Congress-Left discord spells policy paralysis

Congress-Left discord spells policy paralysis

Even as the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) bought itself time by agreeing to a panel to address the concerns of the Left parties on the India-US nuclear pact, an emboldened Left is likely to stall or try and alter action on several key pieces of legislation waiting to be enacted.

The decision by the Congress-led government, which is supported by the Left from the outside, to appoint a committee of experts is also likely to have a positive impact on the Indian stock markets, which have seen significant turmoil stemming from global volatility in the past week but are expected to recover somewhat on Monday on the back of a rebound in the US markets on Friday.


“Economic reforms have already been stalled due to persistent opposition of the Left parties, but now the authority of the government is set to be further eroded," suggests Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.

While the so-called 123 agreement with the US does not need to be ratified by Parliament (it needs to be ratified by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group before it goes to the US Congress), the government needs the support of the Left parties for several other key Bills that it had hoped to enact, including in the ongoing session of Parliament.

The Left parties have already been consistently opposing Bills to amend labour laws, to open up the financial and aviation sectors and to allow foreign educational institutions to enter India.

In order to get past the Left roadblock on the banking legislation, for instance, the government promulgated an ordinance in January to empower the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, to change banks’ statutory liquidity ratio. Subsequently, in the Budget session, a Bill was introduced.

Similarly, the finance ministry is looking at unbundling the stalled amendments to insurance laws to get on with legislation on the non-controversial aspects.

So far, the first five of the 23 scheduled sittings in the current monsoon session of Parliament, which began on 10 August, were repeatedly disrupted over the Indo-US agreement on civil nuclear energy. As a result, only two Bills could be passed and two others introduced.

In the absence of support from the Left parties, let alone the Opposition, the government is unlikely to be able to push the 25 Bills listed for introduction and the 25 Bills listed for consideration and passing at the beginning of the session.

“In order to get government business done, the strategy adopted by almost every government is to allow the Opposition to raise and discuss the issues that it wants, right in the beginning of the session. In this case, it is not just the Opposition, but all political parties outside the government," said Yashwant Sinha, a Rajya Sabha member of the principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Parliamentary affairs minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, while announcing on 17 August that the government will seek to pass four legislations within the week beginning 20 August, admitted that the government was yet to try and enlist the support of the Left parties for the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2005, which aims to grant greater voting rights to foreign investors in private banks.

During the previous session, as well, according to PRS Legislative Research, a non-partisan agency that tracks Parliament, Lok Sabha worked for 51% of the allotted time, while Rajya Sabha managed just 43%.

(Sanjiv Shankaran and Pragya Singh of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.)