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Home > News > Columnists > Saisuresh Sivaswamy

It's an attack on the prime ministership, no less

August 21, 2007

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What's worse than a loveless marriage? A loveless marriage that drags on for the sake of the children.

No one had any misgivings about the UPA-Left alliance completing a full five-year term, everyone knew they were just not 'natural allies'. No one had any misgivings that the end, when it came (not if), would be clean and clinical, either. It was bound to be a messy affair.

As the UPA government, now facing the prospect of becoming a lameduck, stutters along, it is clear that the two sides did not have a pre-nuptial agreement that could have prevented so much of the dirty linen being washed in public ('the honeymoon is over, but marriage can go on,' as the CPI-M's Prakash Karat said last week).

But what the two did have was a Common Minimum Programme, as did the National Democratic Alliance that preceded this government. Since the Left is protesting so much about the nuclear deal, it should be instructive to look at what exactly the two sides agreed upon in May 2004, especially in terms of foreign relations and energy resources, two areas the India-US nuclear deal spans.

The UPA's CMP has six basic principles for governance:

  • to preserve, protect and promote social harmony and to enforce the law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements who seek' to disturb social amity and peace.
  • to ensure that the economy grows at least 7-8% per year in a sustained manner over a decade and more and in a manner that generates employment so that each family is assured of a safe and viable livelihood.
  • to enhance the welfare and wellbeing of farmers, farm labour and workers, particularly those in the unorganised sector and assure a secure future for their families in every respect.
  • to fully empower women politically, educationally, economically and legally.
  • to provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.
  • to unleash the creative energies of our entrepreneurs, businessmen, scientists, engineers and all other professionals and productive forces of society.

The six points are unexceptionable -- and by stretching a point one can say the nuclear deal falls under the sixth point, to unleash India's creative energies.

On nuclear weapons, the CMP says:

The UPA government is committed to maintaining a credible nuclear weapons programme while at the same time it will evolve demonstrable and verifiable confidence-building measures with its nuclear neighbours. It will take a leadership role in promoting universal, nuclear disarmament and working for a nuclear weapons-free world.

And on energy security, which is where the nuclear deal comes from, this is what the CMP says:

The UPA government will immediately put in place policies to enhance the country's energy security particularly in the area of oil. Overseas investments in the hydrocarbon industry will be actively encouraged. An integrated energy policy linked with sustainable development will be put in place.

Note: There is no mention of nuclear energy either courtesy the US or by beefing up India's existing, indigenous atomic plants.

And on foreign policy, the CMP says:

The UPA government will pursue an independent foreign policy keeping in mind its past traditions. This policy will seek to promote multi-polarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism.

Even as it pursues closer engagement and relations with the USA, the UPA government will maintain the independence of India's foreign policy position on all regional and global issues. The UPA is committed to deepening ties with Russia [Images] and Europe as well.

The CMP, clearly, was drawn in the first flush of the NDA's ouster in 2004; no one excepted it to lose, and no one expected the UPA/Congress to win, least of all Congressmen. Given that it must have been drawn up hastily, the CMP is silent on the changing geopolitical scenario; the US, with whom Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] has been doing an awesome tango since then, merits just one sentence, almost dismissively.

If this document is meant to govern the UPA government's actions, the Left has enough reason and more to cry foul, although the government leaves itself elbowroom with A Final Word:

It is, by no means, a comprehensive agenda. It is a starting point that highlights the main priorities, policies and programmes.

Let's leave the Left alone and turn to the BJP, whose contortions over the nuclear deal surprises me more than anything else. I can understand the Left's motivations for opposing the deal, they come from an ideological angle, however ossified it may be. But the BJP, which started the entire process of warming up to the US -- and through it to Israel -- to go hammer and tongs at the nuclear deal, which is in effect a culmination of what Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh began, smacks of sheer hypocrisy.

I think the Congress party, given its traditional antipathy towards the US -- perceived or real -- stood a better chance of getting a better deal for India from Washington, DC, than the BJP, which was quite eager to break with the past as represented by the Congress's legacy.

Just as the NDA benefited from the Congress's economic liberalisation of 1991, the Congress benefited from the NDA's embrace of Washington, DC.

Given this, let's see what the NDA's own CMP said about energy security, external affairs etc.

To start with, of course, the NDA in 2004 called it the Agenda for Development, Good Governance, Peace and Harmony (in 1999 it was the 'Agenda for Proud, Prosperous India').

On energy security: Energy security will continue to be a key objective of our foreign policy. Therefore, we will intensify our efforts to establish suitable alliances to secure access to new energy sources around the world. Could the last line be a hint at the developing of the nuclear deal with the US? The BJP made history when broke the ice with the US, it was expected to come back to power in 2004, and it is not improbable that the nuclear deal was first mentioned to it before elections came in its way.

On relations with the US: Broaden and deepen our multi-dimensional relations with USA.

It is clear, there is nothing in the NDA's agenda of 2004 that can put it in opposition to the Nuclear Deal, and everything to support it!

As I said, at least the Left is impelled by its ideology and obeisance to China to oppose the nuclear deal, but the BJP is doing so purely for political reasons. You can argue that the main Opposition party cannot be expected to support the government, but since the BJP has always made a big show of principles, perhaps it is time for it to show that when it comes to national interest it is capable of rising above partisan considerations.

For the question is coming down to one of national interest. Guided by ideological moorings the Left may be, but what it is attempting to do is nothing short of imposing its worldview on the government of the day. The Left found nothing wrong with the time when India was no better than a vassal state of the USSR; the Left finds nothing wrong with the China-Pakistan axis that puts India in peril; but a pragmatic deal with the US that pitches India into a different league gives our comrades indigestion and insomnia.

It is their prerogative as the supporting party to decide the breaking point with the govenrment, just as the Congress party itself did in 1979 with Charan Singh, in 1990 with Chandra Shekhar, and again in 1997-1998 with H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral.

But for Dr Manmohan Singh, it is no more a simple issue of putting the nation's prestige before the world at large at risk, or anything like that.

What the Left has mounted is a serious attack on the prime ministership of India (that they can have no real feelings for the architect of India's economic reforms is added ammo for them), his authority to conduct the affairs of his government in the manner he deems fit.

Since the time he assumed office Dr Singh has had to endure taunts that while he may be the prime minister, the reins of the government were controlled by Sonia Gandhi [Images]. But if he blinks in the latest crisis facing his government, he will have rolled back the prime minister's authority and damaged the institution forever.

Share your thoughts with me at sai@rediff.co.in. And if you'd like to read more of me, visit my blog: http://saisureshsivaswamy.rediffblogs.com


Saisuresh Sivaswamy




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