- The Committee: Strom in a teacup

The Committee: Strom in a teacup

(An Aspect of the 123 Agreement)
Part IX

By Shiva Kant Jha

NO more gruesome illustration of the continuous obsolescence of our democratic commitment can be found than the way our Executive Government has treated our Parliament by rejecting the proposal to make effective deliberations in Parliament before it moved further in the light of the provisions under the 123 Agreement. A supreme body in which the nation is ever-present through their representatives, and in which legislative and constituent powers cohere with supreme majesty has been slighted, and the great issue was evaded on specious, chicanerous, and wooly pleas. The media-build up is effectively engineered as media these days know where its bread is buttered, and how long is the leash under which it is tamed. But the government found some via media to cool the passions generated over these days, and also to somehow persuade the Left parties not to embarrass it further through their tumults.

Finding a cul-de-sac frightening the UPA-Left parties came together to form a committee of 15 members: six members each from the Congress and the Left parties and one each from UPA’s other constituents viz RJD, DMK and the NCP. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is its convener, in effect, its presiding deity.

It is worthwhile to broom out first two cobwebs:

(a) First, it is wrong to say that our Constitution does not contemplate the constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on a proposed treaty. At least there is no prohibition of any sort. What is not prohibited under the specific constitutional provisions, is clearly permissible when it promotes democracy, and honours public opinion. Anybody who has read May’s great work on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament knows that the constitution of such a committee would have been in tune with Parliamentary democracy. In fact a joint committee can be set up to examine all matters arising during the course of the session or such of them as are referred to the committee.

(b) Secondly, it was inappropriate to assert that as there was no precedent of any JPC considering a proposed treaty as this assertion is made without taking into account some seminal facts:

(i) that never in the past, except when our executive government signed the Uruguay Round Final Act in 1994, a treaty of so wide an impact on our sovereignty, and such insidious interventions into our foreign policy, was before our nation;

(ii) that never in the past we entered into a diplomatic alliance with vast strategic implications reminding us of the alliances and ententes which had once driven the world to deadly wars in the 20th century;

(iii) that never in the past any treaty strove to implement the neo-liberal thesis of economic exploitations as this now under our consideration as its two staggering dimensions are strategic and commercial.

I do not think much turns on whether the Committee, as constituted, is valid or invalid under our Constitution. In fact, it is a private committee of certain public men who want to maintain their solidarity to cling on to power. Being a body without constitutional standing, it would not be able to administer oath to any deponent, nor it shall be competent to call and examine experts and public-spirited persons. Its proceedings would be opaque, and it may just become a forum for striking deals, even undesirable compromises. Such a committee often runs the risk to become a camarilla. Any deliberative committee is useful, but when the persons in power have strong pre-conceived notions, and are more likely to dress up their stock-responses, it becomes a mere device to push things through fog.

It would have been more prudent to induct into the committee even some leading lights from the opposition, especially the BJP. In a parliamentary democracy the role of the oppostion in the promotion of public interest is as important as that of the party or parties in power. They could have been invited even into a private committee to invest its deliberations with public legitimacy, transparency, and to convince people that all shades of views were taken into account.

But for a common man what is most worrisome is the waning commitment of our political parties in the democratic polity set up under Constitution. In February, 1992, Shri M.A. Baby gave notice of his intention to introduce the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 1992 to amend Article 77 of the Constitution of India providing that “every agreement, treaty, memorandum of understanding contract or deal entered into by the Government of India including borrowing under article 292 of the Constitution with any foreign country or international organization of social, economic, political, financial or cultural nature and settlements relating to trade, tariff and patents shall be laid before each House of Parliament prior to the implementation of such agreement, treaty, memorandum of understanding, contract or deal and shall operate only after it has been approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament”. Shri Baby spoke passionately in support of the said Bill. Shri Pranab Mukherjee, M.P pointed out in his speech that Parliament was not competent to decide the propriety of treaty provisions. He felt that Parliamentary approval leads to complications. He referred to the Treaty of Versailles, negotiated by President Wilson, which was rejected by the U.S. Senate. He felt that the Parliament is not so constituted as to discuss the international treaties and agreements in an effective manner. But what more this nation could expect from a person who had visited Mauritius to facilitate the making of this infamous Indo-Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Convention in 1982 so massively misused by evaders, money-launderers, fraudsters and terrorists? The U.S Congress showed great sagacity and political insight in rejecting the Treaty of Versailles from which cauldron had emerged the evil forces which pushed Europe to a delirious destruction of the Second World War. It was this decision of the Congress which saved America from President Wilson, “the blind and deaf Don Quixote”. Others who have ascended to power hopping up the election ladder would not risk any waterloo as in the next election the ladder may be missing. Political morality is so low in our country that none would notice how our great Republic has become a sponsored state. And the records of the Left parties are hardly commendable till now. They have, in fact, enacted some of the worst melodramas as they have lost the way they learnt from their books, and they are deficient in courage and imagination to strike new grounds by learning from the Bhagavad-Gita. And the BJP? Less said the better. There is not much untruth in saying that BJP did a lot in the past to make India follow the neo-liberal ideology under the US hegemony; and had staggeringly split-personality in most situations. In fact this author was driven to issue An Edict of Assertions pleading for a party-less democracy. But it is time for all to realize that Bharat can never follow any power as a bleating lamb held on lead. Whilst the performance of our political parties is uninspiring, right now there is no option but to make them work in public benefit. But one point is interesting. The present challenges should be taken by them as new opportunities to make themselves relevant and meaningful. The best strategy for them is to educate our people to evolve public opinion on matters of concern, and to lead them the benefits of the suffering millions. The silly stratagem to keep masses ill-educated so that they can be shepherded or pressurized to rue their lot in inertia should be given up. One must realize that we reap only the consequences of what we do, and none should forget that nothing is ever settled till it is settled right. This author ends this short article with reference to Keynes who evaluating a folly of the UK government in 1926 had posed a question: “Why did he (Churchill) do such a silly thing?” And then he answered his own question by saying he had “no instinctive judgment to prevent him from making [making] such mistakes… [He] was deafened by the clamourous voice of conventional finance, and ….gravely misled by his experts”. (Emphasis supplied).

And Galbraith gives it a remarkable perspective by his resonant observation: “Here another constant in economic life as between the grave ultimate disaster and conserving error the former is frequently preferred.” How apt these observations are at present? - Links on Shivakantjha - Links on Shivakantjha

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