dna edit: Politics of consensus

Saturday, 7 December 2013 - 11:50am IST | Agency: DNA
A short session and time running out force the grand old party to climb down from stated positions in the face of stiff political opposition.

The Congress must be ruing the end of single-party rule. No more possessing the brute majority to press its will upon Parliament, the grand old party of India is regularly making compromises with its irregular allies and trenchant foes. Nothing wrong with that; such consultative decisions symbolise a more representative democracy. With a short 12-day winter session leaving no scope for extended debate or disruptions by agitating legislators, a chastened UPA government is treading the path of consensus. So the communal violence legislation has been significantly watered down and the Cabinet junked a Group of Ministers’ recommendation to include two Rayalaseema districts in the proposed Telangana state.

The original draft of the Communal Violence Bill was specifically intended to control targeted violence against religious and linguistic minorities, Dalits and Adivasis. The new draft has removed these groups after the BJP’s effective propaganda on the minority tilt of the bill. The National Advisory Council’s findings — of institutional bias and prejudicial functioning of the civil administration and law enforcement machinery when non-dominant groups were attacked because of their identity — was discarded. The bill had provisions to punish bureaucrats and create a National Authority with monitoring, investigation and rehabilitation duties.

Opposition-ruled states complained that these provisions violated the constitutional federalist principles by infringing on states’ prerogatives over law and order. The new draft legislation authorises the existing National Human Rights Commission to monitor riots and advise state governments. But the NHRC will not enjoy many powers envisaged earlier.

If the dilution of the communal violence legislation offers one side of the political expediency of bipartisan politics, the inability of the Congress to press ahead with a Rayala-Telangana state points to its brighter side. The move was aimed at splitting Jaganmohan Reddy’s support base in the Rayalaseema region and to diffuse the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti’s influence. The cynical manoeuvre, driven neither by administrative grounds or popular demand, was universally derided.

It helped that the BJP, which has consistently backed Telangana statehood, pointed out that Congress politics was driven entirely by electoral calculations. The Cabinet’s decision to push for a Telangana state without the two Rayalaseema districts is a victory for pragmatic politics.

Coalition rule has made constitutional amendments tricky business. The treasury benches have to reach out to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. The possibilities of bipartisanship will have to be explored by law minister Kapil Sibal who is intent on ending the collegium system of judges appointing judges through the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Sibal also requires a constitutional amendment in Articles 124 and 217 that now govern the appointment of judges.

The BJP is insisting that the constitutional amendment specifically mandate that the Chief Justice of India will head the JAC. Future governments can then tinker with the JAC only through a two-third majority, and not a simple majority, by amending the JAC legislation. But Sibal is refusing to heed Opposition demands. Irrespective of the merits of legislations, it is heartening to note that the government is forced into consulting the Opposition.

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