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India, anybody home?

The PM says that the UPA has taken steps to make the Govt responsive. But by nixing the Parliament’s Monsoon Session, it has skirted debate on crucial issues, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2008 00:57 IST

As widely anticipated, the UPA government has jettisoned the monsoon session of the Parliament by announcing that it shall now convene on October 17 for five weeks. Thus, the winter session, ending Christmas Eve, also becomes infructuose. Given the present rate of inflation, the UPA probably reckons that it would cost more than it did during the trust vote to engineer a majority in case of a vote in the Lok Sabha! In any case, this session, most certainly, appears to be the last for the 14th Lok Sabha. Clearly, the government is hoping to enter the Parliament’s portals with its hopeful ‘victory’ by clinching the Indo-US nuclear deal. It is, indeed, a slur on the world’s largest democracy to determine its schedules by the timetable of the US Congress — an unfortunate vindication of the fears of becoming a ‘subordinate ally’ of the US.

For a variety of important reasons, such manipulation of Parliament sessions has serious implications. It violates the basic principle of governance established under our system. Central to India’s constitutional structure is that sovereignty rests solely with the people. ‘We, the people’ expresses itself in the executive’s accountability to the legislature, which, in turn, is accountable to the people. The absence of the Parliament session negates the legislature’s right and the executive’s obligation. This is a serious compromise with the concept of sovereignty as enshrined in the Constitution.

Further, this is happening when the executive’s accountability is required on a variety of events that are plaguing our country and the people. There is runaway inflation which the government has miserably failed to control. Incendiary agitations continue to rock Jammu and Kashmir. As the state is under President’s rule, the Parliament is the only forum where efforts to resolve the situation can be made.

The river Kosi has changed its course after three centuries, virtually wiping out large tracts of Bihar, rendering millions homeless. The breach in its embankments, the apparent cause for this havoc, at the Kosi barrage in Nepal coincided with Prachanda taking oath as Nepal’s new Prime Minister. However, India has a 199 year lease to maintain this barrage. The country would surely like to know what went wrong, and where, for the ravaging river to wreak such destruction, but the people are being robbed of this right.

The flames of the communal conflagration in Jammu are now being carried to Orissa where innocent tribal Christians are being subjected to inhuman atrocities. Such mayhem is perpetrated for seeking an electoral advantage by consolidating the ‘Hindu vote-bank’. There are reports of ethnic disturbances in the North-east, while the separatist demands in Darjeeling, Telangana and elsewhere are simmering. Maoist insurgency continues to torment in many parts of the country.

The issue of the need for a new Central law for land acquisition has, once again, come to the forefront with the ongoing agitation in Singur. Where else can these issues that will determine the future of our country and its people be discussed, except in the Parliament?

Above all, this comes when the latest World Bank estimates on global poverty, released this week, confirm the fact that under the neo-liberal reforms dispensation in our country, the gap between the two Indias — ‘shining’ and ‘suffering’ — is widening. The rate of poverty decline between 1990 and 2005 has been lower than that between 1980 and 1990. 75.6 per cent, or 82.8 crore, of Indians live below $2 a day in terms of purchasing power parity exchange rates. This was confirmed by the government’s study that showed 78 per cent of India surviving on less than Rs 20 a day. On the other hand, the Swiss Banking Association Report, 2006, reveals that Indians lead the world with deposits worth a staggering $1,456 billion — more than the combined amounts for the rest of the world.

Further, the wrong diagnosis by the government of the causes for the present inflation has led to faulty monetary policies being implemented. These have resulted in slowing down the economy through higher interest rates and a credit squeeze. The consequent rise in the cost of capital has slowed down industrial growth to 5.4 per cent in June 2008 compared to 8.9 per cent a year ago. According to the RBI, the rate of private investment has sharply declined from 258 projects costing Rs 26,000 crore in 2006-07 to 128 costing Rs 10,700 crore. This, naturally, has led to a sharp decline in employment opportunities. Thus, the people are being subjected to a double whammy — relentless price rise accompanied by growing unemployment.

It is only in the Parliament that the people, through their elected representatives, can exercise their sovereign right to make the government accountable and answerable on all these issues. The UPA government is abdicating its responsibility by jettisoning the monsoon session.

Unfortunately, this is happening under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who, while addressing the nation from the Red Front on this year’s Independence Day, said: “Four years ago I said to you that an important challenge we face is the challenge of providing good governance. We have taken several steps to make government transparent, efficient and responsive”.

It is, indeed, a shame that with its singular preoccupation and focus on successfully concluding the Indo-US nuclear deal, the UPA government, in practice, is brazenly negating what the Prime Minister said. In the bargain, all the important issues raised here are not being dealt with the seriousness and single-minded purpose that is warranted. This is a grave disservice to the country and the people. This will only help the communal forces which are already sharpening their knives, thus, negating the very purpose for which the UPA was forged.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP