100 Days of Modi Sarkar – Day 89
Of late, it was being said in various circles that India’s relations with the US have run into rough weather following its decision to oppose the trade facilitation agreement of the World Trade Organization that is being pushed through by the developed members such as the US and Australia. India has also decided that it will suspend its secretary level talks with Pakistan that were supposed to be held in Islamabad after the Pakistani envoy decided to meet Kashmiri separatist leaders even after repeated warnings from India. The US has termed the decision to be an unfortunate one. However, people worried about the future of Indo-US relations can take it easy as the US has stated that India is an indispensable partner.
American envoy says India is an indispensable partner
The US interim Ambassador has stated both India and the US have some interests in how the other’s future is shaping up and that makes them inseparable associates. She has also stated that there are certain areas where both the countries have a lot of responsibilities. Kathleen Stephens who serves as the US Ambassador Charge d’Affaires ad interim, has stated that India and the US, which are also among the biggest democracies of the world, should look for ways to improve their bilateral relations. She has also stated that the US administration is looking forward to a prospective visit by Narendra Modi and working with the Indian government in that regard.
Stephens has also praised the recent elections where Modi came to power and described how the entire process was appreciated the world over. The diplomat has also been effusive in lauding the direction in which the Modi government is functioning. She feels that both India and the US can work on a wide array of issues. It needs to be remembered in this context that both India and the US have extensive ties in areas such as defence and business.
The new government under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has only been in power since May but in the interim a number of highly ranked officers from various arms of the US administration have visited India. The list includes John Kerry, the Secretary of State, John McCain, a Senator from Republican Party, and Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defence. This perhaps shows how eager Uncle Sam is to have a renewed relationship with India where perhaps they enjoy a greater sense of primacy unlike what it did previously.
It remains to be seen how this goodwill affects India’s relations with the US going into the future especially regarding India’s objection to the WTO deal. After all, its opposition is only denting the economic prospects of the US. One wonders whether the US would be able to convince India to think otherwise. If it is successful then perhaps in the short term there would be nothing to worry about India’s relations with the US. However, the problem will arise if India refuses to budge from its position. It has to be seen that if such a situation arises how long the US will be able to put up with India.
Supreme Court hauls up government for keeping LoP post vacant
The present Lok Sabha has been functioning without a Leader of the Opposition even as the largest party in the Lok Sabha, the Congress with 44 seats has been demanding the status for long . The Speaker was delaying a decision. But finally this week the Speaker decided against this quoting the rule that the Opposition party does not have the requisite 10 per cent of House seats ie 55. However, as per the Indian Constitution, the Speaker is empowered to take such decisions on an independent basis, it is interpreted.
The matter came up in the Supreme Court on Friday as the bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha was hearing a petition against the delay in the appointment of Lok Pal whose selection body, as per provision, includes the LoP as one of the nine members. Expressing its concern over the post lying vacant, the apex court remarked in general that the requirement of LoP is crucial as it also conveys a voice different from the government’s.
The apex judicial body has now decided to deal with the situation considering the importance the post of Leader of Opposition carries from the point of view of administration. The Chief Justice has asked the government to make its stand clear in two weeks.
The bench said, the LoP is a very important component (under Lok Pal Act) and needs objective consideration. It wanted to interpret the LoP provision. At one stage the court asked the government to explain why there is no LoP in Parliament.
The judicial bench has also stated that the issue should not be stretched any further or else the Act may be shelved for eternity. As can be expected in this case, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come out with a strong response to the Supreme Court’s observation on the entire issue. Meenakshi Lekhi, the national spokesperson of the BJP, has stated that the LoP is appointed as per the will of the common people. However, as per the national government that may not have happened this time around. Lekhi also pointed out that this is not the first time that there is no Leader of Opposition – in fact, it is the eighth such occasion.
The Congress has, however, apparently been inspired by the Supreme Court’s words and laid waste to the BJP for what they feel is a complete disregard for the principles that need to be followed in democracy. Manish Tewari, a Congress leader, has asked if the BJP is at all interested in having the voice of opposition in the Lower House of Parliament, which actually plays a more active role in Indian democracy by framing the laws and discussing the course of action to be plotted by the government.
The BJP does not understand that with its firm stand of denying the Congress LoP status in the Lok Sabha it is creating a problematic situation for itself in the Rajya Sabha, where its archrivals are in a far better position. Already the insurance Bill has run into problem in the Upper House and one feels that if the BJP refuses to mellow down it will face further opposition to its developmental plans.
One also needs to take into consideration the fact that with the new Bill for creating a new system of appointing judges it has invoked the ire of the judiciary that has now involved itself in this issue. The Indian administration is facing a hard situation with opposition from several corners and it remains to be seen how it can deal with all this.