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The wheels of justice

Author: Seema Mustafa
Publication: The Statesman
Date: December 15, 2011
URL: http://web1.thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&show=

The government of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh will have to crawl on bended knees to appease the angry people of India. Otherwise, it can count its days in office, with each session of Parliament becoming a test for survival

THE year is drawing to a close and, so it seems, is meaningful government activity. The state of flux has engulfed the entire UPA ministry that appears totally adrift. It is as if no one is in charge, with the ministers pulling in different directions and industry threatening to pull out investments for safer bets abroad.
Everything that could go wrong has done so. Inflation is leaping, as are prices. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to talk of growth that no one can really see, and takes decisions he cannot follow through. His authority has eroded to the point where he is contradicted by ministers and finds himself isolated and quite on the fringe of government functioning. His pet project, after the nuclear agreement with the USA, is Foreign Direct Investment in Retail. He made the announcement but the outcry in the country, reflected in Parliament, put the government squarely in the dock.

Allies like Mamata Banerjee refused to back the government on this and eventually the proposal has been put on hold. The announcement that the government had decided not to go ahead with this came not from Singh but from Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who seems to be quite happy with the turn of events. Singh has now said again, not in Parliament but in an interview, that he has not given up on the proposal and it would be reconsidered after the assembly elections next year.

Amazing, if true, as it shows scant respect for Parliament and the opposition and makes a mockery of democratic governance.

The Prime Minister should explain what would have changed by early next year to enable him to get the FDI in retail through the objections of Parliament. And as his interview seems to suggest, the reason for backing off now was all to do with the elections and little to do with the genuine concerns of the people. In fact, he should explain why he is not concerned about the people, largely small vendors and entrepreneurs who will be adversely affected by this proposal if it gets through Parliament. And he should also explain why his economic policies and strategy has failed to deliver, in that it has deepened poverty and increased the gap between the rich and the poor.

There is something very vulgar and ugly about the thousands of rupees that a brand item fetches in India as against our acute poverty, where families can barely survive. And then the Prime Minister should also explain how FDI in retail will help the poorest of the poor who should have been the yardstick for his economic plans.

The government is unable to handle the issue of corruption that has generated a parallel economy of crores of rupees in India. Prime Minister Singh is silent on this, with the all-party meeting having clearly been convened to give the UPA more time to bring in the Lokpal Bill. The Congress is not keen to include the Prime Minister in the ambit of the Bill, not because of Manmohan Singh but more because it hopes to have scion Rahul Gandhi in the hot seat at some point. And given the fact that corruption has become an integral part of politics and governance today, not many in power will be without skeletons and bodies in their cupboards. But Anna Hazare and the support he has generated amongst the people at large constitutes a powerful pressure group that has shackled the government.

The likes of Kapil Sibal have not been able to open a window for escape, and now with the entire opposition supporting Hazare, the situation has become even more difficult for the UPA.

Everything is on hold. The Lokpal Bill, the now-old-but-verging-on-the-ancient Women’s Reservation Bill that no one is talking about in this session, the Food Bill and even defence deals like the multicrore-rupee  proposal for 126 combat aircraft. The shortlist was narrowed down to two contenders but till date the government has not been able to decide between both, leading to rumours that even this deal, becoming more and more expensive by the minute, is now on hold. Or perhaps even aborted.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has definitely lost steam. Rumours about her health remain unconfirmed and no one knows for certain whether she will be able to steer the ship for long. Her son Rahul Gandhi is trying desperately to make a dent in Uttar Pradesh, but judging from the responses it seems he was not very wise to put all his eggs in one basket in this crucial and highly unpredictable state. Manipulation has replaced fieldwork with Congressmen dancing around the leadership in a bid to be noticed -- and thereby to be secure.

The old problems -- poverty, Kashmir, the North-east and Naxalites --continue and have been compounded even further by the new issues that have people protesting now for days and months. Gone is the time when a protest was confined to a few hours. Desperation is now preventing people from retirning home as the state and its capitalist cronies threaten their livelihood and their land. There are ongoing people’s protests in 18 states at this point, with fishermen, farmers, small cultivators and even the middle class joining those agitating for a better life, for rights and for dignity.

Prime Minister Singh’s much-lauded civilian nuclear energy agreement with the USA has run aground. Even though a volley of half-truths and the famous cash-for-vote ruse managed to get it through Parliament, the people have stopped it now from becoming a reality. The big victory that the UPA government claimed to have scored has turned into bitter defeat as Parliament could not give the nod to legislation, allowing the supplier of the nuclear reactor to go virtually free of culpability in case of an accident. And as a result the diluted Bill that was eventually passed is not acceptable to the USA that continued to exert pressure on the Prime Minister to tighten the legislation. He did so by bringing in a series of rules to negate some of the provisions of the main piece of legislation but clearly these will not stand up in court, as well known lawyer Soli Sorabjee has recently pointed out. The USA, thus, is not being able to sell the promised reactors to India, and the people have made this even more difficult by picketing nuclear plants and proposed sites for nuclear parks.

The wheels of justice have only just started turning and the government is paralysed by inaction and arrogance. It will have to crawl on bended knees to appease the angry people of India. Otherwise,it can count its days in office, with each session of Parliament becoming a test for survival.
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