A postcard from… Chennai

Here in the LDV office, we’ve received another postcard from Baroness Ros Scott. Typically, she’s arrived long before the postcard did…

The failure of the Lokpal Bill in Parliament is a good example of just how difficult Parliamentary business can be in India. The Lok Sabha is directly elected on a constituency basis, but with regional loyalties such a strong determinant of voting, thirty-four political parties are represented, as well as nine independents.

If you think that two party coalition is tough, consider for a moment the job of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose ruling Congress Party governs as part of the United Progressive Alliance, a grouping of fourteen political parties which still has to rely on the support from others and the disunity of the opposition to achieve a majority on any particular piece of legislation. This gives immense bargaining power to individual MPs in pursuit of both personal and political gain. This is the embodiment of the nightmare scenario envisaged by opponents of electoral reform in the United Kingdom – all delivered in India by the first past the post system bequeathed by the British. As in the UK, legislation must also pass through the second chamber, the Rajya Sabha, but here most of the representatives are delegates of the States and Union Territories, chosen by the State Legislatures and not by direct election.

The tensions between the wielding of power at the centre, and that held by the States impact on most legislative proposals, the Lokpal Bill being but the latest example, where a centrally imposed measure was seen in some quarters as a Trojan horse for central control of state matters. It’s worth mentioning here that some states in India are vast – Uttar Pradesh alone has a population of 200 million, making it the fifth or sixth largest country in the world were it to be an independent nation.

Indeed, India is an interesting comparator for the European Union, with a federal structure, a common currency but wildly differing tax rates between States (don’t buy foreign drinks here in Tamil Nadu by the way, imported alcohol is taxed at 58%, according to our dinner bill one evening). It provides evidence to support the contention that what Europe really needs is a strong central control of monetary policy for those countries in the Eurozone, but a more relaxed attitude towards regulation otherwise, allowing the component nations greater leeway to set standards at levels that suit the individual cultural norms, in other words, subsidiarity.

* Baroness Ros Scott is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, a former Party President and now President of the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and News.
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