Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Arun Jaitley: A year of vendetta

Arun Jaitley
May 19, 2005 19:28 IST

The United Progressive Alliance never had an electoral mandate.

They were separate political groups who contested the last election separately. While contesting the election separately they got different numbers of seats. The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party contested against the UPA, but are now supporting the UPA.

The sum effect of this was that with just a few seats more than the National Democratic Alliance the UPA was able to form a majority.

Now, the yardstick of the UPA government's performance is not what the UPA claims or what we in the Opposition claims, but how their supporters look at it.

The Samajwadi Party is probably too embarrassed to call the UPA even an ally. They are more like its opponents.

The Bahujan Samaj Party has publicly denounced the UPA performance.

The Leftists are so embarrassed that they don't want to celebrate one year in power.

Let me now analyse the work the UPA government has done in the last year.

This was the year of tainted ministers. The people of India are always concerned about the criminalisation of politics. This time we are witnessing criminalisation of the Council of Ministers. The prime minister is unable to exercise his prerogative in the matter of forming his ministry.

He has just distributed the quota of ministerial posts to the Congress' allies. Whatever ministers have been nominated by supporting parties he has had to accept them.

What happens when you bring in tainted ministers? The legitimacy of governance declines. Government machinery is subverted to support the tainted. Income tax appellate tribunal benches are reconstituted to help the railway minister.

The CBI has been subverted to help Mohammad Shahabuddin, Mohammad Taslimuddin, Shibu Soren, Lalu Prasad. Governmental agencies and energy are used to help the tainted wash off the taint.

Dr Manmohan Singh is saying let there be a national consensus over the issue of tainted ministers. The proposal is hypocritical because the party that says there should be a national consensus never thought of it when they demanded L K Advani's resignation from the Council of Ministers.

They had rejected the idea of a national consensus when they asked for the resignations of Uma Bharti, Murli Manohar Joshi and L K Advani.

Now that they are at the receiving end, they think in terms of a national consensus.

A broad policy on the tainted issue already exists. The prime minister should exercise his prerogative and make his judgment. If the case involves moral turpitude he can't have criminals sitting by his side. If a case involves political agitation he can overlook it. This has always been the practice.

This also has been a year of vendetta.

Anybody with any kind of affiliation with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or National Democratic Alliance should be out. If the Phukan Commission delivers a report exonerating George Fernandes, consign it to the dustbin.

It is a strange case and those who speak about the prime minister's decency must answer. If the government is to prosecute or persecute a man of honesty and the credentials of Arun Shourie and help the Shahabuddins and Taslimuddins, you have no right to be called decent.

It is also the year in which the office of the prime minister and the primacy of that institution has been destroyed. Important political decisions are only notified by the Prime Minister's Office, decisions that are taken elsewhere.

It is the year in which extra-constitutional centres of power have been created. And those extra-constitutional centres of power are being legitimised.

Power without responsibility is repugnant in an accountable democracy. A centre of power who is not accountable to Parliament is not in the best traditions of democracy. Who is accountable for the political decisions taken in Jharkhand and Goa? Who is accountable to Parliament? The prime minister was unaware when the Leader of the Opposition spoke to him about the situation in Jharkhand. This is the level of contradictions in the two centres of power.

Look at what happens in the case of Goa and Jharkhand. The prime minister pleads ignorance when asked why the governors behaved like this. But we know the reasons why they behaved like this. There were indications that the prime minister wanted to invite the Opposition leaders for talks to end the Parliamentary boycott. Suddenly to sabotage the whole process you have Ambika Soni telling the Opposition leaders to 'first apologise'. The prime minister had to step back.

This is the year that has seen the systematic assault on democratic and Constitutional institutions. This government has created a situation where it wants Parliament without the Opposition. In fact, Sonia Gandhi is on record at a Congress Parliamentary Party meeting that the work of Parliament has gone on smoothly because there is no Opposition.

This is precisely what Indira Gandhi said during the Emergency when she jailed MPs and conducted a huge amount of legislative business because there was no Opposition present within Parliament.

When the Supreme Court delivered its verdict against the Congress in the Jharkhand case we saw the makebelieve confrontation being created between the legislature and the judiciary.

When the Election Commission doesn't allow Lalu Prasad as usual to rig the election in Bihar you see the assault on the Election Commission. There was assaults from outside; now, there is an assault from inside.

This has been the year of arrogance of power.

How did you handle the Opposition in Parliament? How did you handle the Goa crisis? When the assembly is in suspended animation the Congress wants a election. It wants to destabilise a stable Opposition-run government.

You allow the railway minister to concoct the incident at a Baroda hospital. Then, say that incident will be used to impose Articles 355 and 356 in Gujarat.

When Pranab Mukherjee is assaulted on Sunday by Congress party workers did the prime minister consider it necessary to indulge in melodrama and call a midnight meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Politcal Affairs?

The windows of Lalu's car were not broken but he wanted to dramatise the impact and pressurise the Opposition, because he wanted to subvert the system and misuse Article 356 in Gujarat.

This is the year where the manner in which some ministers speak is despicable.

An example is Railway Minister Lalu Prasad. In his case, public discourse has been reduced to vulgarity. The prime minister is helpless in checking it because he needs Lalu's MPs to remain in power.

The less said, the better on the economy, which I thought is the prime minister's main strength. Somebody once told me that the economic development of the country is inversely proportionate to the economists who lead it.

The capacity and courage to implement economic reforms lies in one's capacity to take political decisions. I think Prime Minister Singh can be termed a former economic reformer. The last few months have left evidence of that. Every major economic decision has been diluted under pressure from the Left.

The government doesn't have the courage to take bold economic decisions.

This is a lucky government which inherited 8.5% growth rate. The regime of high-taxation is back with P Chidambaram's two Budgets. More areas are being taxed. The taxable components of one's income has gone up in the last two years.

The manufacturing sector which today holds the essence of growth needs labour flexibility, infrastructure creation. It needs utility at a reasonable cost. Today you find that infrastructure creation has been slowed down. The national highway and rural road links programme has slowed down.

The capacity to take hard decisions is lacking in this government. The action, which is allowed to be taken in the case of the Centaur hotel sale, is a deterrent that this government has held out against future reformist ministers. If you reform and take these bold steps we will slam legal sanctions against you. The inquiry in the Centaur hotel sale is an anti-reform step.

The growth of the economy today is not on account of a single decision taken in the last one year.

They inherited 8.5% growth, there was momentum for growth. Nobody can point out a single decision in the last year which can exhilarate growth. I believe the growth seen in the economy today is entrepreneur driven and not policy driven. Let this government claim no credit for that.

They claim successes in diplomacy. Let me clarify that foreign policy is the issue where there has been a national consensus. The country broadly supports what our prime ministers do.

Let anti-BJPism not be the continued essence of the UPA's survival. Today the UPA survives not on the strength of its programmes or performance but only on anti-BJPism. It can be an initial impetus for the government's survival but anti-BJPism cannot be an everlasting solution to the UPA's problems.

When ministers claim that the BJP will remain in Opposition for a decade or more I think of the Emergency. Some people then thought that irrespective of their behaviour, their power was immortal. Politics is a game of revolving doors.

Power is not immortal. It first deserts the arrogant.

The BJP general secretary and former Union law minister spoke to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt.

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