Friday, December 11, 2009

Aversion to Debate

Debates and deliberations form the quintessence of a functioning democracy. This is all the more true of forums like Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. A discussion among lawmakers informed by concern for the hoi polloi and a vision document for the future, while at the same time guided by experiences of the past, introduces the electorate — the real master in a democracy — to the beauty of democracy. The very thought in the mind of the commoner that he figures so prominently in the legislative scheme of things or that he is the pivot of discussion and debate among elected representatives, sustains his faith in the system in place. But how often does it happen? Look at the manner in which Parliament functioned during the ‘debate’ on the Liberhan Commission report on the circumstances leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The report, after 17 years and 48 extensions, was so unproductive and such sheer waste of time and resource that both the ruling party and allies and the Opposition could have used the opportunity to look beyond petty, parochial considerations so as to deliberate on the utility of such ballyhooed exercises as inquiry commissions — most of whose reports stand besmirched today due to prejudiced viewpoints and deductions based on whims and speculations rather than concrete evidence. Even the man on the street is beginning to see through the ritual of setting up a commission of inquiry, because hardly has any such commission been able to fix responsibilities and live up to the expectations of the people, though such commissions live excellently up to the expectations of one political party or the other. Why should the people of the country be blamed if they infer that commissions of inquiry are set up only to put a vesture about the inconvenient realities of the day and thus to cheat ordinary citizens? For instance, the Liberhan Commission indicts former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee without even summoning him and listening to his version of the story, while the then Congress’ Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, is certified as absolutely innocent. This apart, the Liberhan Commission report was an apt occasion for the parliamentarians, cutting across party lines, to revisit the past, profit from experience, and resolve never to allow the spook of the Babri Masjid to haunt and unsettle our pluralist, democratic edifice. But what did our MPs do? They shouted each other down at their highest decibel, making a mockery of the sanctum sanctorum of Parliament and of the aspirations of the electorate, and proved to the nation how incapable they are of doing anything worthwhile in the House.

The Congress, being the leader of the ruling UPA, and the BJP, being the principal opposition party, had a special responsibility to add a bit of meaning, if not anything dramatically substantial, to the implications of the Liberhan Commission. But what they did superbly was outwit each other in the suitably chosen domains of non-issues. The issue is not the demolition of the mosque in question, but whether a repeat of such mob frenzy can be averted in the future or whether it is really not time to move beyond the shoddy religious dimension of electoral politics — appeasement, be it of Hindus (by the BJP) or Muslims (by the Congress) — for the making of a vibrant new India. Both the Congress and the BJP, and of course every single of the rest of political parties, are afraid of a healthy debate because all of them know they are guilty of having failed the country in one way or the other and have nothing meaningful to offer by way of a people-centric dialogue beyond mean party considerations. THE SENTINEL

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