What India needs is a judicious combination of political savvy and visionary leadership coupled with the execution of an audacious national agenda with the zeal of a dictator
It is by now certain that there will be a special session of Parliament to break the current impasse. It is in the national interest that certain principles are kept in mind that will help in bringing to the table two recalcitrant sides to bring home the realization that the general interest needs to prevail over private and sectional interests. Accordingly, it is time that whining and complaining ends and statesmanship begins.
For that to happen, the NDA government headed by Prime Minister Modi, will have to take the initiative to make a renewed attempt to reach out to the opposition, heal the wounds caused by intemperate discourse, smoothen the rough edges and bond together in executing a national agenda. Parliament has witnessed a serious erosion of credibility among the Indian electorate and it is in everybody’s interest to restore it. How can such a task be concluded?
The ruling party will have to first take the initiative. If the Congress must learn to give way, the BJP too must learn to give way. Each must compete to be taller than the other. This will invite them the respect of the electorate. They must do all it takes to cement an agreement upon a common agenda of economic reform and social renewal. It has to pitch its appeal to address both the head and the heart.
There is a genuine difficulty here. I recall a saying by Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”. What makes this particularly difficult in our context is that the interests of the short-term militate against the imperatives of the long term. Politics focuses upon the short term, while statesmanship concentrates on the long term. For example, what is economically prudent or necessary is not always politically wise and what is politically expedient is not necessarily wise from an economic point of view. This conundrum can only be resolved if all political parties follow a code of conduct that explicitly focuses on the long term.
The long term in our context is clearly the national interest. In what follows, we outline five practical steps that the NDA government can take to break the impasse in Parliament.
The first of these must surely lie in the desirability of the Prime Minster addressing the special session of Parliament with a powerful opening address on why the GST and the Land Bill (not to speak of a number of other allied but important bills) need to be considered and passed by both Houses of Parliament. He has already set the tone in his second Independence Day address where he has called for Team India to get together by saying Stand up India (coming together) and Start-up India (calling upon youth to take up entrepreneurship). Time and again, he has demonstrated his ability to rise above the situation. These are steps in the right direction.
Secondly, the government must propose an unwritten code of conduct that prohibits disruption of any kind in matters concerning all legislation. This code of conduct must include showing respect for the office of the Prime Minister. The way the Prime Minister is described by opposition leaders leaves much to be desired. If the interviews aired on television channels is any pointer, it has earned them public ire from the man-in-the-street. Personal attacks must be condemned and scrupulously guarded against. Attempts to disrupt will invite suspension by the Speaker.
Thirdly, the Parliament must speak in one voice on matters concerning national security, economic reforms, terrorism and foreign policy. This is non-negotiable by all parties. It is sacred and sacrosanct. Once agreed upon, it must become law. The ability to speak with one voice requires that all parties be of one accord. For this to happen, political parties need to ask themselves three questions:
(a) What kind of outcome can be reasonably expected if no action is taken by way of policy?
(b) What is the common idea of India that they want to promote?
And (c) What kind of India is possible if legislators design intelligent and effective laws?
The Prime Minister must begin his address to Parliament along these lines and respond to these three questions. By answering them, he stands a good chance of winning the hearts and minds of his contemporaries.
Fourthly, the BJP must apologize for its behaviour in the last months of the UPA regime and take back its assertion that it is legitimate to use disruption as a legitimate weapon in Parliament. Such an apology will go a long way in assuaging sentiments echoed by the Opposition to the effect that they are merely following what the BJP had endorsed and practiced. All parties need to reject any form of disruption as a legitimate tactic to promote their points of view. Rushing to the well of the house must be strictly forbidden and should invite stern censure leading to suspension.
Finally, the government must institutionalize a consultation mechanism on important policy issues especially the four issues of national security, terrorism, foreign policy and economic reform. This consultation mechanism will pave the way for all parties to be one accord. Bumpy corners must be evened out during these consultative sessions before they are brought to Parliament.
Compromise is the need of the hour. It is appropriate in this connection to recall what the Father of the Nation said on this matter: “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”.
The fundamentals in our case is the transformation of India into a global powerhouse. This matter brooks no compromise, conflict or dissension. Prime Minister Modi is perhaps aided in this endeavour by Andrew Carnegie, who once said that strong men know when to compromise, and all principles can be compromised to serve a larger principle.
Or Benjamin Disraeli, who declared: “I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few.”
As far as Rahul Gandhi is concerned, he will do well to remember the wise saying that the essence of statesmanship is not a rigid adherence to the past, but a prudent, genuine and probing concern for the future. If the performance of the Congress in the recently concluded session of Parliament was any indicator, then it is precisely this concern for India’s future that was lacking in the Indian National Congress. The party needs to rise above the perceived needs of the Gandhi family business.
Somebody once said that statesmanship is harder than politics because politics is the art of getting along with people (and for that reason easier to accomplish), whereas statesmanship is the art of getting along with politicians (and for that reason infinitely more difficult to bring about). Be that as it may, what India needs above all is a judicious combination of political savvy and visionary leadership coupled with the execution of an audacious national agenda with the zeal of a dictator. The NDA must help to make that happen in this special session of Parliament.
They must cuddle before they go into a huddle. There is no other way.