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Issues take back seat in one-upmanship

Issues take back seat  in one-upmanship
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Is the ongoing budget session of parliament jinxed? This is the question doing the rounds these days with the Opposition and the government locked in...

Is the ongoing budget session of parliament jinxed? This is the question doing the rounds these days with the Opposition and the government locked in a fresh showdown at the end of the first week of the resumed session. Frankly speaking, this is not the best of times for the Manmohan Sarkar, which is busy with a crisis-like situation on Ladakh's border with China. And its handling of the 'face-off' has come in for flak not only from the usual suspects but also from Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of troubled Jammu and Kashmir.

In so many words, he accused New Delhi of soft-pedalling the 'encroachment' because it is not from Pakistan. He may have his compulsions for hitting out at his Congress ally, but it shows the fluidity of the political situation with everyone eagerly waiting for the 10 Janpath decision on the date for ballot. The BJP's firing at P C Chacko is at best a side-show. The Spectrum JPC did not have a smooth sail right from the word go. It was not destined to offer a consensus report.

Historically speaking, no JPC gave a unanimous report, barring the parliamentary probe into the Bofors gun deal during the Rajiv days. B Shankaranand, Congress veteran from Karnataka, headed the JPC with a clear brief. And it had no member from the Opposition parties. A By the time Harshad Mehta scam happened in the PV period, Ramnivas Mirdha-led JPC enjoyed an unusually free hand to conduct its business. For journalists like me, who were covering its proceedings, it was a tough challenge with the sittings ending often after the stroke of the midnight hour.

Mirdha's draft underwent several changes to satisfy the Opposition. And there was a talk of taking a vote, but then the Congress found itself short by one vote as journalist-turned-politician K P Unnikrishnan was away in London for treatment.

By the time the final report was readied, Unnikrishnan was brought back home, but Mirdha had averted a vote by hammering out a gentlemen's agreement that facilitated dissenting notes from the likes of Gurudas Dasgupta, Jaswant Singh and Jaipal Reddy. By taking a leaf or two from the Mirdha book, Chacko could have made things easy for himself. The Congress too could have helped him by being reasonable, and by avoiding the politics of one-upmanship. Since it did neither, the GOP has to pay a price.

What is wrong if the Prime Minister appears before the JPC, which is, after all things said and done, is no more than an extension of Parliament, and is, indeed, a miniature Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha put together? For Manmohan Singh, tryst with the JPC is not new. He was grilled by the Mirdha JPC for his one remark that as finance minister he could not lose sleep if sensex goes up or down.

Shankaranand, as Petroleum Minister, appeared before the JPC on share scandal. So, the point is the Congress has not covered itself with glory by holding back the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister from appearing before Chacko JPC.

Whoever provided the inputs for the Congress strategy session could have done a great service to the GOP had he brushed up his general knowledge. Not too many long years ago, President V V Giri appeared before the Supreme Court when his election was challenged. Questions were asked then how the President of India, who appoints the judges of the apex court, could appear before the bench even if it was his own election that was challenged.

Giri, the trade union leader, disagreed with his counsel and created history. Manmohan Singh too could have created history had he bowed before the majesty of a Joint Parliamentary Committee. He missed the opportunity, and thus allowed himself to face the taunts of bureaucrat-turned-politician Yashwant Sinha, who, according to PV, migrated with effortless ease first to the Janata Dal, then to the Janata (Secular) and finally to the BJP with 'bag and baggage' in search of a cushy slot.

Admittedly, the Congress party's worries extend beyond the JPC report. For instance, it has to grapple with the latest CAG strictures that the UPA has presided over a jobless growth and that its flagship rural job scheme has failed. There is also the case of lessons in English grammar to CBI director by the Law Minister Ashwini Kumar.

The Congress would love to wade through these murky waters by flaunting the drop in inflation rate and the gold prices. Brazenness and arrogance don't pay always as is clear from the unity Chacko has been able to infuse into the Opposition ranks. For the first time after the failed VP Singh experiment in balancing the Left and the Right, the JPC saw the coming together of all Opposition members for a common cause in the BJD office at Parliament House. They are all gunning for the head of Chacko.

The Congress, true to its brinkmanship practices, has countered the attack by bringing up the propriety of Jaswant and Yashwant on the JPC. Both held finance ministry once in the past and, therefore, were privy to the way 2G Spectrum auctions were held during the NDA. A So both have a conflict of interest. The point is well taken but the Congress is opening itself to ridicule because none other than the Speaker had ruled out their objections against the two BJP leaders shortly after the Chacko JPC was constituted.

This deadlock will not end till either side stops cherry-picking issues. The desperation with an eye on the next ballot has already led to logjam on the floor of Parliament, where key bills are awaiting lawmakers' attention. The key to the riddle is with the ruling party, and its ability to rise above short- term interests; not in the recipe proposed by Vice-President Hamid Ansari for smooth functioning of Parliament. Political parties did well to nix the bid which could have converted People's Chamber into a dull classroom.

(The writer can be reached at mramarao2008@gmail.com)

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