Coming Out Swinging

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is often described, not entirely without reason, as a somewhat passive and non-confrontational leader — an accidental politician, with the real strings being pulled, behind the scenes, by Sonia Gandhi. (Manmohan may wear the Pagri, but Sonia wears the pants, as it were.)

However, in the speech he gave yesterday in the Indian Parliament before the Confidence Vote (which the UPA government won, by about 20 votes), Manmohan Singh showed no signs of meekness or passivity. Indeed, his take-down of BJP leader L.K. Advani is rhetorically ferocious. I was impressed:

“The Leader of Opposition, Shri L.K. Advani has chosen to use all manner of abusive objectives to describe my performance. He has described me as the weakest Prime Minister, a nikamma PM, and of having devalued the office of PM. To fulfill his ambitions, he has made at least three attempts to topple our government. But on each occasion his astrologers have misled him. This pattern, I am sure, will be repeated today. At his ripe old age, I do not expect Shri Advani to change his thinking. But for his sake and India’s sake, I urge him at least to change his astrologers so that he gets more accurate predictions of things to come.

As for Shri Advani’s various charges, I do not wish to waste the time of the House in rebutting them. All I can say is that before leveling charges of incompetence on others, Shri Advani should do some introspection. Can our nation forgive a Home Minister who slept when the terrorists were knocking at the doors of our Parliament? Can our nation forgive a person who single handedly provided the inspiration for the destruction of the Babri Masjid with all the terrible consequences that followed? To atone for his sins, he suddenly decided to visit Pakistan and there he discovered new virtues in Mr. Jinnah. Alas, his own party and his mentors in the RSS disowned him on this issue. Can our nation approve the conduct of a Home Minister who was sleeping while Gujarat was burning leading to the loss of thousands of innocent lives? Our friends in the Left Front should ponder over the company they are forced to keep because of miscalculations by their General Secretary. (link)

Unfortunately, I gather the din was too great for the speech to actually be heard. But hey, at least he tried to say it.

In terms of content, the only thing that seems off key here is the reference to Advani’s “ripe old age” — I’m not sure that a 75 year old man can really get away with that comment! (Advani, for reference, is even older — about 81.)

The rest of the speech (read it here in its entirety) is more focused on substantively defending the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and the general policies of the current government. It is, by comparison to the above, a bit dull… but necessary.

In the interest of opposing dullness, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the second remarkable thing that happened in the chaotic Parliamentary session yesterday:

bjp lok sabha.jpg

3 BJP MPs disrupted the session when they pulled wads of Rupees out of a bag, and claimed they had been paid to abstain from voting. (A video clip of the event can be seen here.)

The allegations are going to be investigated, of course, but my instinct is that it smells like a stunt. The three MPs say they met Amar Singh, who told them “we can’t give you very much money to abstain, because we have the votes to sustain the government.” That sounds like B.S. (why would the SP bother with bribes if the vote was already secure?). And the story of how they were actually physically given the money is also a bit questionable (see this report). Finally, they claim they have video proving the bribe took place — but where is that video? Why didn’t they leak that to the media as well?

Of course, if it comes out that there’s hard evidence supporting the claims of vote-buying, the currently fragile UPA government probably really will fall. And the government falls because they really did buy votes and abstentions this nakedly, I for one won’t be particularly sorry about it.

In the meanwhile, 8 BJP MPs have been expelled from the party for defying leadership, when they either abstained from voting or voted cross-party for the bill. And the Samajwadi Party has filed a procedural complaint (“breach of privilege”) against the 3 BJP MPs who pulled the stunt.

160 thoughts on “Coming Out Swinging

  1. Addendum: I’m not trying to give blanket support for every Israeli action. The Jews who claim that Israel is being “victimized by savage Arabs” are usually the same ones who either ignore or are indifferent to civilians killed by the IDF. It’s clear that neither side has the moral high ground, and that neither care much about civilian casualties (a dead Arab is “collateral damage” or “possible terrorist” and a dead Jew is a “dead Zionist” or “future baby killer”), which is why comparing the situation to actual cases of atrocities is incorrect.

