For a democratic debate

Print edition : July 03, 1999

THE caretaker coalition government at the Centre has once again refused to take the Opposition into confidence on a major issue. At the all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in New Delhi on June 28, it deferred a decision on the Opposition's major demand that a special session of the Rajya Sabha be convened to discuss the Kargil war. However, it agreed to convene a meeting of Chief Ministers in early July and apprise them of the government's efforts to meet the Pakistani aggression.

The meeting itself was the result of a series of developments, which included a complaint by the Opposition parties to President K.R. Narayanan that they were kept in the dark about the steps taken by the government with regard to the war. Vajpayee, whom the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition is never tired of describing as a "man of consensus", saw no reason to call a second all-party meeting on Kargil (the first one was held a few days ago) until the President conveyed to him the complaint, articulated by several Opposition leaders.

The Congress(I) delegation, led by Congress(I) Working Committee member Manmohan Singh, submitted a letter to the President on June 24, pointing out that a national consensus needed to be built in order to ensure that the caretaker government's military and diplomatic moves reflected the united will of the nation. "While this may not be the appropriate time for a full-fledged post-mortem, the nation needs to be taken into confidence that the serious deficiencies in our defence preparedness and national security system revealed by this situation have now been rectified, in an effective manner," the letter said.

A Communist Party of India (CPI) delegation, led by Rajya Sabha member Gurudas Dasgupta, had submitted a memorandum to the President earlier demanding the immediate holding of a special session of the Rajya Sabha. Dasgupta gained the impression that the President was not averse to the idea, for which there were precedents.

The government's position of not taking a decision on the question stems from a perceived lack of consensus at the all-party meeting. Vajpayee, after meeting the President on June 24, had indicated that the Opposition's suggestion could be considered; he said that an all-party meeting would, however, be called.

The BJP and its allies stuck to their stand that there was no need to convene a Rajya Sabha session at this stage. This position was backed by the Telugu Desam Party, the National Conference, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Samajwadi Janata Party of Chandra Shekhar (the SJP has no representation in the Upper House).

The demand for a session was voiced also by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Samajwadi Party. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, while opposing the demand for a Rajya Sabha session, made it clear that he was not in favour of the Indian Army crossing the Line of Control, as such an action would invite the same international isolation that Pakistan now suffered.

This sentiment was echoed by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat. He said that no steps should be taken to widen the conflict by opening new fronts on the LoC. Any widening of the conflict would help Pakistan to seek international intervention, and that would erode the international support that India had mustered for exercising its legitimate right to clear the intrusion and defend the LoC, he pointed out.

Karat justified the demand to convene a Rajya Sabha session saying that "an informed and responsible debate on how the Kargil situation developed and the measures taken so far are necessary so that a common understanding develops which will help the national endeavour." He said that in the interest of this national effort, the Prime Minister should convene a meeting of the Chief Ministers so that all State governments were fully briefed about the situation and a joint effort by the Centre and the States could be made. This was of particular importance for the States on the borders, both in the west and east, he said.

After the 12th Lok Sabha has been dissolved, the Rajya Sabha is the only legislative forum that remains where the government could be held accountable for its omissions and commissions. Therefore the ruling coalition, which is in a minority in the Upper House, looked at the Opposition demand with suspicion and attributed motives to it. Apprehending that the government's lapses, particularly the intelligence failure, would be exposed if there is a debate in Parliament, the leaders of the BJP-led coalition offered excuses for not convening a special session.

"It will demoralise the armed forces," BJP spokesperson Krishan Lal Sharma claimed when he was asked why the BJP was against a special session.

The Opposition parties have stood united in supporting the government's efforts to clear the Pakistani intruders though the government has not found merit in its demand.

Significantly, although the overwhelming sentiment in the BJP is against the idea of a Rajya Sabha session, Prime Minister Vajpayee himself said that the all-party meeting that the government would indeed "consider" accepting the suggestion.

The three Service chiefs briefed the all-party meeting on the Kargil conflict.

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