April 15, 2014

On the Road before E Day

Day 14: Will the Congress and BJP talk policy... not trivia?

This is turning out to be a bizarre and disappointing election in terms of the issues being raised and the concerns being highlighted. Some minor former official writes a book; a politician’s marital status becomes headline news; a high-profile candidate’s sister and her off-the-cuff remarks are interpreted by overzealous journalists: is this really what the world’s biggest democratic exercise is about? Do 814 million voters, selecting their representatives to Parliament, deserve such trivialisation?

Who does this silly discourse suit? It is perfect for the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, which have near identical positions on many important matters and policies and are doing their best not to let the people know. If you think that’s an exaggeration, I’ll leave you with five examples.

First, on FDI in retail the Congress has been supportive and the BJP, for all its pretence, ambiguous, couching its opposition in greyness. In its manifesto, it says it opposes FDI in retail but doesn’t explicitly say it will reverse the UPA government’s policy. Why? Am I smelling something – or smelling too much?

Second, on FDI in a host of other sensitive sectors, such as insurance and pensions, the Congress and the BJP have been on the same side when the cameras are off in Parliament. They have the same clients and lobbyists to pander to.

Third, on the Land Acquisition Act, for all the big words, the Congress and the BJP jointly passed a law that still permits forced acquisition and severely curtails the farmer’s right to a fair and informed transaction.

Fourth, on the Food Security Act, the Congress and the BJP have congratulated themselves for a law that is hollow. It makes promises of substantial outlays but without adequate provision of funds. It focuses on grains and does not adequately consider high prices of protein-rich foods, such as pulses, that people need for health and nutrition.

Finally, on the Women’s Reservation Bill, both national parties make loud noises and cry themselves hoarse about women’s rights and access to political power, but act contrarily to their so-called commitments. Only eight per cent of the BJP’s Lok Sabha election candidates are women, and only 14 per cent of the Congress’ are.

On the other hand, I’m proud to say 27 per cent of Trinamool Congress candidates are women. Many of them are contesting in strong constituencies the party is likely to win. We haven’t sent our female nominees to weak seats just to make up the numbers.

Is any of this being discussed? No. Instead the focus is on some minor former official writing a book, a politician’s marital status, what a high-profile candidate’s sister said... I rest my case.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress