra constitutional blackmailing and pressurizing, who call parliamentarians fraud, who ridicule the very concept of politics in India, who try to thrust upon a legislation on the Parliament, accusing the Government of disobeying Parliament by dishonouring the Sense of the House etc. Let me clear one thing. The Parliament never passed any resolution in the previous session. It just came up with a Sense of the House which is not a resolution, it’s merely an extra-constitutional exercise conducted by the House on certain matters of public interest. A statement is issued at the end of the debate to sum up all that has happened and the final statement issued by a senior minister or a concerned minister of the Government is mostly a generalization of the entire debate. Sense of the House has no legal mandate. It is not binding on the Parliament. I think it is inappropriate on the part of individuals like Team Anna, who try to pressurize Parliament, to accuse the Government of disobeying it. The institution of the Parliament in itself is being used to satisfy certain vested interests. No individual organization or party should be allowed to mislead the nation by means of citing incorrect and nonexistent parliamentary norms and conventions. Let’s not turn Parliament along with its rules and regulations into a controversial issue.

Advani’s Jan Chetna Yatra

Black money is a big concern and this concern was raised by veteran BJP leader LK Advani in his Jan Chetna Yatra. The Yatra wasn’t a big success but following that Mr Advani moved an adjournment motion against the Government in the Lok Sabha which was swiftly defeated by the Government. The debate on black money was a bit disappointing for me as it came to a very timid ending. Plus the response from both the Government and the Opposition wasn’t very encouraging. They were indulging in scoring political points instead of addressing the issue. Only a few looked really committed to the cause.

The first issue which was put on the table was the one concerning the revealing of the names of all those who had a Swiss Bank Account. The Government turned down the request and rightly so. The Government has got information of these accounts by means of international treaties which it signed alongside many countries. These treaties are governed by strict secrecy laws. The Government cannot make public the names of the account holders. If it will do so to fulfil the political appetite of a hungry Opposition, then it will violate an international treaty and won’t get any further information regarding accounts held by Indians in Swiss banks thus bringing to an end India’s search for its lost billions in the form of tax evasion. Naming the ones who feature on that list is not the solution to the problem. Effective measures need to be enacted to punish those who’ve committed the crime.

Secondly, the list also comprises of the names of a few legitimate account holders. The Government cannot make public the names of all those who have a legitimate bank account overseas. It would violate their privacy. In fact it cannot even make public the names of the illegitimate account holders because of (a) International treaties and secrecy agreements the treaty is governed by (As I stated earlier) (b) Because of citizen’s right to privacy. Recently a court in India instructed Delhi Traffic Police to stop posting the photographs of all those who broke traffic rules on Delhi Traffic Police’s Facebook page as it amounted to breach of privacy.

The second issue which was raised was regarding the amount of black money stashed abroad and the size of the Indian Black or Parallel or Shadow Economy. Organizations including the BJP Task Force have come up with estimates on this but it’s something which is based on assumptions rather than on facts and numbers. The Government has no record of this. It just has the names of those who have Swiss bank accounts, not the amount of money held inside them. The Government has assigned the job of predicting the amount of black money stashed abroad to a number of financial organizations operating under its umbrella. Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the Hon’ble Finance Minster, said that India entered into a pact with Switzerland in which they assured the Indian Government of prospective information in relation to Swiss Bank Accounts starting 1st April 2011 but denied them retrospective information in relation to bank accounts of Indians in their country. I side with the Government on this particular point too.

The third issue was regarding the steps taken by the Government to tackle this issue. I would like to criticize the Government a bit on this. Even though Mr Mukherjee highlighted the work done by the Government in relation to black money but I wasn’t convinced. Mr Mukherjee even promised Mr LK Advani a white paper on black money but that isn’t enough. He quoted financial experts who said that the Indian Government has made a huge progress within no time on this matter but the fact remains that there are serious loopholes. Till now the Government should have clearly categorized the names of the account holders under two categorizes, legitimate and illegitimate. The Government should have tried to analyze the accounts of all the illegitimate account holders. What kind of wealth (tax evaded money, ill gotten money, money earned by indulging in illegal businesses) could be inside that account? I am sorry to say that the Government hasn’t done that. The Government needs to expedite the process and progress immensely. The UPA Government cannot escape the blame by saying that the NDA during its regime did nothing about it. The UPA Government is a sovereign government with a great set of duties on its shoulders. It needs to operate with efficiency and honesty. It shouldn’t try to look out for an escapist route. They’ve been elected to address issues like these. If they’ll fail to do so then they’ll also be shown the door just like the NDA was by the electorate of India.