Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Congress' Complete Surrender
What was supposed to be the Manmohan Singh’s day in the sun has turned out to become the albatross that will mar his CV in the years to come. The Indo-US nuclear deal was championed by Singh as a policy initiative that would have addressed India’ energy needs while at the same time give it parity and due recognition in the emerging world order. Having backed the deal to the hilt the prime minister faced down the entire opposition and the Left in a sincere show of his ‘progressive’ credentials. Ultimately, the turn of events has not only left the UPA in disarray, with the allies becoming more powerful than the principal Congress party, it has dented irreversibly the standing of Singh on the Indian political sphere. The rhetoric that caught the nation’s fancy turned out to be little else but rhetoric. The nation thought that here we have a sincere man ready to forsake power and the prime ministerial position for the larger national interest. However, forcibly or consciously, the prime minister has left a nation amazed and disappointed and a government that is looking like a lame duck regime.

The virtual U-turn by the prime minister has been projected as pragmatic politics by many sympathetic analysts. They argue that Singh gave up on the deal in order to salvage the government and thereby ensured that India did not get rattled by a mid-term election. It is the same analysts who till recently lauded the prime minister for being a technocrat rather than a seasoned politician, which they argued added to his appeal and marked a break from the wheeling-dealings of power politics that we have become accustomed to. While the argument holds certain merits, there is certainly no arguing the fact that by backing off from the deal, Manmohan Singh has proven himself to be just another politician. One who does not want to shake the boat unnecessarily as long as the continuity of his regime is ensured. That the deal has its demerits is well documented and appreciated, however, if these demerits were so important that it meant a public reversal from backing the deal, then why did the prime minister back the deal for the past year? If he was genuinely interested in the concerns of the Left should he have not taken a more conciliatory approach to the matter in public? If deals of supposed national interests can be sacrificed at the altar of coalition dharma, was it not prudent on the government to make the nation aware of it prior to having signed on the dotted line? And lastly, if indeed the decisions of this government are taken at 10 Janpath and not by 7 Race Course Road, does the prime minister not worry about what sort of sycophantic legacy he is leaving behind?

The UPA wanted to prolong the life of the Manmohan regime to ensure that some of its policy initiatives for the aam admi show impact before calling for elections. This is why a slew of initiatives have been launched for the rural sector which includes life and health insurance for the unorganized sector along with packages for drought affected farmers. The UPA allies fear that the public may not take to the ineffectual three and half years of the UPA too kindly. Scams like Bofors and the great Quattarochi escape, Volcker and the wheat import fiasco coupled with the charge of minority appeasement and being soft on terror will not show well on the three year report card. While the markets maybe booming, inflation and price rise have hit the public psyche negatively. Ram Sethu, Sonia Gandhi’s power behind the throne charge amongst issues like tainted ministers will definitely bolster the opposition’s UPA chargesheet. The UPA knows this and they had no option but to sacrifice a deal that seemed to be opposed by the majority of parliamentarians in order to devote the time till 2009 for showing some results on the ground. The Congress has already given the credit for the National Rural Guarantee Scheme and its further expansion to the Gandhi clan, further they have made the Right to Information sound like the brainwork of Sonia Gandhi, that left only the nuclear deal to the prime minister’s credit. Since there is no backing from the deal that bears the stamp of approval of 10 Janpath, the nuclear deal was the convenient scapegoat. The Congress realizes that by backing the deal and thereby the prime minister they are putting their hopes on a leader who will have no political standing post 2009. And in such a scenario losing a government on the basis of a compromise candidate prime minister seemed foolhardy. And hence, one saw the complete capitulation of the Congress on the nuclear deal. What Manmohan Singh was left with was brickbats and ridicule.

