Going Bicoastal

  • While Narendra Modi becomes the first Indian prime minister to visit Silicon Valley in 30 years, his third summit with US President Barack Obama in less than a year demonstrates the high-intensity engagement that has set the tone for a bold reimagination of bilateral ties.
  • Although the big ideas on Indo-US relations came up under UPA 1, the Congress itself displayed ambivalence towards the US, as a result of which the partnership couldn’t fully translate itself from paper to process.
  • The BJP, too, had reservations about America in the past, brought home by its opposition to the civilian nuclear deal. Modi as PM, though, has swept aside many of New Delhi’s traditional fears about the US and pushed ahead.
  • Obama, for his part, has also responded positively. The result of this re-energised effort has been a rare and productive moment in the history of Indo-US relations.
  • The US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, concluded in Washington DC recently, witnessed the transformation of this new approach into specific outcomes.
  • This is reflected in expanded bilateral diplomatic cooperation, with a new mechanism for dialogue set up between India’s foreign secretary and the US deputy secretary of state, as well as a new institutional partnership between the state department and the ministry of external affairs. The trilateral with Japan has, likewise, been elevated to the ministerial level. India and the US have also decided to deepen their counter-terror cooperation and asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice, while Delhi and Washington are to build on their 10-year Defence Framework Agreement to deepen collaboration in defence and defence production via Make in India, even as the Union cabinet has just approved a roughly $3 billion helicopter deal with Boeing.
  • Among the other takeaways are India’s aspiration for greater participation in internet governance organisations like Icann and the joint emphasis on climate change, looking ahead to the signing of a new five-year MoU on energy security, clean energy and climate change.
  • Modi, however, has to work harder to convince US businessmen — whom he is meeting in large numbers in New York and California — that the NDA can deliver on reforms to make it easier for foreigners to do business in India. Among the diaspora too, the uncritical enthusiasm for Modi is now tempered by the extension of India’s internal divisions — as with the Patels — to the NRI community in the US.
  • As far as the PM’s challenge on the global stage is concerned, he has to signal a full reorientation of India’s multilateralism away from its hitherto defensive approach to a confident pragmatism that is willing to walk the talk.

Drawing the line

  • The Supreme Court’s rejection of a PIL seeking its intervention in ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of Parliament is welcome for underscoring the fundamental working principle of the separation of powers laid down by the Constitution.
  • This principle divides the power between the three branches of government: the legislature, which makes laws; the executive, which executes or enforces these laws; and the judiciary, which adjudicates or interprets whether the laws and policies made enjoy constitutional validity. Such clear separation of functions prevents concentration of power in any single branch, while imposing checks and balances within the overall system.
  • It is precisely the principle of not transgressing upon each other’s functions that Chief Justice of India (CJI) H.L. Dattu reaffirmed, while dismissing the PIL asking the court to frame guidelines for parliamentary proceedings to take place sans disruption. The court, he rightly stated, should know its lakshmanrekha and not overstep its boundary “to say Parliament be conducted in this manner and not in that manner”.
  • The latest order by no means undermines the judiciary’s role when it comes to review of legislative or executive actions.
  • The courts can always step in when such actions are perceived as illegal, arbitrary or ultra vires of the Constitution; the judgments ordering the cancellation of coal block and telecom spectrum allocations made by the previous UPA regime were based on such interpretations.
  • Moreover, Article 32, which B.R. Ambedkar called the “very soul of the Constitution”, allows every citizen to directly approach the Supreme Court if any fundamental right is violated — which extends even to laws seen to do so.
  • That said, it is not difficult to understand the frustration that led to the filing of the PIL by an NGO whose advisory board includes the likes of former CJI M.N. Venkatachaliah, former Central Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal and eminent industrialist Ratan Tata.
  • There is no doubt that parliamentary disruptions have become more the norm than the exception. Apart from the long-term costs of key reform legislation getting stuck — such as the one enabling a nationwide goods and services tax — non-productive lawmakers also impose immediate costs.
  • Each minute of running Parliament is estimated to cost the taxpayer Rs 2.5 lakh, even as a total of 2,162 hours have been wasted over the last six sessions alone. But this, at the end of the day, is a political issue, not a constitutional matter to be resolved by the courts.
  • Parliamentarians have been elected by the people to make laws in public interest. It can be left to the wisdom of voters to teach those responsible for creating legislative logjams the right lesson — at the time of elections.