Skip to main content

Strong shadow cabinet can 'bring discourse back' from clouds, mangoes, Nehru

By Joe Athialy*
Why not a shadow cabinet? Tried in some parts of the country in the past, in different forms, it’s time to form a shadow cabinet at the Centre. A feature of Westminster system of government, shadow cabinet, formed by the members of the opposition party, monitor the functioning of the government, and offer an alternative program. It will shadow each member of the Cabinet.
Practised more consistently in United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, shadow cabinet is reported to function in nearly 20 countries. In India’s neighbourhood, Sri Lanka had one in 2016 by joint opposition with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as shadow Prime Minister.
In India a few states tried it in the past. In 2005 the Shiv Sena-BJP combine formed one in Maharashtra to monitor the functioning of the Vilasrao Deshmukh-led Congress government. Not much is reported about the functioning of that shadow cabinet which was headed by Narayan Rane and Gopinath Munde as his deputy. 
In 2015 the Congress party formed one in Madhya Pradesh and Aam Admi Party formed one in the same year in Goa, to monitor the BJP-led governments in both states. Similar to the earlier experiment in Maharashtra nothing is reported about the functioning of those shadow governments.
First time initiated by people’s movements and voluntary organisations, a year back Kerala formed a shadow cabinet. End of June, they are observing the first year of the shadow cabinet. 
In the past year they monitored the functioning of the Left Democratic Front and made policy recommendations to the government on sectors like finance, education, agriculture and power, the shadow minister for fisheries, Magline Philomin said. “But it’s a struggle to get the government listen to us”, she added.
Now that a new cabinet has taken oath, learning from the past experiences, it’s time that a shadow cabinet is formed at the Centre. It can draw the best minds from different opposition parties, academics and civil society and form one to not only monitor the functioning of the government and engage deeply in the Parliamentary debates, but also suggest progressive policies and programmes.
One of the ways in which to hold the government accountable for its actions and not let them walk away changing goal posts and take refuge in ‘clouds’, ‘mangoes’ and ‘Nehru’ is to engage deeply on its performance and only a strong shadow cabinet can make sure to bring the discourse back on track.
Parliament sittings have declined over the years, leaving the governments take the easy route of ordinances, and in some cases money bills (as in the case of changes in Aadhaar Act or Electoral Bonds by the previous Modi government) and not face difficult questions from opposition.
An effective shadow cabinet could throw light on both the content and processes of such attempts both inside and outside the Parliament in an organised and engaged way, rather than isolated and scattered responses by political parties and others.
A complex and diverse country as India, it is likely that the ruling regime could focus on some issues, while some other burning issues could miss their attention, or conveniently ignored. The farm distress which peaked during the last government, and which was brought to the fore by Left parties is an example of that.
Apart from monitoring the functioning of the government, the role of a shadow cabinet could also be to bring such issues to the national stage, in a more thought through and organised fashion.
The issues brought together by a shadow cabinet could influence the media in a positive way. It should stand as a stark contrast to the studio-based journalism of electronic media, where they put a bunch of people together who shout at each other the same time.
Most of the issues covered in such debates lack in-depth research, and the participants are selected not on the basis of subject expertise. A shadow cabinet will not immediately change how this media acts now. But the topics that they bring to the fore, and the insights and information that they put together on each issues should influence the character as well as the quality of debates in the media.
It’s easy to mock at today’s opposition, which is all dissipated, bruised and in shatters. That, if the combined opposition could not pose a challenge to Modi’s march to power a second term, how can they pose one now, with a brute majority in Lok Sabha now and a likely majority in 2021 in Rajya Sabha?
But a real democracy cannot function without an opposition. Defaming, delegitimizing and criminalising opposition, including ones outside of political parties but critical of the government, is a recipe for the death of democracy and rise of authoritarianism.
---
*With Financial Accountability Network India, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

Impact of state repression? Kashmir's 65% people prefer independence: Cambridge study

By Rajiv Shah 
Even as the Government of India’s controversial move to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories is not only refusing to down die but has acquired international dimensions, a recent study, published by the Cambridge University Press, has claimed “pro-independence attitudes” among that 65% of Kashmiris, warning, this sentiment worsens when the state machinery resorts “repressive violence”.

