HOME

  THE GAZE
  ARTICLES
  COVERAGE
  COLUMNS
  AUTHORS

Exactly a week ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping got his party to announce that he would essentially remain President for life. The insipid Xinhua press release that wired this announcement, true to form, is yet another instance demonstrating how propaganda is done. 

The Communist Party of China Central Committee proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People's Republic of China "shall serve no more than two consecutive terms" from the country's Constitution.

The proposal was made public Sunday.

All of forty-one words.

And forty-three years ago at 8 AM, June 26 1975, India woke up to the following words relayed by All India Radio:

भाइयों और बहनों, राष्ट्रपतिजी ने आपातकाल की घोषणा की है । इससे आतंकित होने का कोई कारण नहीं है ।
Brothers and sisters, the President has declared a state of Emergency. There is no reason to be anxious due to this.  

Needless, it’s now common knowledge that it was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s speaking.

Xi Jinping’s proclamation reminded me precisely of Indira Gandhi’s “don’t be anxious” radio address for a moral reason. The moral reason is the precipitous, brutal manner in which Indira Gandhi severed the unqualified trust that the proverbial teeming millions had reposed in this leader. History reminds us how she cynically manipulated her way to unchallengeable power by making herself the center of the (breakaway) Congress party campaign in 1969 and then emerging as the “Durga Maa” following the 1971 victory against Pakistan.

Communist dictatorships being what they are, we don’t need to dwell at length on the innately farcical nature of their political process, which has organically primed the soil for the likes of Xi Jinping to merely make minor tweaks. But what excuse did Mrs. Gandhi have to not only declare the Emergency but for every unforgivable crime perpetrated thereafter under her watch? As Prime Minister, she performed a series of deadly surgeries on a healthy Constitution, some of which haven’t still been undone. Needless, the Emergency is a topic on which multiple tomes have been written but it must be repeated to keep the “never forget” spirit alive because the true extent of independent India’s first brush with untrammeled tyranny is unknown to at least two generations. Here are the contours of what the Emergency entailed on paper:

  • The Parliament was given unrestrained power to amend any parts of the Constitution without judicial review.
  • This essentially invalidated the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala in 1973 or the “basic structure” judgement.
  • The amendment to Article 368 prevented any constitutional amendment from being "called in question in any Court on any ground." It also declared that there would be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend the Constitution.
  • The 42nd Amendment also restricted the power of the courts to issue stay orders or injunctions.
  • The 42nd Amendment revoked the courts' power to determine what constituted an office of profit.

On ground, it meant that Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister’s son had unlimited license to run amok, destroying entire townships, terrorizing the bureaucracy, fleecing businessmen, and populating the “youth” Congress with all manner of malcontents and criminals.

The history of a truly post-Congress era will accurately judge whether the Emergency was the lowest point the party stooped down to or whether it was the disastrous decade of 2004-14.

But the seeds of the Emergency were sown much earlier by the precedent set by the Great Democrat, Jawaharlal Nehru. A Prime Minister who swore by democracy and open public debate, ruled India uninterruptedly for 17 years. Surely, Nehru was well-read enough to know the precedent set by George Washington who refused to run for President for a third term in 1796. Or the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution which formalized Washington’s precedent.

It appears that Prime Minister Nehru has become accustomed to having his own whims enforced, without waiting for the approval of his party. One can cite an example for this.

The Income Tax department had fixed a specific percentage as tax revenue that had to accrue to the Indian Government from the income of [Prince] Aga Khan. The Income Tax officials informed him of the matter.

Aga Khan remonstrated that the amount was too high and sought a reduction; he then appealed to Pandit Nehru.

The Prime Minister unilaterally ordered the Income Tax officials that the rate was too high and arbitrarily reduced it. The final sum Aga Khan had to pay was about five percent of the amount the Income Tax officials had levied.

Aga Khan was not a poor man. There were a hundred different channels from which wealth flowed to him. He led a lavish, royal lifestyle. There was absolutely no reason for the Prime Minister to reduce the tax that the Income Tax officials had levied according to the law of the land.

Before he reduced the tax, the Prime Minister should have consulted the Finance Minister and taken him into confidence. This has not happened.

The tax money that the Prime Minister forgave isn’t something that was due to him as a loan. It was income that his ultimate boss, India, was duly entitled to receive. There is a specific process in place that a Minister in a democracy has to follow before passing such orders. Pandit Nehru has thrown that to the winds.

Having gotten his whim fulfilled at every step, Prime Minister Nehru has become habituated to behaving like a dictator.

That was Sri Masti Venkatesha Iyengar writing in his editorial in the Jivana magazine, circa November 1963. With this sort of foundation, things moved in logical sequence as they should.            

Needless, this Nehru cult was not only wholly imported by Indira Gandhi but taken to a more cynical, sinister level. Nothing else explains the nonchalance with which she split the so-called “united family of Congress.” Long story short, the 1969-75 years marked the turning point in Indian politics: the six years proudly heralded an era of thorough debasement of all facets of public discourse. Power was the ethics, the means, and the end.

