July 13, 2008 2:08:24 am
SMS has many uses. In a politically charged atmosphere, such as the one that obtains in Delhi now, a wordsmith can use this tool to reach millions of people with his smart take on the events. Thus, an SMS presently doing the rounds says: “From Lal Salaam to Dalal Salaam, what a fall for Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh!”
It’s an apt commentary on the thoroughly opportunist manner in which the Congress president and the Prime Minister have attempted to save the Indo-US nuclear deal and also save their government. They might succeed, but at what cost — to the nation, to the Congress party and to the political culture in India?
The arrangement between the Congress and the Left had a certain political and moral legitimacy. The people’s verdict in the last parliamentary elections was clearly against the NDA government. Hence, it was legitimate on the part of the Congress, which had emerged as the largest single party, to stake claim to form the Government by creating a post-poll alliance. The Left parties chose to stay out of the UPA Government, but pledged their support to it on the basis of a mutually agreed common minimum programme (CMP). Hence came into being a stable government, headed by Dr Singh.
Why did this government become unstable? The answer to this question lies in the arrogant mindset of the Congress leadership. The country may well have and truly moved into the coalition era, but the Congress, which ran only one-party governments from Nehru to Narasimha Rao, continued to behave as if Dr Singh’s government was essentially a Congress government that could do all that it wanted. It forgot that it had less than 150 MPs in a House of 545, that even the UPA had no majority, that it headed what was essentially a minority coalition government that could claim to have the backing of more than 272 MPs only because of the outside support lent by the Left, and, finally, that the sole basis of the Left’s support was the CMP.
And the CMP had not a word about the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Nevertheless, the Sonia-Singh duo made the nuclear deal the most important priority for the UPA Government. When the Left objected, the Congress leadership resorted to the tactic of buying time by forming the UPA-Left committee under Pranab Mukherjee’s chairmanship. Whereas the Congress leadership’s conduct in the committee was dilatory, Prakash Karat and his comrades approached deliberations in the committee’s nine meetings between September 2007 and June 2008 with utmost seriousness. This can be seen in the excellent 203-page document that they released on Thursday, containing all the well-researched notes they exchanged with Pranabbabu and his colleagues.
If the Left had wanted, it could have withdrawn support to Dr Singh’s government a year ago, or in the course of the many deadlocked meetings of the committee. But it believed in the Prime Minister who had solemnly committed himself to “taking into account the findings of the committee before operationalisation of the nuclear deal”.
That solemn commitment was thrown to the winds, the moment the Congress was ready to ditch the Left and hitch its wagon to the Samajwadi Party with a cynical and sly deal. Whereas the Communist support to the UPA Government was legitimate, there is neither moral nor political legitimacy in the Congress-SP alliance. The unequivocal criticism of the nuclear deal by SP leaders inside Parliament, and the distasteful language they had used to attack the Congress leadership outside Parliament, are not hidden from anybody. Only a weak, visionless and desperate leadership of the Congress could have taken this shortcut to survival.
Democracy, however, is not only a numbers game. Its heart and soul lie in how honestly and transparently political leaders relate to the people and conduct amongst themselves. One never expected the Congress president to show her allegiance to the higher values of democracy. However, going by the Prime Minister’s conduct in the past week, I must painfully record that he, too, believes democracy to be merely an arithmetic exercise in which the support of requisite number of MPs can be secured through private deals enforced through institutional molestation.
Dr Singh has lost his credibility also because of the indecent haste with which his government approached the IAEA before proving its majority in Parliament. In doing so, it even violated a public commitment made by the Foreign Minister, who claimed that he was making that commitment after telephonically speaking to the Prime Minister, who was then in Japan. Dr Singh’s haste has shown that he is more interested in meeting the deadlines set by the political process in America and more keen on fulfilling his commitment to George Bush than in behaving in a trustworthy manner with the people of India. “Deceitful” is too strong a word to be used in democratic discourse. But it’s quite a feat that Dr Singh’s government earned this epithet from both the BJP and the Left when it first suppressed the draft safeguards agreement with the IAEA by calling it a “classified document” and, after it appeared on American websites, embarrassedly made it public in India. The PM should know that lies and legitimacy cannot go together.
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