Power shifts to NDA in Rajya Sabha, will enable reform

Power shifts to NDA in Rajya Sabha, will enable reform

By Gautam Mukherjee | 13 August, 2017
PM Narendra Modi felicitates BJP president Amit Shah who completed his three years as BJP president and has been elected to the Rajya Sabha, in New Delhi on Thursday. IANS
There are reforms crying out to be made constitutionally, in the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the executive, as much as to the legislature.

The possibilities of a parliamentary majority at 40 months in both Houses, tending towards 80%, through 2019 and beyond are both transformative and dynamic. This momentum describes a spectacular political consolidation and enormous personal popularity of the Prime Minister, with polls giving him over 70% approval ratings. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party president, Amit Shah, Narendra Modi’s trusted engine-room strategist, also a Rajya Sabha member now, has not only delivered electoral wins in spades, but also grown tremendously in stature. And looking at the Union Cabinet and senior bureaucracy, there are still no corruption scandals from high places at all. This is in sharp contrast to the decade of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). 

Simultaneously, in the treasury, not only do we have around $300 billion in hard currency reserves, India is witnessing the early stages of strong, unprecedented dollar inflows. It is coming in, both as embedded direct investment and into the bourses. This is a well-earned endorsement and approval in an economically troubled world, with very few bright spots. The Ease of Doing Business Reforms will determine if this can grow exponentially from here.

The rupee, consolidating towards Rs 62 to the US dollar, is helping international confidence. Particularly, given GDP growth statistics of over 7% annually. But this currency strength needs to be sustained by determined policy measures. Ones that emphasise the virtues of cheaper imports over other considerations, important for a country hungry to catch up with the developed world. 

It is precisely such departures from the established policy of many years that are, and will continue to make the difference. 

The large pool of IT talent could do much domestically to digitise the government, defence, spawn start-ups and develop cyber security. 

Our international diplomacy, conducted personally by the Prime Minister in the lead, is yielding unprecedented cooperation and understanding from other nations. 

More than ever before, the time may have come when we can dare to address the larger pending questions towards nation-building, going back much further than 40 months. These are indeed about second-stage structural reforms. But not just concerning the economy. These are reforms crying out to be made constitutionally, in the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the executive, as much as to the legislature. But of course, Parliament being supreme, though the judiciary should perhaps read the 42nd Amendment to remind itself, it is legislation that can be the greatest single driver of change and betterment.

Still, with the advent of a proper “hanging judge”, Dipak Mishra as the new Chief Justice of India (CJI) at the month-end, we may see a new era dawning there too. 

Electoral funding reforms, implemented recently with the cooperation of the Election Commission (EC), point the way forward in just one vital area, throwing up questions in other places.

What is the point of making laws that can’t be implemented due to the paucity of enforcers? Of depending on courts, with millions of pending cases clogging the system, a shortage of judges and opaque, nepotistic, cabalistic, selection procedures of the upper judiciary? Knowing that a both Houses Parliamentary majority is imminent, will the Supreme Court (SC), and the new, apparently like-minded CJI, cooperate in flushing the judicial selection system? 

The last time Parliament legislated painstakingly on this, the SC threw it out on a technical weakness. And the Opposition let Parliament be snubbed rather than cooperate with the Government.

Elsewhere, when we are being militarily challenged by two of our most well-armed neighbours, where is the security in being under-manned, under-equipped, technologically backward and cyber-security challenged? We are still abjectly dependent on imports, because of a poor defence manufacturing infrastructure, but this Government seems determined to accelerate this beyond recognition. When are we going to set right the general infrastructure and logistics for that matter, in order to turn Indian industry into a powerhouse? 

Is the emphasis on electrification, water and the building of roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, ports, dams working hard enough towards this? Are we going to see the implementation of simultaneous elections, to the states and the Centre, if not the municipalities and panchayats too? This is a vital need for consistent governance, but interrupted presently by a system in perpetual election mode. But those who think they will lose are not in favour. But can they stop it anymore? 

There has been constant bloodshed and turmoil in the Kashmir Valley from 1947. But now, are we in touching distance of getting at the root causes? Will the vexed question of the modification of Article 35A of the Indian Constitution that grants special residency and property rights to J&K, be taken up in Parliament? The Valley politicians are threatening blue murder, but what more can they throw into the fray without foreign help of a sizeable order? The Hurriyat is also under the lash now. Will Article 370 under which J&K is run, be abolished at last? 

Will India adopt the Gregorian Calendar year for fiscal and budgetary purposes, in line with most of the world today?

Will the Ram Temple at Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya, on the site of the erstwhile Babri Mosque, hanging fire since 1992, finally be built? 

Will labour reform, a political hot potato, now go through? We are, after all, contemplating the privatisation of Air India, despite the looming battles with its entrenched trade unions. 

The Land Acquisition Act modification was a progenitor, though the Opposition successfully blew substantial holes in it, rendering it less than ideal.

The Government managed to put the teeth into the Benami Properties Act and has nabbed a large number of culprits, Lalu Yadav and family being amongst the most celebrated, confiscating their properties for the first time. But every such move—casting a dragnet around “shell companies” is another instance—is portrayed as stuntmanship, by those affected, and mindless disruption of a direction-less Government. Still it is amazing how much did get done.

The Opposition is in a particularly unforgiving mood as it contemplates its growing irrelevance and powerlessness. It was also caught by surprise and badly done by in their cash hoards by demonetisation. But the number of taxpayers has grown by 25%.

The bureaucracy, converted into accomplices and handmaidens of the political class from the days of Indira Gandhi, are most startled at being held accountable for their performance. The rules of the nexus between political over bosses and the bureaucracy have been thrown out in a new attack on corruption. A number of civil servants have been prosecuted. More of the same is expected.

Still, the Modi administration, determined to usher in the much ridiculed achhe din, has been hamstrung on its legislative agenda from the very start. But now, from every direction, the straws in the wind indicate this is about to change.  Earlier the table was set, but not the stage.

Important legislation, other than “money bills” that do not need Rajya Sabha concurrence, were routinely blocked and sent back to the Lower House for further consideration, or deflected to the limbo of long-winded Parliamentary Committees. So much so that the Government has had to resort to ordinances in several instances. And this has been happening on a more or less confrontationist basis, albeit with diminishing success as Opposition unity unravelled. 

The GST law is indeed a prime example of this Government’s success before it had anything like a majority in the Upper House. Held up for over a decade, it was passed in the face of trenchant filibustering, disruption and cries of foul play. But barring this single great achievement and a few lesser but significant acts such as the Bankruptcy Law passed as a Money Bill, other legislation has been stymied, irrespective of merit. Disrupting both Houses of Parliament, slogan-shouting, rushing to the Well, disrespecting the Speaker, throwing paper missiles, have all been widely used.

The big point now however, is that there will most likely be a majority in the Rajya Sabha by April 2018. It will be presided over by a pugnacious Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS)/BJP stalwart, Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, as Vice President and ex officio Chairman. Naidu will probably not brook gratuitous indiscipline. And Amit Shah’s presence there will likely help focus the minds of the BJP flock too.

Narendra Modi will have, on his part, another RSS/BJP pillar in Ram Nath Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The stage therefore may well be truly set for 2019 and beyond.

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