2 January 2013
Constitution and moralityParliamentary Contradictions Over FDI
Amba Charan Vashishth
THE illustrious framers of our Constitution were men of character, morality, intelligence and farsightedness in their own right. Their singular consideration was the interest and future of the nation, and nothing else. Although more than 80 per cent ~ maybe even more ~ of the members of the Constituent Assembly belonged to the Congress, yet they never even for a while thought about the interests of their party. The same can be said of the leaders of other parties and non-political celebrities.
But things are totally different today. Whichever party may be ruling at the Centre or in the States, the uppermost priority and objective of the political rulers are centred on promoting and protecting the interests of the party and catering to the sectoral interests of their constituency of voters who provided them the edge over the opponents to win. The electoral benefit any programme and policy may fetch to the party in power acts as an accelerator. In fact, ‘opposition for opposition’s sake’ is the guiding star of every political party, both ruling and the Opposition. The latter opposes a government policy only because it is likely to swell the vote- bank of the ruling party which, in turn, is not willing to entertain any suggestion from the Opposition even if it is in the interests of the people or the nation. The party in power wants to prevent the Opposition from deriving any political and electoral mileage in the event of acceptance of a policy emanating from the other side.
Every political party has a right ~ constitutional and moral ~ to its stand on any issue and to vote accordingly. At the same time, the stand and voting on any issue cannot be contrary to each other. The two cannot be separated, from each other. Otherwise, it turns out to be hypocrisy in all its manifestations.
In its winter session in December 2012 the Lok Sabha presented a unique case-study. While participating in an Opposition motion calling for the withdrawal of the government’s decision to allow 51 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the retail trade, certain parties adopted a stand that was totally at variance with their stated position on the issue. This was reflected in the voting, abstention and the walkout. When it came to voting, some of them supported the government’s decision and others devised a strategy to indirectly bail the government out on an issue they otherwise opposed. Some staged the drama of a walkout in protest against the reply and explanation of the minister concerned.
They were obviously trying to fool the people with their strident public opposition to FDI; simultaneously they were helping the government in an indirect manner to achieve its objective. Their action was in stark contrast to what they had said in the House.
The conduct of these legislators may not be against the word of law and the Constitution, but it certainly destroys the spirit of both. One doesn’t know whether it pricked their collective conscience. Their attitude places the Constitution in direct conflict with the tenets of ethics and morality.
In the discussion in the Lok Sabha with an effective strength of 544 members, a total of 261 MPs representing various political parties were with the Opposition, appealing to the government to withdraw the decision to introduce FDI in the retail sector.
Some of these groups belonged to parties which were either part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or were supporting it from the outside. But when the Opposition motion was put to vote, only 218 stood for it while 253 stood by the government. Some political groups (43 MPs), which had opposed the move tooth and nail in the House, tactically preferred to stage a walkout.
The political groups opposing the government were actually playing politics which has, over the past 65 years, come to be acknowledged as the deft art of fooling the people. On the one hand they were vociferously telling the people that they were against the move but, on the other, they staged a walkout to facilitate the Bill being passed to save the face of the government.
The Constitution does stipulate a voting pattern on a confidence or no-confidence motion; in the case of a Constitution Amendment Bill, there is a clause of two-third of the members present in the House and voting. Those who had framed the Constitution could not visualize a situation where politics would stoop so low that this provision of “those present in the House and voting” would be exploited to vote for a government or vote it out by taking recourse to a walkout or not voting in violation of their own stand spelt out in the House. This contradictory conduct makes a mockery of both the spirit of the Constitution and the sanctity of the words and views expressed in the House.
A walkout is a mark of protest and a virtual vote against the issue under debate and voting in the House. On moral grounds, it amounts to a vote against. Would it be constitutionally and morally right if a government adopts a strategy to create conditions provoking the Opposition to walk out in protest and, later, in the absence of the Opposition, getting the approval of the House with a near unanimity of those “present and voting” on certain controversial issues?
The Constitution may not have stipulated as much in so many words; yet it would be equally wrong to construe the absence as putting its seal of approval on the duality of the conduct in opposition to the words and opinion expressed on any issue in the House.
The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator
(Courtesy: The Statesman)