Can the good doctor redeem himself to the nation or is his political epitaph all but written. One feels that the prime minister knows that he has lost all moral authority over this government. Any initiative that he takes today may not enjoy the support of a skeptical nation, who might fear a repeat U-turn on any new initiatives that may come under criticism from its allies. What matters in the end is that the Congress has provided its version of coalition dharma – crawl when you are asked to bend.

Monday, October 08, 2007

UPA - Left: The gloves are off
The game of ‘blink’manship that has paralyzed the UPA coalition is gathering pace with both sides hardening their stance on the Indo-US nuclear deal. With only days to go before the IAEA chief Mohammed El-Baradei’s visit to India, both sides have been firing at each other, and this time no one seems to be calling it a case of friendly fire. The Congress party’s stand on the nuclear deal seems to have considerably hardened with Sonia Gandhi’s two public comments both in India and in the US. Gandhi, while addressing a gathering of NRI’s and PIO’s in New York, made it clear that the government is more or less clear on going ahead with the deal and more crucially, the opposition to the deal by the Left should not be given too much weight age. Clearly, while she was addressing a different audience and a global audience at that, she also must have calculated the impact her statement would have in the national political scenario. Her New York address cleared two things. One, she indicated to the Bush administration that the deal will go ahead and two, that once back home the stand will remain unambiguous, even if it means a head on collision with the Left.

Sonia Gandhi’s other statement while addressing a rally in Haryana was sharper and more confrontational. She termed those opposed to the nuclear deal as enemies of development and progress. The target here seems to be the Left more than the BJP, who have played down the issue post the Ram Sethu controversy. The BJP is watching the nuclear deal from the sidelines, hoping, that the internal contradictions between the allies will ultimately lead to the end of the Manmohan Singh led government. The Left was equally scathing in its reply and this sharp hardening of the Left’s stance doesn’t bode well for the life of the UPA. The UPA-Left’s committee to thrash out the differences on the nuke deal is a farce. Both sides know this, yet both sides want this committee to play out this charade hoping the other side will blink first. This sort of inertia that has set into this government is highly avoidable, with uncertainty only acting as a more destabilizing influence for the country, this while the political parties are looking at personal electoral interests.

The internal contradictions on the nuclear deal are beyond repair. The Left will settle for nothing less than an end to this deal. While the Congress, wants the 123 agreement and the safeguards agreement to be passed as thrashed out by diplomats on both sides. The Congress formed this committee with the pretext of buying time so that they could get a safeguards agreement with the IAEA and an exempt from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of countries. Congress’ media machinery have adamantly stated that the time for this deal is running out and with a new US president to be in the White House by early 2009, the deal might get stalled forever. Congress Party’s Kapil Sibal has made the media rounds vocally advocating the supremacy of the 123 agreement over the controversial Hyde Act to allay the fears of the Left. But this attempt too proved futile. The Left has not budged from its opposition to the deal and in such a scenario Sonia Gandhi’s statements seem to signal a “knives are out strategy”.

The only thing that is truly holding back this alliance from coming apart is the fact that neither side wants to be seen as having handed the Indian electorate a mid term election. The Left would secretly welcome Gandhi’s statement as it indicates to them that Gandhi’s patience is running out and if she pulls the plug, they can claim to be the innocent lambs who wanted to save the country from US imperialism. The Congress is testing the limits of the Left by actively wooing the IAEA and seeing when exactly the Left will call its bluff. And herein lies the tragedy of this entire farce. The nation is waiting for a clear view on where this government is heading. And if indeed this alliance is over, then the country needs an adequate notice to make up its mind on whom to vote for in the event of an election. The Left and the UPA would want to buy more time at least till early next year when it can see electoral results in Gujarat and with a safeguards agreement in place. Either way, the bottom-line is clear, the days of this asymmetrical alliance are over and elections are now months away. It also could well mean and end to the nuclear deal and thereby cooling of relations between the US and India. To that account it’s a win -win for the Left. But one gets the feeling that in the event of a mid-term election the Left will not be laughing for long. The UPA is dead, long live the UPA.