  2. Its good to see so many desis here so animated about a debate so far away and so removed from their day to day life. Unless there are some nuclear engineers here who are going to gain from this. As we say in India this is “good time-pass” reading (and writing).

    Amardeep, you have child-like innocence if you believe that there was no money exchanged here. Was it a stunt by BJP – absolutely. I think that was the objective. So you can have the stunt and at the same time it is also possible that Congress/SP managers were trapped by their own designs. As for the tape, there is one and it was submitted to the speaker by CNN-IBN. Will it show absolutely that a particular individual of a particular party was involved – i doubt it. It will however raise enough stink to show that the vote was not clean. Another point is about the journalistic ethics of the TV channel who refused to show it. You can google several articles on this aspect of why the channel failed to show the tape. I think finally whatever evidence is their will be selectively chosen by both sides to prove their point. And don’t wait for the investigation to be free of politics either. The investigation comm. has 4 MP of the govt. and 3 of the opposition (1 of BJP)

    “‘we can’t give you very much money to abstain, because we have the votes to sustain the government.” That sounds like B.S. (why would the SP bother with bribes if the vote was already secure?).” Thats like a summary judgement by Justice Amardeep. You can offer less bribes for people to abstain and more to people to cross vote.

    Kush – Cross voting before Anti-defection law was quite different than now. The old cases that you talk about (Indira, Chandra Shekhar etc.) could not invite disqalification from being an MP. Now legally, if a member goes against the party whip, then the party can expel the member(from the party) and then request the speaker for disqualification from the house as an MP. If the facts are found to be true – that in fact the member did act contrary to the whip, then the speaker has no choice but to disqualify a member. The only thing is that the speaker does not have a time limit for these findings. Also in case of very small parties, this can get messy as Speaker has to first determine who is the real party and what constitutes the party line – whip by its parlimentary members or directive of its constituted leadership (who are not neccessarily MPs).

    Overall, most parties support the deal but this vote was not about the deal (except for left parties) but for political objectives of forthcoming election and alliances. Did anybody hear one speech which only dealt with Nuclear Deal? Many speeches did not even substantially address it. Most members likely can’t even explain it. Congress and its allies most likely did use its resources to mobilize defections. That does not mean that others did not in this case or do not do it in other situations (BJP also likely did it in Karnataka recently). Manmohan is probably not a clean bureaucrat anymore but that was not his objective. He obviously believes that this was in national interest. As for the BJP, they come out less shining post-trust vote not because of bundles of notes bandied about in the parliment but because they could not control their own stable.

  3. Don’t worry, I am sure the poncy Pomona educated Manmohan loves Musharraf. And surely, you do too.

    What does the mean? I don’t think Manmohan Singh went to Pomona College.

  4. Coming in late to the discussion here, was traveling, and didn’t blog this week. However, I did blog some thoughts on the big picture as I see it, last week,

    I’m glad the UPA did finally prevail, and if there was bribery that their side indulged in, that would not be anything new. However, the UPA operatives who carried it out would probably have done so without the direct knowledge of Manmohan Singh, who in any case does not get into party matters too much. So in this case he would have plausible deniability.

    The reason Westminster-style parliamentary systems do not separately require treaties to be ratified by the Lower House is simple – the Governments themselves can function only with the confidence of that House. So if a minority government holds office by virtue of plurality in seats, then a confidence vote on a controversial (in this case needlessly so) treaty would be the way to demonstrate that confidence. Note that in the Presidential system as in the US, it is the Upper House that votes on ratification. Originally, and for a considerable time afterward, the Senate was indirectly elected, when it was elected at all (Governors could appoint Senators in some states initially, the rest were indirectly elected by State legislatures. Even today, when vacancies arise due to resignations or deaths etc, gubernatorial appointments can fill out the remainder of the term.) Thus the matter of treaty ratification was given over to the House that did not have to directly face the people, soon, or at all, presumably so that they could properly reflect the status quo in their actions, but at least so that they could deliberate at length and leisure, especially on important treaties. As a matter of constitutional systemic thinking, however, I agree with this. Nobody should have to decide on the ‘merits’ of a treaty of such import when there’s an election to be fought in a few months (where, ironically, everybody on all sides agreed that the treaty wouldn’t be an issue), leave alone when you’re serving time in a district jail somewhere for, among other things, murder.

