By K.N. Pandita
Except for two occasions, viz. national days, Prime Minister of India very rarely addresses the nation through television. It is not that there is any rule or convention to inhibit him from going on air, but since he is perennially in touch with the people of India through the parliament and peoples’ representatives, he avoids the television.
Total paralysing of parliament’s business for nearly two weeks, despite repeated assurances by the government that the issues at stake, namely the Coal-gate and related matters, would be discussed, the opposition zeroed in on one-point demand; that the Prime Minister should resign. Elected prime ministers do not resign that easy. Trivializing PM’s office is a self-defeating exercise. This is reflected in very subtle but clear message the PM gave a couple of days back. He said that if his party had to go down it would go down fighting. That is what he has done.
His broadcast to the nation was necessitated by not too happy economic situation in the country. That is why in his fifteen minute address, he very succinctly traced the ailment of our economy. He forcefully defended his government’s economic measures like hike in diesel price, cut in supply of subsidized LPG cylinders, and authorising FDI in multi-brand retail. The facts and the rationale which he advanced in support of government’s decision are so strong as to disarm even the staunch sceptics. He has put the picture of Indian economy before the people of India and he wants them to tell him how would they react to the threatening situation that is likely to emerge if these and other economic reforms are not brought in. The PM has concisely assessed the repercussions of stagnated economy; these could be like further price rise of essential commodities, investors’ reluctance both local and global, spurt in interest rates, inability of companies to borrow and frightful proliferation of unemployment and crunch in job opportunities. These looming threats are not just the figment of imagination of the Prime Minister for which the opposition and dissidents would want him to quit. These are harsh realities and the Prime Minister made it clear that these being harsh decisions, there was no option but to take them. He is very right in saying that no government wants to put more burden on the people rather is always looking for ways and means how the existing burden can be reduced. The Indian nation has a history of fully cooperating with the government in times of crisis. Today, as the PM indicated, the nation is in economic crisis and we should be thankful to him for perceiving the impending threat and proposing measures of pre-empting its consequences. If he had not taken the hard decision and allowed the tenuous economic situation flow its course, the nation would have held him responsible for not taking drastic measures and saving the country from disintegrating economy. Can the opposition refute the argument defending the hike in diesel when the Prime Minister contends that mostly affluent people and big corporations run diesel cars and not the general public? Should the nation continue subsidizing diesel for these affluent classes and disregard the interests of ordinary people, the Prime Minister asked. Ballooning of subsidy on oil could reach whooping 2 lakh crore rupees annually, which would be 60,000 crore more than the last year. The PM said in very clear words that the country cannot afford subsidy of this magnitude and we had to re-adjust accordingly.
Though the Prime Minister kept clear of political sprinkling in his speech, which by all norms, could be characterized as a technical and professional one, yet he was at pains in saying that sections of political class and the opposition failed to grasp the technicalities of his government’s economic reforms. What has the left to say to these technicalities when it claims that its political philosophy drawn from its ideologues is primarily based on the economy governing the lives of the masses of people? The Prime Minister explained it in simple words. He said that falsehood about the impact of these reforms was spread and doubts and fears were created in the mind of people. This is not national politics; it is vendetta, to say the least. But one has to appreciate the poise and dignity, confidence and assertion demonstrated by the Prime Minister in an hour of crisis when he said he would not allow his detractors to succeed as they had tried once in 1991 when gold reserves of the country were mortgaged to overcome economic crunch. We need an assertive and confident Prime Minister to steer nation’s ship through troubled waters.
As regards corruption on highest levels of administration – the devil that has dogged the UPA for some time in the past – it is hardly justifiable to bring all accusations to the doorsteps of the Prime Minister, make him the scapegoat and vociferously orchestrate his resignation. Collective responsibility is the hallmark of a democratic federalism. We should make the stark difference between a dictator and an elected prime minister. Once a case of alleged corruption is brought up, it has to be handled only through the instrumentality of the law.
That our judicial mechanism is intricate, lethargic and time consuming is not the fault of the Prime Minister or any one political party. It is the system that prevails in this country. Of course, judicial and constitutional reforms are brought in whenever felt necessary. These options flow in natural course. Government functionaries including ministers are brought under the purview of law whenever allegations are brought against them. The Prime Minister can neither stop nor precipitate any action in this regard because of the division of powers theory prevailing in democratic federal system and the mechanism of collective responsibility.
In final analysis, it is unfortunate that serious and threatening economic issues are politicised and wrong signals are given to society to pour scorn on the government. But notwithstanding this, a government not quickly and effectively responding to public anger on account of blatant cases of corruption brought to its notice, cannot escape public censure; nor is the paralysing of the Parliament in the conduct of its business acceptable to a nation wedded to democratic arrangement. Both acts are contrary to the interests of the people of India. They undermine democratic institutions.