“What is happening in this country”? asked Pranab Mukherjee in the aftermath of the Sharad Pawar slapping incident. Every tax-payer and voter in this country has been asking the same question, though not in the sense in which Mukherjee meant. What indeed is happening under the auspices of the eminent leaders of the Government and the opposition? What the citizen knows is:
□ That dumb things are happening in the country. Like introducing the FDI retail decision at the most inopportune moment. What was the urgency to present it as a cabinet decision when Parliament was in session and a critical election in UP was round the corner? The American Ambassador's very undiplomatic intervention? Is pleasing the Americans worth the price of alienating political allies as well as UP voters? Or was someone trying to divert attention from the 2G fire engulfing P. Chidambaram? It is not easy to imagine Pranab Mukherjee straining a nerve to save Chidambaram with whom he has been openly clashing. The pros and cons of the FDI policy apart, the manner and timing of the government move betrayed a sad lack of political sense. Congressmen themselves came out in open criticism. Did such a mess have to happen?
□ That anti-democratic trantrums are happening in the country. Only Indian genius could invent the idea of attending Parliament in order to block its proceedings. The present Parliament has wasted more working hours than any Parliament in the last 25 years. Leaders like Sushma Swaraj are proud to announce that Parliament won't be allowed to function. Any reason is good enough. In the current session, first it was boycott of Chidambaram. Then it was food inflation. Then FDI. One week of washed-out session cost the tax-payers Rs 24 crore. Parliament is a forum for debate and decisions, not a site for street demonstrations. Common people are unanimous in their call for no work, no pay. But MPs are so shameless that they are demanding red lights atop their cars. This is democracy going bizarre.
□ That intrigue and machinations are happening in the country. Either Sonia Gandhi's health condition, or her partisans' impatience, or the former aggravating the latter, has led to what looks like preparations for a post-Manmohan Singh regime – which need not wait till the end of the Prime Minister's term. This was clear when T.K.A. Nair was ousted from the position of the PM's Principal Secretary and Pulok Chatterji put in his place in July. Nair was Manmohan Singh's close and trusted aide even before he became Prime Minister and Chatterji is a known extension of the Sonia Gandhi parivar. The message was that the Prime Minister's Office was too important to be left to the Prime Minister. So when does Rahul Gandhi step in? And people like Digvijay Singh? The economy is in trouble, but all we have is politics by contrivance.
□ That meaningful efforts to end corruption are not happening in the country. Shaken by the public anger that swelled the Anna Hazare tide, the Government went through some motions of working on an honourable Lok Pal Bill. Now we know it was not all that honourable. A bill with sufficient holes through which bureaucrats and politicians can collect their mamools may well be what comes out of it all. How will public outrage express itself next time?
Look at the one state, Karnataka, where an effective Lok Ayukta had done wonders. The post has remained vacant since Justice Santhosh Hegde retired. They did appoint an exceptionally good successor, Justice Shivraj Patil, but a minor issue involving a cooperative society housing site, was raised to harass him and he resigned. Karnataka not only lost a worthy Lok Ayukta; it is unable to find a retired judge antisceptic enough for the post.
When Pranab Mukherjee raised his question, the answer was staring him in the face: What should be happening in the country is not happening, so what should not be happening is happening.