If the Emergency was the darkest hour ushered in by the Congress party, and inflicting serial economic ruin its ruling mantra, there is another facet that it set the precedent for. The criminal wastage of exchequer money by stalling the Parliament using various tactics. As long as the Congress commanded absolute majorities, things were fine. Put another way, the formula seems to be this: if we’re in power, we’ll use every dirty trick in the book to remain there, we’ll target our opponents using patently unlawful means. If we aren’t in power, we won’t allow you to even function.

The experience of the last four years is especially illuminating. Here are some key data points:

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 – Popularly known as the Triple Talaq Bill. The Supreme Court on 22 August, 2017 passed the iconic judgement questioning this barbaric practice that was actively supported by the AIPMLB (All India Personal Muslim Law Board). The Narendra Modi-led NDA government wanted to stop this practice by criminalizing it. The bill sought immediate arrest of the husband on a non-bailable warrant and minimum three years of imprisonment. 

The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 27 December, where the opposition (mainly the Congress) had no reservations on it. However, when it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha, there were deliberate attempts to stall the proceedings. The “secular” opposition, showing great solidarity, vehemently reacted against the bill and didn’t let the bill to be tabled.

Goods and Services Tax Bill

Popularly known as the GST Bill. The bill was first introduced in the 1986 Finance Budget by Finance Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh. For 14 long years, there was no discussion on it. It came up during the tenure of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2000. He set up a committee to design a GST model. The motto was “One Nation One Tax.” Finally, the Narendra Modi-led NDA sought to ratify the bill. After seven months of forming government, PM Modi sought to table the GST bill. In 2015, the bill was passed in Lok Sabha, but was jammed in the Rajya Sabha. The next two years witnessed Parliamentary walkouts mainly by the Congress and TMC.  Ultimately, on the midnight of 30 June 2017, the GST bill was implemented. Predictably, opposition parties Congress and TMC skipped the launch.  

Land Acquisition Bill

In Jan 2016, the Land Acquisition Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha which saw the Congress and other opposition parties staging a walkout. Even after nine amendments to the bill, the opposition failed to relent.

Demonetization 

Opposition parties led by Rahul Gandhi staged a long protest on demonetization, terming it unconstitutional. The sessions saw former PM Manmohan Singh, terming it “organized loot and legalized plunder.” The move which was made to stamp down on black money circulation and black-market activities was widely applauded by the citizens of the country. However, the 2016 Winter session was washed out due to such nonstop ruckus.

These are just some of the more high-profile instances of stalling, and other methods of disrupting the Parliament by these walkout-worthies who have long forgotten why they were elected by the people in the first place. Here are some other instances.

  • The Monsoon Session of 2015 was completely disrupted by the Congress pushing forward important bills like GST, Real Estate and Whistleblower Protection bills. In the Rajya Sabha, a massive 82 hours were lost and the Lok Sabha lost 34 hours.
  • Only ten bills were introduced and six were passed in the Lok Sabha.
  • During the Winter Session of 2017, both the houses  lost a total of 49 hours.
  • Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said that the session had 13 sittings and lost 15 hours due to disruptions and adjournments out of which, 14 hours and 51 minutes were lost due to forced adjournment caused by disruptions.  Equally, the Rajya Sabha Chairman, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu informed that 34 hours were lost due to disruptions.

The following infographic gives a complete list of all the sessions disrupted by the Congress (and their allies) since 2014 till date.

 img/blogs/2017/20180306054230.jpg

Cost to Exchequer

Although it’s hard to give an accurate figure of how much these disruptions cost to the exchequer, several studies have been done in the area. These calculations are based on the daily cost of running Parliament by dividing the annual budget of Parliament by the scheduled number of days.  Although such calculations are too simplistic, it is assessed that between 1951 and 2003-2004, the cost of running the two Houses of Parliament registered an increase from Rs. 100 per minute to Rs. 18,430 per minute. The figure was reported to be estimated INR 20,000 in 2009 and 29,000 in 2015. The Rajya Sabha works for an average five hour a day, the Lok Sabha for six; a total 11 hours. 

That’s valuable taxpayer money that could’ve been saved but has been wasted by agenda-driven disruption. Which in turn is yet another facet of the aforementioned undemocratic precedents set by just one dynasty.

Indeed, Prime Minister Modi was both farsighted and prescient when he gave the “Congress Mukt Bharat” slogan during the 2014 campaign. Despite not having the numbers to qualify as the main Opposition, if the Congress party continues to inflict such heavy damage on the taxpayer and the economy, it only shows three things.

One, that it still harbours the illusion that these ungainly tactics can somehow help it return to power.

Two, that it has learnt absolutely no lessons from its overwhelming drubbing in the summer of 2014.

Three, that it’s imperative that the electorate must reduce its numbers to zero in the 2019 general elections.