And Now, Congress-Bjp Tango?
Recently attention was drawn in these columns to the phony carefully choreographed confrontation between Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr LK Advani at the start of the parliamentary session. The histrionics were foretold by Congress leaders to a section of the media. The event was described as the Sonia-Advani tango. The charade seems to continue and even expand. Now both the parties are enacting a fraudulent drama in Parliament.
The BJP has declared an all-out war against the government over the Coalgate scam. Nothing less than the resignation of the Prime Minister will satisfy it. Unless Dr Manmohan Singh resigns from office the party has declared that it will not allow the House to function. The Congress has responded with its readiness to answer all questions in a debate. The BJP states that a debate is superfluous, the PM must resign.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mr Arun Jaitley, a distinguished lawyer, points out dramatically with all the courtroom skill that he can summon to the fact that the PM himself was in charge of the Coal Ministry during the time when controversial contracts were awarded without transparent auction. The Congress responds by pointing out that BJP-governed states were complicit in the arrangement and awarded contracts to firms without auction. Both sides adopt an air of injured innocence to impress their respective constituencies. But the concrete result of all this drama is that there is no debate in Parliament that might inform the nation about the full facts regarding misdemeanors in the award of coal mining contracts pointed out by the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
One can fool all the people for some time and some people for all time. One cannot fool all the people all the time. An increasing number of people are beginning to see through this fraudulent confrontation to avoid a parliamentary debate that would expose the steps taken to promote corruption by both the central ministers of the Congress and the chief ministers of the BJP. Avoiding a debate suits both parties. And the arguments put forward by Mr Jaitley for the immediate resignation of the PM without a debate in Parliament can be rubbished.
Mr Jaitley is at pains to draw distinction between corruption in other central ministries and corruption exposed in the ministry under the PM’s direct charge. Given the level of corruption exposed the entire cabinet ought to have resigned earlier if the well-established principle of constructive responsibility in democratic governance had been observed. Strangely, this principle appears to be totally absent in India’s democratic system. The absurd notion that an official’s criminal incompetence or neglect that permits huge corruption cannot be punished unless he is personally complicit in illegal financial benefit can be carried to its extreme absurdity. If constructive responsibility is to be ignored, why demand the PM’s resignation unless there is clinching evidence that he personally accepted a bribe?
The BJP instead argues vociferously that enough corruption has been exposed for the PM to resign and no debate is required. What prevents the BJP from making the same demand for resignation backed by cogent facts on the floor of the House? Why cannot the BJP table a no-confidence motion which would compel all opposition parties to reveal where they stand on the issue of the coal industry’s corruption? It is fair to surmise that a debate in Parliament would reveal facts inconvenient to the BJP. Thereby the scuttling of a debate in Parliament not only helps the Congress but also the BJP. That is why this manufactured impasse.
Where will this crisis go and how is it intended to end? The declaration of all-out war by the BJP was given substance by its members storming out of the Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting. According to a national daily the Congress is already sensing that if the PM does not resign all the BJP MPs would resign from Parliament. If that is indeed the ultimate threat it is clear that a desperate plan to oust the PM individually seems to be the goal. How will that help the BJP? Speculating about that brings us back to the Sonia-Advani tango.
If a Congress-BJP alliance is to be forged to govern the nation until the 2014 general election it can only be accomplished if Dr Manmohan Singh resigns from his post. The PM has shown that he is in no mood to oblige, come what may. Only if the PM’s slot is empty could a BJP-Congress formula for an alliance be conceivably worked out. The only possible way by which the BJP rank and file and the RSS would countenance such an alliance would be if a BJP leader becomes the PM. That would silence all opposition to an alliance within the Sangh Parivar. We have already witnessed a dry run for Mrs Gandhi to act as the Leader of the House. We have already witnessed the deference to her displayed by Mr Advani by his withdrawal of remarks upon her insistence. Why not Mrs Gandhi as the Leader of the House and Mr Advani as PM in an alliance that would ensure stability without regional parties spoiling the pitch? Arguably, Mr Advani would be as, if not more, convenient to Mrs Gandhi as Dr Manmohan Singh. And how effective would it be to purge the UPA government of all taint by the removal of its Prime Minister! The Congress-BJP alliance could start on a new slate.
Does this sound too bizarre? It does. But apart from such wild speculation what else can one do in the current theatre of absurd? If the threat of all BJP MPs resigning as reported in the media is correct, its implications deserve scrutiny. This mass resignation would require 114 by-elections. Given the short time before the next general election such a mini-general election appears unreal and impractical. If such a unique crisis does appear imminent the President can intervene to ensure a stable government until the next poll. The atmosphere would have been created to allow an unthinkable Congress-BJP alliance. It might even be called a national government in which regional allies may remain toothlessly on the margin. If even this enormous pressure exerted to compel the PM’s resignation fails to move Dr Manmohan Singh, the President can intervene and dismiss him to ensure a stable government. A Finance Minister does not have the power to sack a Prime Minister. A President does.
By Rajinder Puri