Saturday, December 3, 2011

The myth of creating consensus

Every time a row erupts in Parliament, there are MPs and medipersons who accuse the government of 'failing to evolve a consensus on the issue'. Chetan Bhagat's take in today's Times of India on foreign investment in retail is typical. Titled Shopping for Consensus, the argument advanced in the article has three facets. First, that FDI in retail is a smokescreen to occlude more important issues like the Lokpal bill. Second, allowing Tesco and Walmart to open supermarkets in India is a good thing in itself. Third, that "the government, with humility, should involve everyone in Parliament to get a general policy consensus on FDI, not just for retail, but all sectors, across all industries."

In other words, talk sweetly to Prakash Karat and he will hit the Like button of WalMart's Facebook page. Bhagat ignores the simple truth that there exist in every parliament ideological divisions which cannot be bridged. Electoral democracy would be pretty useless if that wasn't the case, since we'd have a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Moreover, even when two parties have economic policies that are as similar as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, which has been the case with the Congress and BJP over the last two decades, the party in opposition will fight policies tooth and nail that it would support as head of a ruling coalition. And it will not budge despite all the discussion and consensus building in the world. This happened with the civil nuclear deal and is happening again in the present dispute. What has changed is that Parliament is growing dysfunctional, with increasingly frequent disruptions and forced adjournments.

David Ben Gurion said that for every two Jews there are three opinions. This is equally true of Indians. Doesn't it describe all communities? To a degree, yes, but I suspect that in the case of our largest neighbour, "Two Chinese, one opinion" is likelier. Evolving consensus in India is an impossible task. Nehru fought for years to get the Hindu Code Bill passed; and he couldn't manage anything close to unanimity even within his own party in that time. In recent months, the BJP has been uncooperative in introducing non-controversial, non-ideological changes, such as a nation-wide Goods and Services Tax. What's the likelihood, then, that the main opposition party will accept government policy in a matter where there are votes to gain by the bushelful?

1 comment:

jaimit said...

yes sir - i am looking for the like button your page :)