If one looks around, there are many things that are changing the face of India for which we can claim legitimate credit. Mid-day meals and cashless health insurance; the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and soon to come, Food Security Act; the Right To Information (RTI) and the Right To Education (RTE); mobile teledensity overtaking landlines... The list is long and impressive.
Despite financial stress, we ensured that there would be no rollback on social sector programmes. The work that has been started must go on.
As we brace ourselves to face many challenges as a nation, it is important to take stock of the landscape. After all, it is no ordinary matter that Parliament should remain stalled for over two weeks and that too when important legislations are on the anvil. The public sparring between the Supreme Court and the Allahabad High Court and the untidy patchwork of shifting moral positions, all prove that in contemporary political discourse, to quote Jairam Ramesh, “people stand where they sit”.
Scholars of international politics speak of political reform lagging behind economic reform in China. Despite repeated predictions of disaster, China sails on, not only with its GDP but also with a growing voice on the international stage. American think-tanks spend a disproportionate amount of time conjuring up a 21st century architecture for engaging China. India, too, has taken rapid strides in coming to terms with globalisation and the market place. Our performance is not to be dismissed as routine. But, we, too need a major push in political reforms, at least in administrative reforms that have been very diligently proposed by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily.
Democracy is indeed government through discussion and debate. But when defiance of Parliament to stifle discussion and disruption of delivery institutions to deprive the citizens of their due become dominant, what remains of democracy? The great bastions of virtue, the armed forces and the media begin to falter along with the judiciary. The chief vigilance commissioner and the comptroller and auditor general are questioned for unpalatable opinions. The Election Commission is accused of partisanship by persons trounced by the voter.
Where will all this take us? One is reminded of Thomas More’s sage advice to his son-in-law: “Cut all the trees of the forest but think, when the winds blow you will not have no place to hide.” India went through trying times in the post-Babri Masjid demolition period. Suddenly, hammers and swords were displacing words in our conversation, and such words as remained were more dangerous than instruments of assault. Yet only a few years later, we can all sanely discuss the Ayodhya bench judgement. It is possible to talk even when we disagree intensely. Perhaps the futility of our demands, too, has become apparent to most if not all protagonists. We have found — or almost found — resolution to our inability to agree upon the direction of the final solution regarding Ayodhya. Why then can we not find a way to get back to parliamentary work?
It is trite that not one person or party or institution can be blamed for the stress on our system. But we have to be conscious of the costs of our disagreement about the very rules of engagement rather than the merit of the case in hand. While it is imperative that we clear the untidiness that has blemished us as a nation today, we should also clear the air for a bright future.
Fortunately, most parties have control of the treasury benches of the legislative chambers. There will be no winners and losers in this battle as all stand to lose now or in the future.
(Salman Khurshid is minister of state for corporate affairs and minority affairs)
*The views expressed by the author are personal