Why do we pay for a House on strike?

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 05, 2012 15:58 hrs

For weeks now, the debate over Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has kept the Parliament in three states – pandemonium, adjournment, and paralysis. For days now, the UPA government has been lobbying for support in carrying through its announcement that it would allow FDI in retail.

The government’s proposal to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, and raise FDI from 51 to 100 per cent in single-brand retail, has found almost no takers among its allies, leave alone in the Opposition. Yet, as the House prepares to vote, it appears the Congress may force its will. Of course, the Rajya Sabha will only debate the issue on Thursday, and vote on Friday, but it rarely happens that the votes differ in the two Houses.

While carrying the proposal through will benefit the middle- and upper-class, and will win India popularity points abroad, a large section of the country will be at a disadvantage. Whatever safeguards the government puts in place, there is no guarantee that the farmers and the smaller retail stores will not suffer.

One of the provisions of the proposed policy mandates that 30 per cent of all products must be sourced from Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs). But it does not state that these must be MSEs from India.  India already has a trade deficit of $20 billion with China, and Chinese goods are predominant in the Indian markets. Removing this clause, according to the government, would violate India’s obligations to the World Trade Organisation.

When there are so many voices against FDI, is it fair for the government to bulldoze its way through?

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement, on which the trust vote is now thought of mainly in connection with the cash-for-votes scam. The Nuclear Deal, which saw tremendous opposition, was finally pushed through. So was the Nuclear Liability Act, one of the final steps needed to activate the Deal. And the Act, despite being controversial, and despite coming in the wake of a shockingly lenient judgment on the Bhopal Disaster of 1984, was passed in both Houses of Parliament. It was passed after charges that the Congress helped smuggle then-CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, to safety.

Do we really deserve to be called a democracy if the ruling party plays dictator? How effective is an Opposition that will let moneybags and cajoling get in the way of checks and balances?

Our politicians rarely resolve their differences without staging walkouts, marching up to the well of the House, and causing Parliament to be adjourned. Every time an issue is taken up for serious discussion, the daily functioning of Parliament is suspended, as the same points are raised, and the same voices scream each other down over and over again.

Why, then, do we foot their bills, especially when we weren't consulted before they decided to give themselves a five-fold salary hike?

Chances are that the only proposal that has seen unanimous agreement in Parliament is the decision to hike the salary of MPs. Unless there were to be a proposal to make MPs pay back the public for the days they don’t go to work, or disrupt Parliament instead of discussing the contentious issue(s).

How powerless is the public in this country? As elections approach, and we’re presented with Congress heir and gaffe champ Rahul Gandhi as a Prime Ministerial candidate, I shudder to think of the choices we have.

With the BJP treating the Gujarat election like the national election, we have some indication of who their candidate is likely to be.

But, can we trust any party to go about its business differently, when none of them feels any compunction in walking out of the House despite taking home daily allowance and perks? Can we trust any ruling party not to throw a lavish banquet, and claim to compensate with “austerity drives”?

There’s a lot we could wish for, that would keep the House in order. Deduction of salaries is one. Another would be expulsion of MPs who inflict damage on each other, or the furniture. But the irony is that the very people who could pass such proposals are the ones that make a mockery of the term “Parliamentary behaviour”.

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The author is a writer based in Chennai.

She blogs at

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