Kamal Morarka

THE GOVERNMENT, THE OPPOSITION MUST RESTORE PARLIAMENT’S RELEVANCE : TIME FOR NEW BEGINNINGS

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I hope there will be a new beginning. There is an old saying in Parliament, the Government will have its way, but the Opposition must have its say. If you do not allow the Opposition to have its say, then the Opposition will not allow the Government to have its way. This was in the past. In the last few years, MPs troop to the well of the House, this does not add to the credibility of Parliament. What we need is a proper Parliamentary procedure. I think the Government should call a meeting of all party leaders and figure out a way of functioning so that Parliament can use its time properly. After all, a lot of public money is spent, let business be done properly.

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Narendra Modi was sworn-in as Prime Minister on Monday 26 May, with an initial Cabinet of about 45 Ministers. The portfolios were announced later by a Rashtrapti Bhawan communiqué as per the practice. Already, comments have started about whether the Cabinet team is competent etc, etc. I think it is misplaced. The people have elected the BJP to power and not only the BJP, in this election it was a personal vote for Narendra Modi — that goes without saying. Whether some of us like it or don’t like it, that is a different matter. The performance will be of Narendra Modi and it has to be judged on that basis. As far as the Cabinet is concerned, he has innovated a new device, by which he has taken senior colleagues of the party into the Cabinet, but given them limited responsibility, considering their seniority, their age etc.
On the other hand, he has appointed a number of Ministers of State from the younger lot in areas which need a lot of work, like, power, coal, petroleum etc. This is a matter of management. Probably during the election campaign a lot of issues were raised about non-delivery of targets in infrastructure and other areas. He wants to ensure that those targets are met through younger Ministers who can be overseen by the Prime Minister’s Office. He has appointed his trusted lieutenant Arun Jaitley as the Finance Minister and naturally he will lean heavily onto Arun Jaitley for advice. At this stage, to comment whether this Cabinet is good or bad or indifferent doesn’t make sense. As we all know in politics, first of all, all regions have to be represented, people from all the States have to be taken, seniority and ‘juniority’ has to be kept in consideration. All Cabinets are formed in that manner, right from Independence till now, and after the 1980s things have become more complicated because of many other castes making their claim, unlike earlier. So, to balance all regions, religions, castes etc — it is a difficult task. And whoever is the Prime Minister does it his in own way. He has done it his own way and one cannot understand how that becomes a subject matter of debate. After 6 months or 12 months, actually 12 months, one can reasonably make an assessment whether this Government is moving in the right direction or not, but to start commenting within three days shows people who have been defeated are not taking their defeat sportingly. A stupid comment came from a non-political person that Smriti Irani should not have been made HRD Minister because she has only cleared the 12th Standard. It is stupid because the Indian Constitution doesn’t provide any educational qualification to get elected to Parliament. You have to be a citizen of India, in sound mind, that’s all. She has been elected, she is in the Rajya Sabha. She is an MP and every MP is entitled to become a Minister. We can’t sit in judgment, whether this Minister is competent to handle this portfolio or not. This is a new innovation.
If we take out a list of Ministers in the Congress Government, they will be less qualified than this. But that doesn’t mean their performance is bad. Nobody has said education makes a person intelligent. It is a sad comment. The people whom we think are illiterate in the villages they have elected this Government, so what about that? The Congress Party especially should not talk like this, because it is a political party. And I understand non-political people like Madhu Kishwar talking but the Congress Party talking like this is not at all proper because after Jawaharlal Nehru no member of the Nehru- Gandhi family is educated up to graduation level. That doesn’t mean they are not intelligent or they can’t run the country. I don’t say that. Indira Gandhi ran the country very well. Rajiv Gandhi came before people.
And who has said and from where this sudden logic has come that a person who is elected by a majority has to stand a test of being an academician. Tomorrow you will put some panel of teachers to assess a person’s education — that this person should be Prime Minister or not. Who said so? That is not according to the Constitution. I stand for election, I win, I run the country within the Constitution. That’s it. Similarly the choice of Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra. I happened to know about him since the days when Mulayam Singh was Chief Minister of UP and he was his Principal Secretary. He was an outstanding officer, upright, competent, no nonsense. I am surprised how Narendra Modi thought of him and brought him out of retirement to appoint him. It is a good sign because he will give good leadership to the PMO, but the law had to be amended because he has been the Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) between 2006 and 2009, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, forbade a Chief of the regulatory body from “further employment under the central and state governments”.
So they have amended the law by ordinance. Again the Congress Party said what was the hurry? The Principal Secretary can’t be appointed three months after Parliament comes into session. It is urgent. Now if the Congress says it is wrong to appoint him, again it is very petty. Every Government chooses its Ministers, its officials, the key positions and I do not understand how Opposition party and other parties should comment on that and how it will help. They could comment if they have some objection about a person, if they have some charges against him or her, its something, which can’t be a case with Nripendra Misra.

