Scandals Freeze India’s Parliament
Massive corruption trigger Congress’s opportunity
Until a few weeks ago, Shivraj Singh Chauhan was regarded as one of India’s most successful and responsible chief ministers. During the 10 years that he has held that post in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, he has transformed its agriculture, cared for the poor and for minority groups such as Muslims, and displayed a gentler Bharatiya Janata Party face than those of the nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi and tough party president Amit Shah.
Now Chauhan is at the center of one of India’s biggest and longest-running corruption scandals that, along with another scam linked to an Indian cricket league, is being used by the Congress Party-led opposition to stop India’s monsoon session of parliament from functioning.
Congress is calling for Chauhan to be dismissed along with two other top BJP politicians – Sushma Swaraj, the foreign minister, and Vasundharan Raje Scindia, the chief minister of Rajasthan, who are caught up in the scandal involving Lali Modi (no relation to the prime minister) who founded the glitzy high-rolling Indian Premier League.
It is blocking parliament and its students’ branch has been staging noisy street protests in Delhi, not because it expects the three to be sacked or resign, but because this is a simple and high profile way of drawing attention to alleged corruption at the top of Modi’s party.
Reduced ignominiously in last year’s general election to just 44 MPs in the 543-member Lok Sabha lower house, Congress has been resorting with its opposition allies to disruption and sound-bite politics on many issues instead of generating debates.
This is not a new tactic – blocking parliamentary proceedings with protests has become a regular practice for 10 to 15 years. During the last Congress-led government, the BJP staged so many protests that 40 percent and 80 p-ercent of time was lost in the years from 2010 to 2014, according to PRS Legislative Research.
Arun Jaitley, then the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha upper house and now the frustrated finance minister, was pleased with what he had helped to lead. “Parliament being used as a forum in more than one ways to expose the weaknesses of the government, I think, is a positive development,” he declared, after one session had been totally wiped out.
The tables are now turned and Congress MPs have become the rabble that storms into the well of the parliamentary chamber to stop proceedings – no business took place today for the second day running. This parliamentary session is only scheduled to last for 23 days and if little business is done, as seems possible because of Congress threats, progress will have been blocked on about 15 bills including long delayed measures on sales tax reform and land acquisition.
The Chauhan scandal shows how difficult, if not impossible, it is for politicians not to be tainted by India’s endemic corruption. Manmohan Singh, prime minister in the last government, is a prime example of how a basically honorable man felt he had to let corrupt deals on telecoms, coal mining and other subjects, wash around his desk.
Chauhan similarly must have known about the scams but did little to ensure that official inquires actually made progress after they were started. Maybe it was simpler to allow the people involved to have their way.
Known as Vyapam, the scam engulfing Chauhan has involved masses of people obtaining civil service jobs, medical school places and false exam results for many years. Vyapam is an abbreviation of the Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal, which is Hindi for the state’s professional examination board, founded in 1970, that from 2007 also conducted entrance exams for government jobs. Investigations are in progress and a total of some 2,000 people have been arrested.