On a sticky wicket
The Congress has stuck to its stand that the PAC, headed by an opposition leader, is the best authority to hold an inquiry.
WHEN the efficacy of the parliamentary system is doubted in a democratic polity, the finger may well be pointed at governance. The rulers make a mess of things and blame the system.
This is what has been happening in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's remark that he is "worried over the future of the parliamentary system" in the country is misplaced and speaks more of his government's failure than that of the system.
The winter session of parliament has been a washout and both the houses were stalled for 21 days, a record of sorts in India's parliamentary history. Yet the problem is not the failure of the system. Both the ruling Congress and the opposition could not agree upon a mechanism to probe into the 2G spectrum concerning mobile telephones. (The scam runs into an abnormal figure of $12bn.)
There has naturally been a countrywide debate on corruption. Congress president Sonia Gandhi's attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not absolve the Congress because both parties are corrupt in the public estimation.
The Congress has stuck to its stand that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by an opposition leader, is the best authority to hold an inquiry. The opposition, which includes the left, has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe. The BJP was first alone but then the government's obduracy led other parties, including the left, to join a common front.
Probably, it would have been better if the PAC had come to be accepted because JPCs in the past have not done an effective job. But is the inquiry by a JPC such an impossible proposition that the prime minister should go to the extent of questioning the parliamentary system? The United Progress Alliance, headed by the Congress, has a majority in the JPC. But it is a divided house now. The more the Congress opposes the JPC, the firmer becomes the conviction that the party wants to hide something because the JPC is an open-ended inquiry.
The prime minister did not say anything for 21 days when the two houses did not transact any business. That he should now doubt the future of the parliamentary system is disconcerting. The standoff in parliament is nothing new.
In fact, Manmohan Singh's 'worry' amounts to a threat to the political parties that the parliamentary system could undergo change if the Congress stance is not accepted. The situation may worsen because opposition leader Sushma Swaraj from the BJP has said that the confrontation may spill over to the budget session. This should be a warning for the ruling party that it has to either break the opposition unity or think of reaching a consensus.
Otherwise, the Congress must consider going back to the people to ask for a verdict on its stand. A mid-term poll, when the present Lok Sabha has still another three years to go, is a hard choice to make. Yet there is no option when both sides do not want to step back.
The prime minister should be more concerned about what WikiLeaks revealed in the assessment US ambassador David C. Mulford conveyed to the State Department on the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai. He said that a section of the Congress leadership was seen playing religious politics after one of its leaders, A.R. Antulay, implied that Hindutva forces may have been involved in the attack.
The Congress's explanation is that it cannot react until Mulford's cable is authenticated. This is neither here nor there. Unfortunately, the State Department is not willing to either confirm or deny Mulford's communication.
The suspicion gets strengthened when Congress secretarygeneral Digvijay Singh, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, says a few hours before Mulford's cable became public that police officer Hemant Karkare, who was killed during the 26/11 attack, rang him up (Singh) hours before the attack began to say that he (Karkare) had received death threats. The people threatening him, Karkare said, were those opposed to his probe in which Hindu groups were allegedly involved. The mystery deepens when the Mumbai police allege that no call was made to Digvijay Singh according to its records. He, however, sticks to his statement.
Karkare's wife has justifiably criticised Digvijay Singh for politicising the terrorists' attack. He has stuck to the line that Karkare was "harassed by BJP leaders." It is true that the Congress has distanced itself from Digvijay Singh's disclosure. But that is not enough. The Manmohan Singh government must look into his charge which is very serious and has wider implications.
Two years ago, Congress minister Antulay had said: "They (terrorists) had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know. Karkare found that there are nonMuslims involved in the act of terrorism in some cases. There is more than what meets the eye."
Antulay was a member of Manmohan Singh's cabinet in the first term. He did not question him, nor was any action taken on his allegation. Antulay was defeated at the polls and hence it cannot be said that he was not included in the new ministry because of his allegation. Still, the charge remains hanging.
The BJP is understandably angry. It has attacked Digvijay Singh for "helping Pakistan and Ajmal Kasab". The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh too has made some harsh remarks against Digvijay Singh. Since he continues to stick to his charge the Congressled government, for his credibility's sake, has to entrust the matter to a Supreme Court judge.