The Indian media has been missing the wood for the trees in its commentary on two recent developments: the Supreme Court order on setting up a special investigation team to probe and recover black money stashed abroad, and opposition criticism of the government for allowing civil society to usurp parliament’s right to make laws on the Lokpal (ombudsman) bill issue. Both these developments are in fact blessings in disguise for the beleaguered United Progressive Alliance government.
It’s true that the Supreme Court has passed tough strictures against the UPA government, and it would be accurate to say that following the 2G spectrum scam, the government has effectively had to cede its monitoring powers to the top court on the issue of black money.
But it’s also important to look at the political leverage that the government has gained from losing monitoring powers to the Supreme Court. The glass half-full scenario for the government is that with the Supreme Court order, the Anna Hazares and Baba Ramdevs of this world will be off the government’s back. Now, civil society can’t haul the government over the coals about black money and corruption issues because the government can tell them to go to the Supreme Court if they have any questions.
It’s true that the Supreme Court’s July 4 order on black money is an indication that the government hasn’t really been, well, governing. But it’s also true that the court’s strictures don’t have a long shelf life, while the public’s memory is notoriously short. The Supreme Court has mercifully become proactive again, which is good news for the country. The government, meanwhile, will be heaving a sigh of relief that it won’t have to take unpleasant, politically difficult decisions over black money and corruption.
The same logic applies in the wake of the July 3 all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence. True, almost all political parties lambasted the government for allowing civil society to hijack parliament’s role and dictate terms to the government on enacting legislation, which is the sole prerogative of parliament. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav spoke for many at the meeting when he blasted civil society representatives with the remark: ‘120 crore (1200 million) people elect us, who elected them?’
Certainly, the tone of the opposition parties, which have stated that they want to thoroughly discuss the Lokpal bill in parliament, including the bill being referred to parliament’s Standing Committee, has taken the wind out of Anna Hazare’s sails. And in a way, the government is now sitting pretty because it’s now Anna Hazare vs parliament and the political system, rather than Hazare vs the UPA government.