The monsoon session of India's parliament ended Friday, following a raucous two weeks in which nearly every meeting was forced to adjourn early and almost no business was allowed to take place. If Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government is to be blamed for the so-called "policy paralysis" that has purportedly hit foreign investment and economic growth, one certainly has to give Singh's political rivals half the credit.
"For much of this session, MPs have come to both Houses, shouted, even assaulted each other, taken their daily allowances and gone home"--costing taxpayers some $2 milion over two weeks. "Of the 31 bills listed, only six were passed," often with little substantive debate over their merits. Among the prominent casualties was a bill to ensure that members of the so-called scheduled castes and scheduled tribes -- which include the erstwhile untouchables, as well as tribal peoples who have been left behind in India's development -- are not passed over for promotions in government and public sector jobs.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claims that it refused to allow parliament to function because Singh's UPA government refused to cancel the controversial allotment of coal mining blocks to a series of private companies without a transparent auction -- which the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has claimed cost the treasury some $30 billion. But the government argues that in scuttling any chance of a parliamentary debate on the issue, the BJP has at once kept the so-called "Coalgate scam" alive as an election issue and prevented the legislature from getting at the truth.
The only reasonable response for the Indian voter at this point, of course, is "a pox on both your houses."
Certainly, it is in the interest of the BJP to paralyze the government, since any achievement Singh's battered and beleaguered UPA manages to pull off will help its chances in 2014. And because Indian politicians rank clinging to their parliamentary seats higher than any notion of ideology or integrity, the BJP has zero chance of pulling off a no confidence vote.
And certainly, it is in the interest of the Congress (and UPA) to pretend that all is right with the world, because the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is on the case--and has already begun a probe of various companies and politicians involved in the coal mining fiasco. (Though such probes tend to go on for decades, eventually fading away with no resolution, here in India).
But neither stance is of any benefit to the people who aren't card-carrying members of a political party.