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Why Modi Must Act: Parliament Impasse Spells Disaster For India's Growth Story

13/08/2015 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks to receive President Pranab Mukherjee during a ceremonial reception of Mozambican President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Indian Parliament has been unable to conduct any business for weeks as the opposition has been demanding the resignation of Sushma Swaraj and another leader for allegedly helping a former Indian cricket official facing investigation for financial irregularities. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

It was disgusting to watch the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha on 10 August, when a Bhutanese delegation was being introduced by the Speaker. When the Speaker informed the House that the delegation had come to learn about the functioning of the Indian Parliament, it was greeted by a loud guffaw by the opposition. The Bhutanese delegation did not show a reaction, but our heads should hang in shame at the crass and insolent behaviour of our parliamentarians.

The functioning of the Indian democracy has garnered much praise over the years, but the recent events in Parliament do not augur well for our system. This monsoon session of the Parliament is heading for a complete washout. Every day we see disruptions led by the Congress party, loudly proclaiming that they will not allow Parliament to function until the Union Foreign Minister and two BJP chief ministers resign. The Government's offer of engaging the opposition in a debate in both Houses of Parliament has mostly fallen on deaf ears.

For every day of non-functioning of the parliament, the loss to the exchequer is estimated to be more than Rs 2 crores a day. According to an estimate the total loss of not transacting business in the Indian Parliament over the last five years is estimated to be over Rs 250 crores, which a developing country like India can ill afford.

"If [Modi] fails to take a proactive step in this direction, and keeps his head buried in the sand, his vision of taking India amongst the top three economic powers will remain just a pipe dream."

The attitude of the opposition parties is no different to the BJP's during Manmohan Singh's government. They had stalled proceedings in Parliament by demanding that the tainted ministers in his cabinet should resign before they would allow both Houses to function. The double speak and the political grandstanding of the present government has come up for sharp criticism for its sudden volte-face while in government. Unlike the Congress, however, the present government has refused to buckle down to the demands of the opposition and is playing a waiting game as it seems to believe that the Opposition will soon run out of steam.

It may be recalled that Narendra Modi was elected on the back of an unprecedented mandate by the people of India because of his excellent track record when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. Mr Modi commands a lot of respect among the ordinary citizens of India, and is considered something of a Messiah, a harbinger of "acchhe din".

After being elected as the prime minister, the first thing he did was to develop a blueprint for economic growth. He visited China, the United States and other countries, encouraging them to invest in India. Mr. Modi assured the investors that he would remove bureaucratic hurdles and facilitate the ease of doing business in India.

If India needs to grow at 7% per annum, it has to make land available for infrastructure and setting up manufacturing facilities. The opposition parties vehemently opposed the land reform bill as being anti-farmer. The bill has been sent to a select committee for review. Mr. Modi knows full well that if the crucial land reform bill is not passed, his promise of ease of business will take a severe beating and will lead to flight of foreign capital to other countries. The ruling party has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, but it is in the minority in the Rajya Sabha. Unless both Houses pass crucial bills pending in Parliament, they can't be enacted as law.

Going by the Parliament logjams in both the current and previous dispensations at the Centre, the question arises whether a developing country like India can even afford a democratic form of government. But then the only other option is unacceptable - as our neighbour China has shown, an authoritarian form of government can bring rapid economic progress but at the cost of people's rights. Freedom is essential for living in any kind of society. Debate and dissent are sine qua non for functioning in any democracy. However, if the opposition is intent on avoiding healthy debate and instead resorting to uncouth behaviour in both the houses of parliament, the effectiveness of this form of governance comes under question. It can only be hoped that better sense will prevail and our leaders will show allow our parliament to function, especially when crucial bills like the land reform bill, goods and service tax bill are pending in the upper house.

It is in the interest of Mr. Modi to reach out to opposition parties to end the impasse. If he fails to take a proactive step in this direction, and keeps his head buried in the sand, his vision of taking India amongst the top three economic powers will remain just a pipe dream.

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