As far as comebacks go, the UPA government’s performance has been remarkable. A month ago, there seemed nothing but gloom and doom with the government on the ropes on almost every issue it tried to take up. And of course, hammering away at its negative qualities, we had India Against Corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal and his merry band. Day after day, fresh allegations of corruption against very senior ministers surfaced and it seemed that the government could do no right. I would be exaggerating if I said I could even have remotely predicted the fight back by the government.
Now as another Parliament session begins, it can only be hoped that it will produce some positive results. One of the main causes for dissatisfaction with the political class has been the perception, and with good reason, that it is not doing the job it has been elected for. In what were some of the lowest points in our democracy, every day of Parliament erupted into shouting matches, walkouts and adjournments. Not even the public ferment whipped up the Anna crusade seemed to be able to get our politicians to agree on anything.
Now again, there are dark clouds looming with the Opposition once again raising the contentious foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail decision. As of now, it does not seem that there will be any meeting ground on the issue. The Opposition has every right to bring up these issues. But, at the same time, it should not adopt a totally inflexible stand, rather it should come up with constructive suggestions. Urban development minister Kamal Nath who is also looking after parliamentary affairs has struck the right note by talking to senior Opposition leaders like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. These are the leaders who will give direction to their MPs in Parliament. The prime minister has said he is willing to discuss the issue.
In the last session, it did not appear, at least to my eye, that any of the leaders really sat down and talked to each other. In fact, it seemed that all communication lines had broken down. A sense of cynicism seemed to have crept in with the government firefighting each day. For days on end, there was an unseemly clamour for the PM’s resignation which was one of the most bitter I have seen in a long time. At that time, it seemed that there was no political management of any sort. The BJP went as far as to make common cause with the civil society activists who were also in attack mode on the streets.
But all that has to change in this session. The Congress has several aces up its sleeve this time. For a start, it has in the form of Kamal Nath a seasoned strategist who has the respect of colleagues across party lines. Then the prime minister has established that while he is a reasonable man, he stands firm in the economic reforms that he believes in. After Mamata Banerjee throwing a hissy fit and walking out of the government, the UPA by not trying to buy peace with her sent out a very strong signal that it could be pushed only so much and no more.
And then came the Cabinet reshuffle which many had dismissed as nothing more than cosmetic changes. But, it would appear that the prime minister in what will possibly be his last reshuffle in this government has given considerable thought to the matter. And in this he seems to have the full support of the party president.
It has long been the belief among many that it is only age and experience which matter in governance. It is because of this that many young and dynamic ministers were left languishing in minor portfolios and often given no work by senior ministers. Now that has changed with crucial ministries being entrusted to young people. What the government needs to do is also use these energetic ministers to help in floor management. The younger MPs and ministers appear to get along with each other and their discourse does not seem tainted by bitterness or ideological baggage. These are the people that not just the government but Opposition parties should use to negotiate and try to arrive at some form of consensus on crucial issues.
The breakdown of Parliament has not helped anyone, least of all the Opposition. This session with its more energised Parliament could be just the remedy we need to restore people’s faith in parliamentary politics. It would also send out the signal that people are not throwing away good money on politicians who seem to have no interest in governance or the good of the people. It would also demonstrate that the government and the Opposition are not just talking at each other but talking to each other. This will reap rich political dividends for all parties in the long run. And that should surely be a powerful motivating factor if nothing else.