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Five years of stability

Will the Congress accept LK Advani's idea of a fixed-term Parliament? Asks Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2011 12:15 IST
Kumkum Chadha

During the last session of Parliament, BJP's LK Advani, informally, made two points. He said the national scenario is worrying and there are diverse views on mid-term polls. "What political parties want is different from what individual MPs want," he had said.

This means that political parties could consider pushing towards a mid-term poll, except that MPs are averse to it. There is a bit of logic in both arguments.

For political parties, the timing could not be better given that the Congress-led government is sufficiently tainted with scams. The Bihar elections have shown that Rahul Gandhi's sheen is a mirage and the going could get tough for the Congress. The much-touted Cabinet reshuffle willy-nilly exposed fissures within the Congress. Worse still, the rap from the apex court on several issues put the government in the dock.

This is enough for any belligerent Opposition to go for the kill. So if political parties and their respective leaderships have their way, their strategy would be to push the government to a corner in the hope that it falls.

However, the MPs who have won and have still over half a term left, do not want to face elections. Some may be denied a party nomination and even if they manage one, they may not win.

Advani's solution to this imbroglio is a fixed term of Parliament. Under this, a government loses its power to call an election. Even if it loses majority, the Parliament would not be dissolved. Instead, a new government would assume office. So, while governments slug it out, the MPs can sit smug.

Advani had mooted this idea to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee some months ago. With the British Parliament pushing a similar proposal in Britain, Advani has revived this proposal.

On its part, the Congress has been lukewarm to Advani's proposal. Even though Singh and Mukherjee were visibly receptive when Advani raised the issue on the sidelines of a luncheon hosted for a Head of State some months ago, it has not gone beyond pleasantries. Till date, neither the government nor the Congress party has given any indication that Advani's proposal is on the table. Neither does it seem in any hurry to do so.

For one, it is a proposal mooted by Advani; for another it translates into the government chopping off its hands. A fixed term takes away from a government the powers to call an election or pick up dates to maximise its own advantage. It deprives the ruling party of its current and unfair advantage to manipulate events, or leave the choice of the timing of an election with the prime minister. A fixed term ends a political system that can be used for partisan advantage.

On the flip side, it gives the Opposition a handle to destabilise elected governments. It is in this context that Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi dismissed the proposal as being "ill conceived" and motivated by a desperate need to topple an elected government. However, Singhvi played safe by adding that the Congress had an open mind on the proposal: "not a no-no", to quote him.

While the Congress procrastinates, the BJP, if it is as serious as Advani is, needs to do ground work. It needs to debate the issue, fine tune it and build an all-party consensus. If it is any consolation, Nationalist Congress Party's Sharad Pawar seems to be on board. Pawar has demanded a national debate and a constitutional amendment to push through the fixed term proposal.

But it is the other 'S' which is crucial. If Congress president Sonia Gandhi sees merit in Advani's proposal, then the Congress could change tack. A nudge from Sonia Gandhi will dramatically alter the situation: transform the proposal to a done deal, as it were.

(Kumkum Chadha is a senior journalist and a political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal.)