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‘Obstructionism is a part of legitimate Parliamentary tactics'

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Mr Arun Jaitley
Mr Arun Jaitley

If obstructionism had not occurred, Mr Raja would not have resigned, the magnitude of the fraud would not have come to notice, and the issue would not have been brought to the centre-stage of the polity. - Mr Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha.

G. Srinivasan

New Delhi, Jan. 30

Much of the winter session of Parliament was a washout on account of the contentious issue of whether a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) should be formed to go into the allegation of abuse of power in the allocation of 2G spectrum. As the stalemate stays, the prospects for the resumption of normal work by Parliament in the forthcoming Budget session appear none too palpable. To assess the mood of the principal Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been excoriated for stalling proceedings of both the Houses, Business Line spoke to the smart and savvy Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha, Mr Arun Jaitley, on a host of imminent troubles for the Treasury Benches in getting the important Financial Bill and the Union Budget for 2011-12 passed.

Not the one to evade any ticklish questions but known to respond with his characteristic candour and conviction, Mr Jaitley, who was also a former Commerce and Industry Minister, asserts that “when the Budget session approaches closer, we will consider what is to be done in the matter. I think the Finance Minister, as the Leader of the House, has called a meeting but the responsibility of calling the House lies with the Government. It should create circumstances by which Parliament is able to function.”

Following are the excerpts from an interview at Mr Jaitley'sresidence in South Delhi:

Pilloried for prolonged disruptions of Parliament, is the BJP going to be a party-pooper by not sticking to established Parliamentary conventions?

Parliamentary forums are essentially meant for debate and legislation. But then there are rarely occasions in history when the Parliamentary institution has been utilised to merely talk out an issue. The 2G scam, in terms of the quantum of money lost by the exchequer, is one of the largest in free India. Not only that, the scam took place right under the nose of the Prime Minister, who did not do anything for the next two years when it was brought to his notice. It is not merely Mr Raja's culpability but the culpability of the highest in the Government.

Additionally, revelations which have been made in the tapes reflect on the health of the various institutions. The credibility of the media has taken a hit. How the Council of Ministers was formed, how the portfolios were allocated to one party, how a particular individual was chosen for the telecom portfolio, how the policy was framed and implemented and the role of middle-men and corporate interests, all throw up the worst.

If there is one institution that should be concerned about all this, it is Parliament. Courts can only a have a judicial review of action. The CAG/PAC can only be concerned with auditing/accounts objections. The larger ramifications can only be gone into by Parliament or by a Parliamentary Committee. This issue was first raised by me on July 23, 2009 — close to 20 months have passed but little action has been taken.

There are but rare occasions in history when Parliamentary obstructionism is a part of legitimate Parliamentary tactics. In this case, if obstructionism had not occurred, Mr Raja would not have resigned, the magnitude of the fraud would not have come to notice, and the issue would not have been brought to the centre-stage of the polity. Therefore, we obviously do not want to use obstructionism as a frequent or indefinite strategy.

On the performance of the UPA-II with an economist-Prime Minister at the helm?

This Government is only adopting routine measures as far as the management of the economy goes. It will hike the interest rate to try and bring prices down. But there is also a supply-side problem and, therefore, they have to anticipate shortages in advance and flood the market with the surplus. Interventions by the Government are really required for this and the Government is failing to do that. Indefinite double-digit inflation in food prices is really a conspiracy against the aam adhmi.

Another problem in the economy is that instead of investments coming into India, Indian businesses are now planning to make investments outside India.

Every large group is now considering that 50-60 per cent of its balance-sheet must be outside India because of uncertainty of policy, the inability of the Manmohan Singh-UPA-II Government to carry on with second generation of reforms, and excessive corruption.

I think Mr Jairam Ramesh is now becoming a disincentive for large investments. He singularly has the potential to bring down India's GDP.

I think the Prime Minister is a better politician than an economist. The fact that he has survived without doing much speaks of his qualities as a politician. The fact that he has been indefinitely unable to control prices speaks of him as an economist. The growth story is entrepreneur-driven and not government-driven, given the high growth in the services sector.

Do you think that institutional credibility has been at the nadir now?

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was the one institution which the Government used and destroyed. The CBI can now cover up a political case and it can concoct a political case. The CBI is incapable of honest investigation. CBI appointments are to be made by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), and now they have appointed a tainted Central Vigilance Commissioner. I find at times the institutions of law officers have also been used in a manner to give pliable opinion with their autonomy and independence being seriously compromised.

geeyes@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 31, 2011)
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