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Parliament Proceedings- the need for restraint:

The behavioural conflict between the ideologically polarised forces in India might be a law of nature, but if it turns into a political confrontation affecting the democratically      established system then it is the society that gets affected. The happenings during the current Budget session of Parliament need introspection by the elected representatives of the country and their fellow travellers in the media.

Forcing adjournment motions and disrupting the proceedings of the parliament for over two weeks on an issue like Gujarat Government’s order of January 3 for lifting ban on its employees’ participation in RSS activities appeared to be the determined and aggressive attempts of the opposition to demoralise the democratically installed government of National Democratic Alliance.

Whether the outcome of this confrontation, which compelled the Gujarat Government to revoke its controversial orders - is a victory or defeat of the opposition isn’t the issue here. But can the parliamentary proceedings be stalled for days when there were more pressing issues facing the nation?

The so called "secularist" combine of the Congress, leftist and casteist forces, which were marginalised in October 1999 Lok-Sabha elections and also humiliated in the recently concluded assembly elections launched a virulent campaign against the NDA Government on the RSS issue, as if they were unaware of the ideological lineage of the Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee..

The whole exercise of the opposition appeared to be an attempt to communalise the people of the country and put the blame on the NDA Government. Without knowing the consequences of this old game of divide and rule their sole objective was to mobilise the minorities in their favour. The opposition had not brought out any unknown facts. Vajpayee grew up in the RSS and his past association is well known. To make insinuations against him now as Prime minister of a democratically installed government shows lack of grace.

The BJP on the other hand has its own share of problems.   Despite its humiliating performance in the assembly elections, some of the party leaders are not yet ready to learn from the tactical mistakes committed by them in the past while giving statements on contentious issues. Though, such statements or decisions by party’s leaders and Chief Ministers were in different context, the opponents of the party knit them together into a pattern suited to support their theory of the presence of a "hidden agenda" of BJP. Such tactical mistakes on the part of the party leaders provide an opportunity to their opponents to cause embarrassment to the government particularly the Prime Minister, who belongs to their own party.

The statements on Ayodhya issue by Sushma Swaraj and U.P. Chief Minister and his subsequent initiative on Religious Places Bill as well as statement on the issue of population control, the decision of the party’s Chief Minister in Gujarat on RSS issue, which encouraged the opposition to become restive in parliament could be attributed to such tactical mistakes committed by these leaders.

The non-BJP constituents of the Sangh Parivar are not under the control of the BJP and the latter is hardly in a position to prevent them from expressing their views freely on contentious issues and also against some of the policies of the government. The opposition knows this and as long as such pronouncements do not influence the governance of the NDA, they are expected to maintain restraint and not drag the issue beyond reasonable limits. The RSS the well known friend, philosopher and guide of the BJP is also to realise the "coalition Dharma" of an "aggregative" government is a combination of different ideologies and guard against expressing views, that do not result into the loss of face to the BJP. Any hurried attempt or statement meant to push its ideological position on the government would only strengthen the accusation that the government is having a "hidden agenda".

From the beginning of the new millennium, the chain of events like Gujarat Government’s order of January 3, ICHR controversy on the issue of the second volume of "Towards Freedom", Religious Places Bill passed by U.P. Assembly, protest against filming of ‘Water" by Ms.Deepa Mehta in Varanasi, "Fatwa" issued by Islamic clerics from Hyderabad against Ms. Shabana Azmi for tonsuring her head as also Muslim artistes performing polytheism in films, imposing dress code on college going girl students of Kanpur belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities by ABVP and Dawat-e-Islami respectively, objections raised by members of Shia Muslim community against permission granted to the filming of "Gadar" in Asifi Imambara in Lucknow and protests against the visit of Bangla Desh writer Taslima Nasreen to Mumbai by a group of Islamic fundamentalists, is nothing but symptoms that have erupted due to the on going behavioural conflicts between the ideologically opposed forces. Irrespective of the fact as to who wins or loses, the trends have the potential to aggravate the agony of the nation.

The frustrations of some of the political parties, which were upset over their gradual decline in national politics is understandable, but if they chose to make RSS a scapegoat for their own survival it reveals their own insecurity. Do they want to create the situation and repeat the history of pre-independence when the people of the country were communalised by the forces of vested interest?

The Congress, an oldest party of the country, which ruled the nation for over four decades is now forced to join hands with the leftist and casteist forces for the sake of power. How else could one explain its support to such forces now when they were demonised by them during the assembly elections so recently?

The Congress also needs to make an introspection of its policies, long term goals and objectives. Despite strong advocacy of secularism by them, how come the RSS banned thrice during its regime is still flourishing? The Congress banned RSS in 1948 soon after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, then in 1975 after promulgating national emergency and again in 1992 after demolition of "Babari Mosque". But the successive growth of the RSS and its fronts after every ban proved the calculation of party leadership wrong.

After the first ban, the RSS successfully launched a political party known as Bhartiya Jana Sangh that won three parliamentary seats in the first Lok-Sabha election. The BJS, which merged with the Janata Party after the second ban on the RSS emerged as a major constituent of this new party in parliament. The growth of the Bhartiya Janata Party, a new incarnation of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh could be judged from its strength in Lok-Sabha after the third ban on its parent body, when it secured the position of a largest single party in Lok-Sabha with 161, 182 and again 182 in 1996, 1998 and 1999 elections respectively. This phenomenal growth needs to be studied by the party and dealt with politically rather than stalling the proceedings in the Parliament repeatedly.

It is an irony that once the mighty Congress is now a prisoner of the forces of leftist and casteist combine. It is time the Congress has its own agenda concerning the priorities of the people. A responsible opposition in a democratic set up must maintain restraint and patience in its parliamentary behaviour and should not fall into the trap of forces that want to control the power without the support of the people.

The tragedy of the leftists is somewhat different. Their exclusive loyalty towards an ideology, which does not have any root in Indian soil may never allow them to grow beyond its present strength. Their continued efforts in distorting the cultural history of the country are gradually distancing them from the people. Their hegemony over the Government funded academic and cultural institutions are also slipping away. When attempts are made to reorient these institutions, they come up with slogans that " secularism is in danger" and launch aggressive propaganda against the so-called "fascist" and "communal" agenda of the government.

The parliament is a pious forum to discuss the priorities of the people and not to waste its time for driving wedge among the allies in the government with the sole motive to destabilise it. The disorderly behaviour of people’s representatives and "disinformation campaign on non-issues" do not appear to be a solution to the real problems of the people.

R.Upadhyay                                              15.03.2000

(Regional Adviser, South Asia Analysis Group)