    As a result of this gaping constitutional-systemic contradiction, the vote itself was less on the merits of the deal itself than on matters of political (and supposed geopolitical) strategy. What was really depressing was the several head-spinning volte faces that took place; the sheer hypocrisy on both the Left and the Right, but especially from the BJP; and the advent and persistence of state-level, crass, opportunistic politics into the Centre. In my view, the debate (and voting) on the deal show, as nothing else so far has done quite so dramatically, the fact that India now has an unreconciled (and possibly irreconcilable) polity at the Central federal level, which the coalition politics it has had in one form or other for nearly 40 years simply cannot resolve, and moreover, for which its governance structures are terribly ill-suited.

    I argue in a post on my blog that the time has come for India to seriously consider a system with separation of Executive and Legislative power, a more powerful Upper House, and many, many more states, so that: treaty ratification(s) never again become mixed up with confidence votes, and never again in a House the whole of which is so close to elections. One-third of the Rajya Sabha is up for (indirect) election (or appointment) every six years, this body, suitably reconstituted, should decide matters of ‘ratification’. The states can decide how their own constitutions should function, though the separation of powers makes sense even for them.

    I also suggest that, with a PM who is not a member of the Lower House, and indeed is not a professional politician at all, and with the powerful Prime Minister’s Office being staffed with so many specialist non-bureaucrats, India is already experiencing a form of the Presidential system, which should be taken to its logical conclusion, an indirectly elected Chief Executive, as in the US.

    A continent sized country-civilization, which is, moreover, looking to play a bigger role on the world stage, cannot and should not be ruled via a system evolved in a small island-nation. The Westminster-style system should depart into the sunset along with the (post)Westphalian nation-state. Discussion is welcome on my blog, and indeed, here as well, with Amardeep’s forebearance.

  5. Jyotsana:

    Indian parliamentary procedure does not provide for ratification of treaties

    Amrita:

    Jyotsana brings up a serious problem with the Indian Constitution– what kind of national parliament has no power to ratify treaties that the government enters into? Whose idea was that?

    Kush:

    …That is done for a good reason – …. I think Guha goes into it, and discussion during the Constituent Assembly in his book “India after Gandhi” in the chapter on constitution….

    The flow of thoughts here is appears to be wrong. Here is the relevant article from the constitution

    “253. Legislation for giving effect to international agreements.—Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body.

    And yes , the question of whether the PM is allowed to sign treaties, without parliaments explicit approval has been dealt with. An news column on the very subject is here

    Relevant excepts “The attorney general therefore contended that no separate legislation was necessary to implement that Indo-Pakistan Agreement.

    The Supreme Court opined to the contrary. And the necessary legislation was enacted to implement that Indo-Pak Agreement of 1959.”

    “‘All treaties in India need legislation for implementation as, unlike the USA, there is no concept of self-executive treaties.’ (Indian Constitutional Law, Wadhwa & Company, Nagpur, Fourth Edition, Reprint 1994, pg. 291)”

    Manmohan Singh says that he does not need parliments ratification. Seriously, did we really need the actual excerpts for the constitution provided above to guess that that was not true? As the old joke goes, how do you make out if MMS is lying ..easy his lips move :-)

  6. DizzyDesi:

    Manmohan Singh says that he does not need parliments ratification.

    He’s right. And you, obviously, are not a student of political science. The Executive, viz. the Council of Ministers headed by the PM, serve at the confidence of the Parliament, and thus are assumed to have the legislative support necessary to govern and implement policies.

