Political consensus is an euphemism we keep reading and repeating. For every contentious or unresolved issue, the tagline is we are waiting for political consensus.
There have always been economic and social interests. Now we have our own people who have international interests to protect. We have businessmen-turned-politicians. There are contractors who want their contracts. A boss of an airline, who is also a parliamentarian, would have hidden and overt interests. He does not even have any constituency obligations. There is one ‘elected’ Parliament member, who has business interests and also political interests. With the result, he ends up being a chairman of a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which discusses issues arising out of some of his projects, or related policies.
There was no one to say, this is not proper. Probably because media barons are also politicians, businessmen and industrialists. Not only the bosses, even journalists have developed their own ‘constituency’ of interests. Thus, you have write-ups which are paid. And, write-ups which are investments for future payments.
Now, for genuine social or citizen issues, one needs to unravel all these cross-cutting links to build a consensus. This would mean access to information and resources to monitor.
Just a day back a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) went to the Minister for Environment, representing him to reduce the area of lake in Andhra Pradesh, claiming it will benefit poor, landless folk, whose livelihoods are dependent on the lake. The issue is protection of the lake from encroachment by commercial aqua-farms. When the Supreme Court started looking into it, government had to take action. Here, one does not understand how 10 plus MPs (belonging to different political parties) found time to represent on behalf poor people. What are the interests which brought them together: is it concern for poor people, or caste, region or business interests? Surprisingly, a Left party MP from a north-eastern state was also part of this delegation. If the news is not wrong, strange combination. Can we call this a political consensus? There is a agreement no doubt. You scratch my back, I will scratch yours.
But they all said in one voice lake is not important. Another development vs environment debate. If one fathom’s these issues, it would be clear that the issue is between vested interest vs. public interest. Because, these set of MPs even while representing, or before, had not bothered about improving the quality of life of people living around the lake – education, health, incomes, etc. They had not made any efforts or investments (from MPLADs), or their private coffers to propose any improvements in education and health infrastructure in these villages. Shamelessly, they directly asked for livelihoods protection, which is a ruse. Some of the MPs on the delegation have been behind projects along the coast, which have destabilised livelihoods of the same community, dependent on marine resources. They did not see the contradiction. One MP, who became Minister quickly, has not bothered to protect the livelihoods of handloom weavers. why do not these MPs, go together in such issues? It is not in their private interests.
In another instance, the same set of MPs, with some deletions, including the Left MP, were also asking for lifting of restrictions on rice and paddy export. On the face of it, they say this benefits the farmers. Privately, they all know it benefits everyone except the farmers. Again, there is a consensus here. Of what sort is an open question? Another agreement, with obviously monetary and non-monetary benefits for lobbyists.
Plainly speaking, there is a hierarchy of interests for most politicians in this country, which starts with the personal, business to the public. Public interest comes the last, only when it does not affect their priority interests. And, now, they felt strength flows from networking, agreement and consensus. Negating the Minister for Environment (when he is protecting public interest) is not easy. More the number, more the pressure.
In this scenario, if the central government and all elected and non-elected central officials say Telangana requires a political consensus, one needs to be sure what kind of consensus. Is this again an euphemism for agreement, from economically, politically and socially powerful people and organisations. It appears to be so. Ownership of resources, usuary rights, etc. of Telangana region would be important for such agreement. But, the moot point is how does it come about? Is there a role of media, elected bodies, courts or administration? In my opinion, a public movement based on awareness and knowledge should be able to force an agreement, or political consensus.
Recent news reports that Hyderabad is under discussion, for a compromise, probably is being thought of to appease these powerful interests. If so, it would be a sad day for Telangana, and also for people living in the constituencies of these powerful interests.