When facing a confidence motion, any government tries its best to win the vote. Equally, the opposition, too, tries to defeat the government. But, what was witnessed on Tuesday in the Lok Sabha plumbed a new low in the continuing degeneration of the Indian polity.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Never before has the country witnessed the spectacle of members of Parliament trooping into the well of the House and displaying wads of currency. Allegations of bribery have been freely traded in the past but, never in such a brazen manner. Ironically, what seems to have perturbed many is the show of money, and not corruption itself.
Ever since the Left parties withdrew support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on 8 July, there have been signs of marked desperation across the political spectrum for different motives and reasons. For the Left, toppling the government became the end of all it did. Similar desperation was witnessed in the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ranks. As a result, political alignments changed in a manner that had not been anticipated.
The Left had no qualms in joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to vote against the government that it had supported for four years. The Congress party, too, joined hands with a former, bitter opponent, the Samajwadi Party. This blurred political divisions like never before. As a result, a thin slice of MPs could make all the difference, both for the government and the Opposition.
Beyond the immediate issue of corruption and bribery of MPs, lie different, more important, questions: Have coalitions become incapable of addressing contentious issues meaningfully? Ideological arguments ceased to have any substance a long time ago but, has their form been extingu-ished as well? Under the present circumstances, the answer seems a resounding yes.
In this instance, the debate on the merits or demerits of the Indo-US nuclear deal, which generated so much heat, never really took place. To arrive at a consensus, all that political parties had to do was to arrive at a decision based on what they felt was right. This proved difficult. A large population split along regional, religious and caste lines exacerbates this: Each such segment is capable of sending individuals to Parliament. As a consequence, wh-en confronted with a national issue such as the nuclear deal, MPs are simply incapable of looking at the bigger picture.
Some parties were clearly in favour of the deal, but voted against the government, others were ambivalent about the deal, but, nonetheless, went with the government. This was true for parties, both in the UPA and the NDA. Even established parties, such as the BJP, had a difficult time trying to articulate their position. Below the party level, individual MPs are mostly worried about their political future either due to loss of seats by delimitation or denial of party nomination.
The results have been corrosive. Political fluidity of a kind never seen before is the result. Winning elections becomes an end in itself. Tuesday’s events are clearly understandable in this light.
At the moment, one way to restore confidence would be to dissolve the present Lok Sabha quickly and go in for general elections. There may be disagreement on this, but the question is about moving on and elections are clearly the way out.
In the longer run, however, the situation is more muddled. It has been argued that political parties should separate long-term national causes from their short-term interests. It sounds good but, clearly, there’s no road map to go about doing it. Electoral success requires that short-term interests are paramount. Consequently, compromises of the kind seen in the past weeks become inevitable. Unless this barrier is surmounted, long-term interests that concern all cannot be clearly articulated or attained, for that matter.
This should, however, not be a cause for despair. The possibility of arriving at a consensus on how to proceed is difficult but not impossible. India has long been a vibrant, if noisy, democracy. In spite of the severe shortcomings mentioned earlier, solutions are possible. Otherwise, democratic functioning would not have been possible for this long.
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