Hindus to be 'sent' to Kashmir? Despite Israeli settlements, peace eludes the region

By Anand K Sahay*
Curfew, news and communications blackout, transportation shut-down... News reports from Kashmir are worrying. So are the views relayed through the media, especially television. Old-fashioned repression seems to be consorting comfortably with expressions of concern “for our Kashmiri brethren”. We are looking at Orwell’s 1984 in the making.

Dholera 'inundated': Gujarat govt tries selling low lying area as top smart city site

Counterview Desk
Even as the Dholera Special Investment Region Regional Development Authority (DSIRDA) of the Gujarat government was busy organising a junket for Gujarat-based journalists for the area sought to be sold as an ideal special investment region (SIR) for industrialists, well-known farmers' activist Sagar Rabari has wondered why no investor has so far agreed to put in money in an area situated in Ahmedabad district along the Gulf of Khambhat.

Congress' anti-democratic laws led to Modi govt's 'Constitutional' changes: Scholars

Counterview Desk
A large number of academics* said to be belonging to several Indian and international institutions, even as taking strong exception to the Narendra Modi government's alleged move to amend the Constitution through "illegitimate" means, have taken strong exception to their colleagues in academia who we have become "all too accustomed to adopting a calculated silence in the face of such indignities."

Kashmir normal? Schoolboys, teenagers being arbitrarily picked up, detained: Report

Counterview Desk
A four-person team, consisting of Jean Dr├Ęze, well-known development economist; Kavita Krishnan, who is with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist); Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA); and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), back from a five-day fact-finding mission (August 9-13) from Kashmir, has said that people they spoke to “expressed their pain, anger, and sense of betrayal against the Government of India.”
In a report, “Kashmir Caged”, released along with a short eight-minute film, they said, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, dissolution of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, is not being supported by anyone they met, except for BJP spokesperson on Kashmir affairs Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, who claimed 46% vote share in J&K.
Excerpts from the report: When our flight landed, and the airlines staff announced that passeng…

Modi's Gujarati mind? Why govt move to 'sell-off' defence PSUs isn't in national interest

By Sandeep Pandey*
The Standing Committee on Defence, 2017-18, of the 16th Lok Sabha highlights the idea of Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured). The Committee expressed concern over the import content of equipments produced and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories (OFs) and defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) because of the dependence it creates for military hardware on foreign suppliers.

Central Gujarat effluent channel 'releasing' highly polluted industrial wastewater: PM told

Counterview Desk
Senior environmentalists of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Gujarat chief minister, the Gujarat chief secretary, and senior Government of India and Gujarat government officials dealing with environment, pollution and climate change have said that the authorities’ response their pleas to take action against the leakages and flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channels of Central Gujarat industrial areas has met with complete inertia.

Can't go to court with RTI information, rule Ahmedabad authorities: Kankaria accident

By Pankti Jog*
In a shocking reply to an application filed by me, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) authorities have said that the information provided under the Right to Information (RT) Act should be used in court or in a judicial process. The Act is known to be a major tool that enables citizens to seek certified copies of documents, records from any public authority of state and Central government within 30 days, as per provisions of the Act.

Quit India Movement 'betrayal' and dubious role of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS leaders

By Shamsul Islam*
After the recent guillotine of Article 370, Hindutva ideologue Ram Madhav, while celebrating the occasion stated that it was honouring of the sacrifices of Dr Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and thousands others who laid down their lives for its removal. It is to be noted that Dr Mukherjee was a cadre of RSS and was groomed into a Hindutva leader by another Hindutva icon, VD Savarkar.

Strategy for united struggle against Hindutva 'fascism': Ideological silence is 'no option'

By Dr Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
Electoral alliance and opportunism of national and regional political parties, neoliberal economic marginalisation and soft secular Hindutva line pandering to Hindu majoritarianism laid the foundation of Hindutva fascism in post-colonial India.