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Consensus No – Coalition Yes!
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
London’s The Economist while reporting India’s current Coalgate scandal has quoted Rajya Sabha opposition leader Mr. Arun Jaitley saying: “We (BJP) could agree on many things if the government tried to get an atmosphere of consensus.” The journal went on to comment: “Getting a consensus on anything before 2014 is starting to look most unlikely.” The reference to 2014 is understandable. The critical situation confronting a rapidly declining Indian economy cannot leave the rest of the world unmoved. And considering the pace of decline in India’s economy 2014 is a long way off.
Mr. Jaitley of course did not elaborate what in his view would create an appropriate atmosphere for consensus. That was left to Lok Sabha leader of opposition and his party colleague Mrs. Sushma Swaraj. Hours before Mrs. Sonia Gandhi departed for another of her foreign trips purportedly for a medical checkup she talked with Mrs. Swaraj over the phone. Unlike the past this time around the Congress widely publicized Mrs. Gandhi’s foreign trip to state that it was for a routine checkup and she would return after a week. Unlike the past Mrs. Swaraj widely publicized her conversation with Mrs. Gandhi with whom she has developed a cozy relationship.
Mrs. Swaraj disclosed that she had informed Mrs. Gandhi that only if a judicial inquiry by a Supreme Court Judge was ordered and all the coal allocations made by the government were cancelled would her party resume functioning of parliament. Hours later Mrs. Gandhi talked with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who had just arrived from his NAM summit trip, to advise him of the offer. She left it to the PM to decide about what was to be done. After that she left for abroad. Mrs. Swaraj’s uncharacteristic briefing to the media about her talk with Mrs. Gandhi created immediate speculation that the opposition had softened and parliament would resume functioning. Thereby Mrs. Gandhi departed on a mood of reconciliation created by her with her hands remaining clean. For the entire world to see she had left the ball in the PM’s court.
Almost immediately after her departure the BJP hardened its stand to reiterate that the PM must resign. Meanwhile the PM had to respond to the opposition’s offer to his party colleagues. He understandably rejected both demands. Canceling allotment of coal licenses would violate contractual agreements by the government and open it to prosecution in courts of law. The creation of a judicial inquiry by a Supreme Court Judge would inevitably require cross examination of the PM and legitimately revive the demand for his resignation in order to allow a credible inquiry. Predictably, the PM rejected both demands. Predictably, the BJP agitation for his resignation intensified. Predictably, it will intensify further in the days ahead.
Readers would recall that at the very outset of this manufactured crisis it had been opined in these columns that the name of the game was not consensus but coalition. If the nation wants the government to function until 2014 the Congress must resort to the only formula for consensus that India’s politicians recognize: power sharing. Alas, to accomplish that the PM must resign in order to create an acceptable share of power. That Dr. Manmohan Singh will not do. Less than that the BJP will not accept. Hence the crisis. Now what remains to be seen is whether the pincer move by the BJP and a powerful section of the Congress succeeds in ousting the PM. Mrs. Gandhi has bequeathed to the PM’s opponents seven days to shake his hold. It remains to be seen how the PM and his opponents utilize that time.
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