S P E C I A L  E D I T O R I A L

Parliament: The bold, the beautiful and the ugly
By H. K. Dua

Parliament presented two faces to India and the world this week: One, despite the hiccups and much else, Parliament has looked ahead into the future and gave Dr Manmohan Singh a clear mandate for going ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal. It was an act of maturity and wisdom that should stand India well into the 21st-century world.

The other, a repulsive image that brought out the baser instincts of some of our MPs and political parties into full play, causing worry about the essential health of Parliament an institution that is supposed to serve the interests of the people.

Having won the confidence of the House of People, Dr Manmohan Singh can now go ahead and negotiate the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and terms with the Nuclear Suppliers' Group for the supply of nuclear fuel and equipment. Come September, these two steps will take the nuclear deal for the final passage through the US Congress which is the concern of the Bush Administration.

All said and done, from the early next year, India will not have to save every gram of enriched uranium required by our fuel-starved reactors. When the nuclear deal has passed through all the hurdles, India will have the right to access enriched uranium for reactors as well as sensitive technology needed for defence, space, nuclear programme and a growing economy.

Free from the post-Pokharan nuclear isolation, India which practically has been recognised as a nuclear weapon state will now have the right to use not necessarily fine embossed cutlery but to sit in the exclusive club of the world's top decision-makers.

The Tribune has been consistent in supporting the agreement Dr Manmohan Singh signed this month three years ago. This newspaper wrote at that time in a front-page editorial that Parliament must back the Prime Minister on the nuclear deal.

For three long years, the 2005 Agreement remained hostage to the CPM's uncompromising position. With Tuesday's vote in the Lok Sabha, the government has freed itself from the comrades' relentless veto that had blocked any movement on the nuclear deal.

Democracy ultimately runs on consensus and give-and-take; progress needs willingness on the part of the nation to seize the opportunities. Continuing confrontation within a coalition was bound to push the country into the political crisis the nation has gone through during the last few weeks.

The Left has not gained anything out of its prolonged obduracy in forcing its will on the UPA government it promised to support for five years. To exercise power without responsibility can be awkward in any situation and mutual acrimony and heat that it generates can wreck the coalitional culture from within.

The whole crisis precipitated by the Left was simply avoidable and much of the ugly spectacle the people saw during the last few days has led to serious doubts about some of the political parties and the so-called Honourable MPs about their credentials to represent them in Parliament.

The sight of Pappu Yadav, Mohd. Shahabuddin, Atiq Ahmed and Suraj Bhan, who are serving prison terms for heinous crimes, landing in the House to save or to topple the government was offensive enough. Rushing in were three BJP MPs with a bagful of currency notes - duly carrying the embossed image of Mahatma Gandhi - alleging that they had been offered the money by a Samajwadi Party MP to abstain from the voting and thus facilitate the government's victory. It was an ugly sight abhorrent and disgusting that the TV channels beamed into every home.

While the nation is feeling assured that India will go ahead on the nuclear track, those who brag about it being the largest democracy will not know how to live with such a wanton attempt to vitiate the quality of democracy.

The last two days' events in what used to be the hallowed precincts should worry leaders of all political parties and impel them to find ways to assure that such dirty tricks will not be resorted to again and that the culprits would be expelled from the House and criminal proceedings launched against them.

That may not be enough. The leaders, irrespective of their political affiliation, should also agree to enact a law that no criminal, serving a sentence in jail, will be allowed to enter Parliament and cast his or her vote. The parties should go one step still further and agree with the Election Commission's proposal that anyone who has been charge-sheeted by the court for a serious crime demanding a two-year sentence would be disqualified from filing nomination. Such a simple solution, which would make Parliament's doors closed to hardened criminals, has been rejected by none else than the leaders of most political parties for reasons known to them.

It is not too late for the politicians to realise that supping with the devil is dangerous also for the guests themselves.

Luckily, parliamentary elections are just a few months away. Will the political parties assure the people that they will not put up criminals as candidates and also abjure use of tainted money for getting elected? If they do not give this assurance, the people will themselves have to begin cleansing the system. They should not wait for the politicians to take the initiative they may be reluctant to take.



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