Break this cycle

The Hindu Business Line, November 25, 2014

It is time our politicians developed a non-partisan approach towards issues of national development

With no signs of any consensus emerging between the BJP and the Opposition on the issue of passing key pieces of legislation, the ruling party appears to have hit a dead end on pushing its ambitious reforms agenda forward in the current winter session of Parliament. As it is, the Insurance Bill ? which proposes an increase in the Foreign Direct Investment cap in the sector to 49 per cent and is one of the key reform measures which was expected to be passed this session ? hangs in the balance. The Congress, whose cooperation is essential for the government to push the measure through, has threatened a ?clause by clause? examination of the proposal. That the Congress has not already declared its outright opposition to the measure ? as it has already done for the land acquisition Bill and amendments to NREGA ? may be due to the fact that the Insurance Bill was actually birthed by it. In fact, many of the as many as 67 Bills due to be considered by Parliament in this session were actually the brainchild of the previous UPA government. The most critical one of these is the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill. That they could not be passed during its tenure was largely due to the stalling tactics adopted by the Opposition, principally the BJP.

It will be d??vu once again, only with the BJP, instead of the Congress, in the hot seat. The Congress finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Ideologically, it has no serious objections to the reforms proposed ? indeed, it had proposed most of the same measures itself. On the other hand, it finds itself unable to be seen siding with the BJP on any issue, particularly with elections in sensitive Jammu and Kashmir and politically crucial Delhi in the offing. Besides, it will be particularly galling for the Congress to let Narendra Modi claim the credit for reform measures it had proposed in the first place. Mamata Banerjee?s Trinamool Congress has already declared its intention to stall anything moved by the BJP, on the specious grounds that these reforms are ?anti-poor?. Given their politics, the newly-minted ?Janata Parivar? too can?t be seen supporting the BJP in any way. The Left, irrelevant in the Lok Sabha but still a swing factor in the Rajya Sabha, is ideologically opposed to foreign investment in general, and any labour reform.

But our political parties need to pause and consider what exactly it is that they are opposing. Second generation reforms are critical if India is to return to a high growth trajectory and become a global economic hub. The true gains of reform will outlast any notional gains or losses in the political space. Our polity needs to mature and needs to develop a bi-partisan approach on critical issues affecting the national interest. They also need to listen to the real voice of the voter. The electorate has already sounded a warning that it is tired of the old school of interest-group politics.

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