Tuesday, July 1, 2008

NUCLEAR DEAL POLITICS: SINGH IS KINNG

The endless politicking on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, signed by the Government of India, eyes wide open, in 2005, has delayed its operationalisation to a point beyond which the deal will be as good as dead.

Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were never in doubt that they would find it well nigh impossible to cobble up sufficient numbers in Parliament to keep the government going unless the Left, India’s commies, had a change of heart and went along with the government. The almost fatal mistake they made was believing that they could wear down the commies and get them to shed their visceral ideology based hatred to anything which spells US. That belief led to blunders for which the Congress has paid and will continue to pay a heavy price.

Just before the 2007 UP elections, the Congress dumped its ally, the Samajwadi Party(SP), discovering suddenly that it was a party of ruffians who were running a “goonda raj” in the state. The adjectives used by Congressmen those days for the SP were worse than below the belt stuff. In that one stroke of political foolishness, the party lost the support of 39 MPs, making it even more critically dependent on the commies. Congressmen somehow seemed to have totally forgotten that they and the commies were at the opposite ends of an irreconcilable ideological divide, and that the farcical temporary marriage of permanent political foes was based solely on their mutual hatred for the BJP.

What made the Congress take that disastrous road? As I had written in an earlier post too, the induction of Rahul Gandhi into UP politics and his decision to actively campaign for the Congress as its star campaigner made the party feel, thanks to an army of disconnected Family sycophants, that the party would dramatically improve its position in the state and emerge king maker, without whose support, no party would be able to rule.

When Mayawati emerged Empress on her own, surprising all and shocking many, the Congress started sucking up to her, with the initial objective of getting her support to get its Presidential candidate safely home. Then itself I had warned that Mayawati’s hug was the hug of death from which the Congress would emerge the loser. That realisation came a bit too late, after the Congress had suffered a series of defeats in various state elections, with the BSP eating critically into its dalit vote bank.

In another dramatic volte face in under a year, the Congress then started attacking Mayawati, cutting short the honeymoon and all but terminating the marriage. The final act was completed when on June 21, 2008, Mayawati, formally withdrew support to the ruling alliance. That took out 17 more MPs from Manmohan’s kitty.

The signs of a rapprochement between the Congress and the SP were visible as early as March this year, though both parties denied it then. The Congress had then itself quietly started preparing for the worst case scenario of the commies sticking to their guns on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and withdrawing support to the government. The SP with 39 MPs is the biggest group that can help bail the government out once the commies and their 59 MPs formally walk out in a few days from now. If the SP plays ball, mustering the support of a few more MPs and strategically ensuring the absence/abstention of some more should not prove to be difficult task for the Congress.

In this scenario, Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement that the he sees the deal going through but does not see elections is not a wild shot of sentimental hope.

For perhaps the first time in India’s history, the ruling party/coalition and its supporters from outside are mortally afraid of facing elections even a day before the full term expires. Nobody, including the implacable commies wants elections now. Those in or on the periphery of power don’t want to lose even a day of heady power and the goodies it provides.

This across the board unwillingness to go to the people is actually the strongest weapon that this government has for mustering enough support to get the deal through. Only the commies, no matter how much they may not want elections, will not give in. Since they are stuck hopelessly in a dead-ideology trap, they cannot afford to be seen shedding it overnight just for power, particularly when it involves the US. Therefore, when it finally comes to the real crunch of defeating the government in Parliament on the nuclear deal, or as a consequence of it, you can bet that the government will manage to sail through.

In India, the power of greed can always be exploited and should never be underestimated.

Of course, the Congress will have to pay a heavy price to the SP whose support is critical. Who will be the real loser in this opportunistic, immoral and confused alliance? The answer is no different from the one about an alliance with Mayawati. The key question is: With a vote share of only about 8 per cent in UP, does the Congress have a choice? Watch this space.

A few words about the BJP. Support or otherwise of the BJP to the deal would have made no difference to the government’s chances of survival once the Left withdrew support. That is where the BJP made two terrible blunders.

That party would have grabbed such a deal gleefully had it been in power. But, since it was the Congress government led by Dr Manmohan Singh which managed to bag the deal, the BJP lost its larger sense of national responsibility and dived into the overflowing putrid stream of petty politics that has been the hallmark of India’s democracy for a long time now. The unstated reason for the BJP’s opposition to the deal was and is to deny Manmohan Singh the opportunity to ‘make history’ with this unique deal that has been offered only to India. Its inability to place national interest above petty political gamesmanship was the BJP’s first blunder. Admittedly, in India, we hardly talk on these lines yet; the BJP had a golden chance to be seen rising above the muck, but blew it. It is too late to start saying that the party will renegotiate certain provisions of the deal when it comes to power. That could and should have been said much earlier, and the deal supported.

The second blunder was its failure to realise that had it gone along with the government last year when it tried to take “the sense of the House” on the deal, it would have isolated the commies almost completely, dealing a political blow that the commies would not have recovered from for perhaps half a century. More importantly, with the deal through and the commies exposed and isolated in their withdrawal of support to the government, the Congress government may well have fallen subsequently at any time on an unexpected, even trivial issue, forcing the early elections that the BJP has been wanting.

The Indo-US Nuclear Deal is all but through. It is the triumph of Dr Manmohan Singh. He has stood up tall and firm despite an almost calumnious assault launched against him by some media barons, questioning his integrity, his legitimacy to take decisions, his disregard for electoral outcomes, his not paying heed to Sonia Gandhi who put him in the PM’s chair, his callousness in disregarding high inflation and concentrating on the deal which may not mean much to the common man etc.

The commies deserve kudos for at least sticking to their beliefs, however one may disagree with them. Surprisingly, their rigid and uncompromising stand against the deal has not drawn the kind of adverse reaction that Manmohan’s perseverance in pushing it through has, at least in some sections of the media. That is something which will baffle anybody trying to make a sense of what the hell is happening in this peculiar cauldron of India’s politics.

On July 03, 2008, the United National Progressive Alliance(UNPA), that includes Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP, will meet to finalise its stand on the nuclear deal. As is already evident, that meeting will bring the deal one critical step closer to finalisation. Then, on July 08, Dr Manmohan Singh will proceed to G-8 summit a taller, more confident Prime Minister of a billion plus people, a man who can speak his own voice. As indeed he should, no matter how he has got to the chair where the buck finally stops.

At that summit, world leaders will have no hesitation in agreeing that the erudite, soft-spoken Dr Manmohan has, finally, proved that ‘Singh is Kingg'.