Ignoring a crisis

Last Updated: Thu, Apr 25, 2013 04:00 hrs

That India's Parliament, even as the economic slowdown is continuing, is convulsed with internal acrimony instead of addressing piled-up legislative business should be occasion for great concern. The land acquisition Bill, for example, has been long delayed; yet its enabling power is generally supposed to be crucial in any effort to get new investment moving. Last week the government and the main Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), appeared to have come to some sort of agreement that the Bill should be passed in the ongoing Parliament session. Sadly, since then the government's misbehaviour with the supposedly independent police investigation into coal block allocations has blown up; and the BJP has thus decided that deals need to be called off. Neither the government, which looks cynical, nor the BJP, which looks irresponsible, comes off a winner. But India and its struggling economy are definitely the losers.

There is an understandable desire on the part of observers, thus, for a certain degree of maturity at the high political level. The government must realise that it is no longer possible for it to try and quietly whitewash its behaviour in the various controversies that have blown up in the past few years - like through a Joint Parliamentary Committee report on 2G telecom allocations that was clearly incomplete, or the Central Bureau of Investigation's report on coal that appeared to have been altered by the political executive. It is possible that the only way to alter how it is now perceived is to show it is willing to accept its errors, not try and brazen them out. Meanwhile, the BJP must remember that if it hopes to be in government soon, it cannot expect that its agenda will not be treated in the same way it is treating that of the United Progressive Alliance at the moment. Such cynicism on both sides is not sustainable; something must give. At least the BJP should note that a single-point agenda of opposition - through disruption and the demanding of resignations - has caused it to be more isolated in Parliament than it has been for some time. The Janata Dal (United), its largest ally, has refused to sign up to its strategy, for example.

Surely if the BJP does not want elections immediately and it is losing the trust of its allies while coming across to voters as irresponsible in a crisis, then it should realise that this is a strategy not worth persisting with. Meanwhile, the government is faced with one year of being a lame-duck laughing stock unless it manages to change the conversation properly. Perhaps a series of mea culpas will help that happen. But more likely, India will find itself unable to change unless the incentives of lawmakers and the lack of accountability for them in between elections are altered.

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