I think this loss of election has cost the Congress Party’s its morale. They are suddenly demoralised which is not a good thing for the country either. The country needs the Congress Party. I am not of those who say like Narendra Modi says, Congress Mukt Bharat. This is a foolish idea. We don’t need a Congress Mukt Bharat. We need two strong parties. Like America has Democrats and Republicans. Like England has. India needs two parties. Let it be the BJP and the Congress. No harm. Let them always contest elections. One may win, one may lose. But just because you lose elections, you become zero, and if you win elections, you become dictator and god — that is not democracy. Both sides people should think.
Now one honourable MP of the BJP, incidentally elected from Udhampur in Jammu, started talking about Article 370. He embarrassed the Government so much that Ravi Shankar Prasad had to retract and say that no, that is not correct. Again Narendra Modi must control his people. Article 370 first of all cannot be changed without amending the Constitution and you don’t have a two third majority in either House of Parliament. So the debate is infructuous. But even otherwise, suppose you had you had the majority, think of the consequences. Article 370 only puts into the Constitution what has been agreed between you and Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir. Nothing more nothing less. The accession to India by Hari Singh is on those conditions. You remove that and your intention is in doubt. It will be a ploy to play into the hands of Pakistan. The only way to strengthen Pakistan’s case on Kashmir is to remove Article 370. If you want Pakistan’s case on Kashmir to be weakened, Article 370 should be strengthened. Whatever processes have been diluted after 1953 should be reinstated. Article 370 should be a very, very powerful section to protect the Kashmiri identity. I don’t understand why these people get an inferiority complex and say that Kashmir should not be different. Kashmir is different, there is no question of ‘it should be different’. To say Kashmir is an indistinguishable part of India is totally wrong. In fact each State in India is distinguishable. But Kashmir even more so because of the peculiar circumstances in which the accession took place. You can’t erase history. That is part of history. On TV, in the Times Now show there was a gentleman from the Shiv Sena, shouting loudly. By raising your voice your logic doesn’t become sound. He was trying to say Ambedkar did not want to draft Article 370. He is forgetting it is there in the Constitution. It is the law of the country. How it was done is not relevant today. Then he starts talking of the integrity of India. What integrity?
It does not work this way. What is the aim? If the aim is to keep Kashmir with you, then this is a wrong track. Certainly you can discuss Article 370, but without hurting the Kashmiris. If you do not want Kashmir with you then anything is all right. You can go to any extent, go for war, fight. If war is a solution then why are you holding discussions with Nawaz Sharif? Start a war. I think the Cabinet is still young, much less than even a month old. Let them take time. But definitely they need mature advice to keep the new MPs under control. If you start talking about things which will hurt the integrity of India, that will not help.
And the Congress Party, the best it can do it to train its 44 MPs, divide the subjects and when Parliament opens, subject by subject attack the Government on substantive issues, not on whether some MPs are graduates or not, these are all childish matters. If you want to be a serious Opposition, the Congress should act like one. The Congress is a serious party. It is a very old party. The Congress knows the game. They know how to be in Government, they know how to be in the Opposition. They have been in both. Certainly, there is no reason to get so demoralised and start talking about irrelevant things. That will not help.
Apart from the Congress, unfortunately, there is a vacuum of the Left. The number of the MPs of the Left are negligible. However, one thing about the Left is good that even if they have 5 MPs, they speak their mind, they stick to their line, they stick to their policies and are serious about what they are talking. The presiding officer of both the Houses should give them an adequate chance to raise their views. Unfortunately, in the Houses we have a system of duration and timing of speech according to the strength of the party. But we have a lot of parties with one member, two members, three members. They must have their say. We do not know what their views are — they may support the Government, they may oppose the Government. But Parliament is a matrix.
Jawaharlal Nehru used to sit throughout the day in Parliament and when people used to ask him why do you spend so much time here instead of doing your work, he said by hearing MPs I keep my pulse on the state of the country. That was his honour to Parliament. For him, Parliament was a forum which helped him to understand the country. Now, unfortunately we see people like to devote less and less time to Parliament, the session timings are reduced. The number of hours of debates are reduced. There is a lot of shouting and counter shouting. Nothing comes out of it. I hope that will be a thing of past. That has happened in the last Parliament but I hope there will be a new beginning. There is an old saying in Parliament, the Government will have its way, but the Opposition must have its say. If you do not allow the Opposition to have its say, then the Opposition will not allow the Government to have its way. This was in the past. In the last few years, MPs troop to the well of the House, this does not add to the credibility of Parliament. What we need is a proper Parliamentary procedure. I think the Government should call a meeting of all party leaders and figure out a way of functioning so that Parliament can use its time properly. After all, a lot of public money is spent, let business be done properly. There may be contentious issues. That is okay. Wherever there are Bills, there is a Standing Committee where all parties are represented. They go into all the Bills. Everything is done properly.
However, I think I should not say the freedom of the press is of course very good, but the way the TV channels are talking does not help anybody. I have seen the channels talking to Nawaz Sharif. You cannot discuss external affairs and security issues on the TV channels. You cannot conduct the Indo-Pak negotiations on the TV channels. And, it is a very sad way, something should be done about it, but only the Press Council can do it, it is not the job of Parliament or the Government. But something should be done where whoever is on stage in the country, Government, Opposition, Parliament, press, they should make a positive contribution. You may agree or disagree. This is the greatness of democracy. You may disagree but it must be done in a proper way. To disagree does not mean you have to be disagreeable. You can talk in polite language. Here I see less light is shed and more heat is generated which does not help.
I only hope all the Opposition people also take their responsibility seriously instead of getting demoralised that the BJP has got a big majority. Just as a reminder, in 1952, 1957, 1962 the Congress always had more than 300 and 350 people but the Opposition never felt demoralised. Even 5 -6 members of the Socialist party would raise their subject, the CPI would raise their issue. Today, what is the reason to get demoralised? I do not know. But I suddenly see that people are losing patience and raising irrelevant issues. Zeal is more important than arguing the case properly.

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