PARLIAMENT RETURNS TO LIFE

The nation must have heaved a sigh of relief at seeing that parliament has started functioning normally again.
It is difficult to say how long the politicians will refrain from disrupting the proceedings, as they have been doing for several years. But, for the present, the two Houses are back to debating and, hopefully, legislating. Perhaps the criticism which the various parties, especially the Congress faced over holding parliament to ransom has finally struck home.

Although Congressmen used to say that they were only paying the BJP back in its own coin for having disrupted parliament when in opposition, the tit-for-tat approach was beginning to hurt the Congress more than its adversary.

Narendra Modi’s jibe that the Congress was taking revenge on the people for having defeated it in the last general election was being seen as not too far off the mark.

Apart from avoiding any further criticism, there is probably another reason why the Congress decided to engage in debates and not disruption.

It is that the party has apparently realized that it is somewhat better placed than the government on the issue of student unrest in the Hyderabad central and Jawaharlal Nehru universities.

The debates have partly proved the correctness of this assessment. Although the BJP has hit back reasonably effectively with finance minister Arun Jaitley and human resource development minister Smriti Irani making forceful speeches, some loopholes nevertheless remained.

One of them was the falsity of Irani’s charge that doctors were not called to revive Rohith Vemula after he had hanged himself in Hyderabad central university, and the other was the inability of the treasury benches to explain why the lawyers who assaulted the JNU student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, and media personnel in the Patiala House Court have been treated with kid gloves by the police.

On the opposition’s side, the CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury was spot-on when quoting from the witches’ scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth to counter the description of communists as witches in India’s “growth story” by the BJP M.P., Meenakshi Lekhi.

Yechury said that the “hell broth” which the witches were preparing in Shakespeare’s play was akin to the political brew which the government was cooking.

Considering that such cut-and-thrust are the lifeblood of parliamentary debates, one can say that the Houses have come to life after a long period of irresponsible politics which was making a mockery of democracy.
But the real test will come when important bills like the one on goods and services, the real estate and the whistleblowers are taken up.

The government will be keen on ensuring their passage if only to bring the focus back on the economy since its political position is less secure at present than what it was at the time of the BJP’s general election victory.
As much is evident from Modi’s plaintive complaint about the “conspiracy” of the foreign-funded NGOs to destabilize his government.

Commentators have noted the artful similarity of the charge with Indira Gandhi’s familiar grouse against the ubiquitous “foreign hand” targeting her government.

Clearly, a parliamentary majority is not enough to ensure nights of blissful sleep to those who wear the crown.
For Modi, it is not only the student unrest which is worrisome, but also the violent agitation by the Jats in Haryana in support of their demand for reservations.

Designated as a “martial race” by the British colonialists, the Jats want to be included in the backward caste category to avail of the quota system providing employment in the government services and education in public schools and colleges.

Not only were 19 lives lost in the violence during their agitation and at least 10 women raped, the loss of Rs 34,000 crore in terms of economic activity has cast a shadow on the proposed “Happening Haryana” global industrial summit next month.

As the shutting down of the two factories of India’s largest passenger car manufacturer, Maruti-Suzuki, in the state shows, Modi’s “make in India” initiative may take a hit from the outburst of caste-based ambitions which have led to various groups taking to the streets.

In addition, the surfacing of the latent tension between the Jats and non-Jats carries the signs of further violence.

Unless these primordial animosities are checked, India cannot claim to be a modern nation which is a haven for foreign and domestic investments.

Ironically, it is the investments which have the potential of damping down the demand for affirmative action by creating more jobs. It is only because a sluggish economy failed to do so that caste-based reservations are sought.

Unfortunately, the opening up of the economy from 1991 hasn’t eased the employment situation because the new industries are mostly automated where robots do the work of men. Hence the term, jobless growth.

Even then, investments are bound to create more employment opportunities in the services, real estate and infrastructure sectors. It was the expectations on these lines in the wake of Modi’s promise to boost the economy which enabled him to win in 2014.

But not only have these hopes been blighted, the inexperience of his ministers has fuelled disquiet in the campuses and murder and mayhem over quotas.