    Ratification is required when there is a separation between the Executive and the Legislature, to avoid concentration of power into one hand. This is not a need in the Parliamentary system of democracy for there are other safeguards in place, like tabling and moving a motion of confidence/non-confidence. Or, later down the line, legislation required to implement the treaty/policy. Bills are introduced, passed or defeated. But this process cannot be called a ratification, for it is the process of legislation. Govts and PMs can fall during trust motions/legislations – take the budget fr’ex, if it doesn’t pass, the govt has fallen. But that doesn’t mean that a PM who says he doesn’t need his budget ratified is a liar – the PM needs his budget passed, not ratified.

  7. Chachaji I looked at your blog briefly..I think the idea of more Indian states is worth considering…IF AND ONLY IF the new entities respect traditional regional identities/cultural-linguistic zones. For example in U.P you could further divide it into Braj, Awadh, etc. and in Bihar you could have new states of Mithila, Magadh, etc. In Punjab (already a tiny state which probably doesn’t need further subdivision) one could have Majha, Malwa, etc. Rajasthan could have the state of Marwar carved out of it. I’m pretty sure even Kerala has at least three historic regions with slightly differing dialects and customs, which could theoretically form political units. Respecting these traditional regions/former kingdoms or whatever would be fine and would still accomplish what you are talking about…BUT I would be firmly opposed to random boundaries that haphazardly throw disparate cultures and linguistic groups into new political entities which have no basis in culture, language or historical identity. That’s what France did when they reorganized quite some time back..new internal boundaries which had no basis in traditional regions…this was done very deliberately to weaken regional identity (and languages) and promote a monolithic, monocultural France. And it worked…they lost a huge amount of their cultural diversity and cultural wealth by so doing. Now some regret it but it’s too late.

  8. DizzyDesi: Manmohan Singh says that he does not need parliments ratification. He’s right.

    RCK:

    The treaty does not become valid until parliament confirms it. This is close to the very definition of ratification. Most countries method of confirming treaties follows the same procedure as passing any other legislature. (The US with its 2/3 senate majority requirement, is an exception, which may lead to some confusion)

    And you, obviously, are not a student of political science

    True, but studying in a discipline which emphasized process, logic, getting to the details, and emphasizing digging down to fundamentals has its advantages at times. It might make me waste a ton of time ponder what is the precise meaning of a particular word at times, but it ensures that I usually know the definition and common meanings of something, like say, ratification, before I comment on it.

  9. Kush @ 118 says:

    However, in principle, in India, one cross votes against the party directive, those members get expelled by the party (Mind, they do not loose their MP seat). That is not because of any legal law

    Wrong. Cross-voting was legal until the Anti Defection law was passed in 1985. While party-whips are traditionally not formal institutions of power in Westminister-style democracies, the 10th Schedule gives them some fangs, exercised judiciously with the consent of the Speaker of the House.

    The 10th Schedule is surprisingly quite a complex and fascinating bit of legislation, raising some additional values-based questions; there are those who say that it has contributed to a decline in intra-party democracy (it’s now virtually impossible for party MP’s to not toe the party-line, and continue to remain in the party) That, of course, is an entirely different debate altogether. But to respond to your specific point, no, it is illegal for MP’s/MLA’s/MLC’s to vote against the party directive; they do risk losing their seats if they do so.

  10. Finally, they claim they have video proving the bribe took place — but where is that video? Why didn’t they leak that to the media as well? Of course, if it comes out that there’s hard evidence supporting the claims of vote-buying, the currently fragile UPA government probably really will fall. And the government falls because they really did buy votes and abstentions this nakedly, I for one won’t be particularly sorry about it.

    The videos are out. It looks very interesting.. The Samajwadi party MP convincing the BJP MPs on the amount. Watching it. So far it is exactly as I imagined.. I have seen this in movies negotiating the amount.. :-)

    http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/70941/08_2008/cash_vote_part1_1b/cash-for-votes-the-tapes-the-real-story–part-ii-of-show.html