Politics of TINA

Politics of TINA

The fall in public esteem of a man hailed as the liberator of the Indian economy from the clutches of socialism and inspector raj brings up the...

The fall in public esteem of a man hailed as the liberator of the Indian economy from the clutches of socialism and inspector raj brings up the continued relevance of the old adage that it is dangerous to entertain delusions of being a TINA, particularly in a country as diverse as India. Nehru to Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv, and to the Telugu Bidda, PV, all have fallen victims to the TINA (there is no alternative) syndrome at the national level and the likes of Kasu Brahmananda Reddy and D P Mishra at the State level. A Now Manmohan Singh has joined their ranks. He will be remembered, therefore, not for his economic reforms but for inflicting on India first a policy paralysis and then a legislative paralysis.

He and his ilk may like to put the blame on the Opposition for their plight and accuse them of turning Parliament, a debating chamber, into a shouting chamber. They have a point since the BJP has not given up its post-India shining sulk, and, therefore, it misses no opportunity to raise its decibel level. A In a manner of speaking, as the Opposition, it is the BJP's privilege to kick up a row, that too when the Singh Sarkar is offering ammunition on a platter session after session. Whether the main Opposition is covering itself with glory or not is neither here nor there.

Interestingly, sections of the Saffron Parivar are unhappy with L K Advani brigade at the helm of BJP parliamentary party; they have been openly accusing the BJP patriarch of acting as His Majesty's loyal Opposition. A The fact of the matter is the government of Manmohan Singh has allowed itself to be hauled over the coal. Yes, it is a self-inflicted wound. If the government is, indeed, ready for a debate on any subject as both Singh and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath argue, what makes them exploit the opening provided by the shouting brigade in the well of the House and run for cover?

A slight digression will be in order at this stage. Rabi Ray, who was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha during the National Front regime, rarely adjourned the House just because some members had trooped into the well. His refrain was: 'You have been elected to speak. Go back to your seat and say what you want to say.'

With gentle persuasion, the hardcore socialist used to cool frayed tempers and open the floor for long speeches since every parliamentarian loves to speak. There were instances when by the time the last speaker stood up there was hardly any quorum, but then the gentlemen's agreement in Parliament is that one should not raise the issue of quorum once the sitting is underway.

Before Rabi Ray became the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha, the Zero Hour was literally noise hour, making life miserable for reporters on Parliament beat. Immediately after the question hour ended, the leading lights of the Opposition front benches used to spring up on their feet, and start screaming at high pitch almost simultaneously. The backbenches had no opportunity to be heard.

Rabi Ray changed this. He introduced a system of members giving notice before 11 AM every day on the subject or subjects a member wanted to raise with cogent reasons and the chair allowing them to speak in the order the notices were received.

Marxist heavyweights of the day like Somnath Chatterjee objected saying that the Zero Hour was for impromptu mention of issues of public importance but fell in line with Ray's reasoning; so much so, during Ray's stewardship of the Lok Sabha, there were hardly any occasions for short or long adjournments. But the scene changed when the UPA-I happened and Somnath Chatterjee became the Speaker. As if on cue, most Assemblies are witnessing adjournments at the slightest scope for trouble with the government generally unwilling to lend its ears to debate. The second half of the budget session of Parliament was a case in point; it has gone into record books as the most wasted session. The government and the Opposition had reached an agreement on passing the Finance Bill despite the logjam in the House.

Under its terms, the Opposition would allow the Finance Bill without debate while the Treasury benches would allow the floor leaders of the Opposition to speak their 'mind'. The Opposition fulfilled its part of the bargain. But the government went back on its promise with full knowledge, concurrence and connivance of Sonia Gandhi, the UPA chairperson, to quote Sushma Swaraj, the BJP leader.

Well, selective untouchability is not the way to handle floor management. The government needs the helping hand of the Opposition at every stage of legislative business. It achieves precious little by not facing Parliament. Blaming the BJP, as the garrulous Congress spokespersons appear to do often, gives the GOP and its government no credit. Like, it has lost several brownie points by ducking for cover the bouncers for the scalp of tainted ministers on the floor of Parliament.

Why neither the law minister nor the railway minister was prompted to take the floor in self-defence remains a puzzle. The Opposition, having smelled blood, might have stepped up its offensive. But that was a risk worth taking for the sake of Parliament's credibility as an institution. A Prime Minister Manmohan Singh missed an opportunity and has not served his own cause. If he is being branded as a limpet today, with the trail in the Ashwinigate appearing to end at the doorstep of his office, well, it is the result of overestimation of the TINA factor.

Frankly, there is nothing permanent in politics. As Gora Sastry, the celebrated Editor, once remarked to me, "There is nothing permanent with the government. Everything is adhoc. Even the Prime Minister's job is an adhoc job". A A Unfortunately, politicians refuse to learn this home truth. In fact, more than politicians, it is the bureaucrats who refuse to learn and do their best to survive with extensions long after their superannuation.

(The writer can be reached at A

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