A somnolent government has suddenly twitched into action with a series of decisions. The Union cabinet on Thursday decided to rename Lucknow airport as Chaudhary Charan Singh airport. Earlier in the week, the government showed unusual haste in replacing the petroleum secretary, who was due to retire on 31 July.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint.
These decisions are likely linked with attempts by the ruling alliance to bolster its parliamentary strength for the trust vote that is due on 22 July. The airport renaming is what real estate brokers call a good-faith down payment, to win favour with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has three votes in the Lok Sabha and is led by the former prime minister’s son. Naming a new petroleum secretary a few days before the incumbent leaves is good and established practice. But to do so two weeks earlier — a week before a trust vote and when the Samajwadi Party has demanded an overhaul of the petroleum ministry — is unlikely to be a coincidence.
Ever since the Left pulled out support of its 59 MPs after the government’s decision to go ahead with the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has realized that winning the trust vote is not going to be easy. Withdrawal of the Left block of votes has meant that the government has traded a stable, though inflexible, ally for a group of small political parties and freelancers.
Probity in public life has taken a beating. The cabinet’s decision on Thursday was only one in a series of such questionable practices. All of them have one thing in common: While they appear to be routine decisions, their timing and the background in which they have been taken suggest that there is much more to the story. Communist Party of India leader A.B. Bardhan has already claimed, though he has offered no proof, that the going rate for a Lok Sabha MP is Rs25 crore.
Just as the government is guilty, so is the Opposition. It is going all out to woo independents and some ruling party MPs. The infamous scandal of MPs belonging to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, or JMM, taking a pay-off to vote in support of the Congress government headed by Narasimha Rao in 1993, was probably one of the lowest point of Indian politics.
We should not be revisiting those depths, especially for a country that dreams of being an economic superpower and which wants to sit at the high table of international power. The sooner our politicians understand this, the better.
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