The Politics of Numbers

Published: Sunday, Dec 09,2012, 09:33 IST
Politics of Numbers, bjp and FDI, fdi reality, indian retail sector, congress, parliament, rstv

Indian Political stage appears to be deteriorating with every passing day. The recent FDI debate and its results in both the houses attest this, if not anything else. Though fundamentally an executive decision in it’s nature, debate on FDI in multi-brand retail drained out lot of time that otherwise could have been used for issues far more significant, thanks to unrelenting opposition who stalled the proceedings and hindered the progress in the parliament. And the outcome, after all the drama turned out to be a pun over opposition’s determination as they realized they were only riding a losing horse. Despite of some really emphatic speeches by the opposition in both the houses it proved no good to win the motion and the UPA thumped the victory by margins. The forlorn opposition in the end had but to swallow the bitter lump of defeat. There are few aspects of this victory that we shall discuss further; however skepticism that revolves around the whole idea of ‘representative parliamentary democracy’ once again finds its place and daring questions stares at face as to what drives the parliament – the policy or politics. If we were to conclude only by the recent debate on FDI, the answer would be obvious. The ‘numbers’ become the overriding consideration that drives all the policy and even more the politics. Indeed, the words like ‘consensuses’ remain merely a phenomenon to play with as it eludes the consideration of political class.

A Consensus Really?
No sooner were the results for the motion on FDI were clear than some of those intellectuals who unconditionally sided the UPA were at their bumptious best while claiming this as a ‘great’ victory which proves, above all, the unity of UPA, essentially of Congress with its allies. Mani Shankar Aiyer in his customary self-vindicatory note went to extent of saying that this victory is just a precursor to emphatic win which UPA would secure in the coming Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The congress explained it as a straight answer to the opposition’s pretensions regarding government’s inability to bring about a general consensus among the political parties. Yet to all those who argue that the victory is indeed a victory of a policy which is a consequence of general ‘consensus’ among the political class needs a re-thinking. Had it not been for their friends only in ‘need’ partners like SP and BSP the outcome would have been far different.

The staged tactical walkout by SP and BSP proved the saving grace for the government which otherwise was on ‘ventilator’ over the issue. Both the parties, who were in strong opposition over the issue, with collectively 43 members in the Lok Sabha abstained during the voting thereby paving the way for the government’s narrow win over the motion. Similar was the case with DMK, the party which initially had opposed the government’s decision of FDI in multi-brand retail, went on supporting the government. What went into this transformation remains a mystery yet it’s curious that all these parties have vehemently opposed the government’s decision and have collectively taken part in Nation-wide Bandh against the decision called by the opposition parties. In the Lok Sabha, 14 of the 22 leaders from the 18 parties spoke against the government decision of allowing FDI in multi-brand retail. Yet while calculating the numbers, congress as usual managed to get the required figure.

Similar play surfaced in Rajya Sabha as well, only the main actor turned out to be BSP who this time voted in favor of government. No surprise should one connects this complete shift of policy in two days with untimely introduction of Reservations for SCs/STs in Promotions in the Government Jobs bill which is likely to be tabled this Monday, which otherwise was not in the menu. Let alone the allies and friends, the congress is not assured about the implementation of such a policy in state where they have their own government. The differences became clear when Praful Patel made open their reservations in implementing such policy in Maharashtra. How does then the government’s claim of ‘general consensus’ holds ground given the circumstance? But ask Congress and win in both the houses is the answer. So much for the numbers really!

It so appears that the Manmohan Singh government, who suddenly out of blue sky has decided to play the ‘reform’ card when the elections are at door-steps, is just too obsessed with numbers. All its efforts are concentrated in maneuvering to get the desired numbers in the parliament instead to bringing the issue in front of all the parties to land to general consensus. Why not otherwise bring those bills and issues in the parliament which has a general agreement among the parties? In a functioning democracy as India, it can prove fatal for any government to keep on evading the concern of consensus for a long time. And the victory of FDI in retail had only exposed the frantic efforts of government to prove the numbers. Yet it is Congress to decide as to what cost they are paying to get these compromises done and more importantly how long can they afford to resort to such victories.

The Opposition’s Taeaway
In what could possibly a recall on nuclear deal moment, the defeat of opposition’s motion in both the houses did add to one of more losses in recent time for the principal opposition party BJP. Termed by various commentators, the issue of bringing FDI in retail to parliament, as blunder by the BJP, the results did bring a great deal of disappointment among the BJP who otherwise would have been confident about the motion given the expressed opposition to the policy by so many parties. Albeit defeat, however the debate did bring some good to party should it decide to learn lesson from it. There can be no denial to the fact that government indeed had to do a lot of ‘management’ in getting the FDI decision passed in both the houses. With the possibility that this management may have included lot of compromises, it is evident that this ‘minority’ government is fragile and desperate for numbers. It is therefore for BJP to use this to the best of its benefit should it expects any encouraging results in 2014 elections. It is on them to expose this hypocrisy and political opportunism of the Congress and it’s so called ‘friends’. In the recent past the BJP had failed to prove itself as a responsible opposition while resorting to methods of continuous stalling of parliament. While doing so, it should realize, it is also at times compromising the national interest. The BJP has indeed lot to offer to people other than these banal, unproductive ways. By shading away ‘anti-congressism’ as the only agenda, it should otherwise concentrate, for example, in projecting good work done by several of its CMs in various states which would earn them far more points that stalling of parliaments.

Author : Akshay Ranade, Economics student from Symbiosis School of Economics, Pune

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