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'No elections please'

August 20, 2007 11:55 IST
What do ordinary people think of the political crisis in New Delhi? Do they believe the Communists are correct in opposing the India-US nuclear deal? Do they think the nuclear deal is good for the country? Do they believe India is ready for a mid-term poll? Do they think the prime minister will resign and be replaced by someone else?

rediff.com correspondents spoke to Indians around the country to find out what they think.

***

Bhavya Phadnis, political science student, Bangalore:

The Left threat is not justified one bit. The Left comprises politicians after all and each one is out there addressing their own selfish interests. If the Left really cared so much about the country, then it would have handed out this threat, before the government signed the pact with the US. Why did it not create any fuss at that time? What is the point in creating so much trouble now, when it is too late?

These actions of the Left only make me grow more and more suspicious about their intentions. How can they threaten a government? Don't they realise that they have caused so much turmoil that the government is unable to function? They should try and sort out the issue in a diplomatic manner. Doesn't the Left realise that holding a government to ransom is as good as holding the entire country to a ransom?

Going by what our prime minister has to say, I feel that the nuclear deal is good for the country. Frankly speaking I am not too sure about the finer details of the deal. All I can say is that a pact with the US is the best thing for India.

I firmly believe that this world revolves around the theory, 'It is not who you are, but it is who you know.'

Having the US as an ally is the only way to keep our troublesome neighbours quiet. About India not being able to conduct a nuclear test due to this deal should also not be too much of a worry to us. The world knows that we are a nuclear power and there is no need to go on showing to the world our nuclear capabilities. Moreover we have the US, the most powerful nation on our side, thanks to this deal and that should make all the difference.

Our only direct threat is from Pakistan. But with the US on our side, I am sure that even Pakistan will not have the courage to attack us.

On the economic front too we stand to gain on this deal. There is a huge requirement for Uranium in our country. From whatever little I know, I am sure India will be able to cater to this need (Uranium) thanks to this deal. The deal is in the national interest.

No elections please. There is a huge expenditure involved and we as a nation cannot afford it. If at all we go in for elections and another government is elected, then it too will have no choice but to go ahead with the deal. So what difference will it make? For the past eight years we have seen some kind of stability at the Centre and I hope it remains that way.

Work in the country has to go on and in case elections are declared then we can forget about development for the next six months. Can we afford that?

Dr Singh should stay where he is. We need a prime minister like him and replacing him will be suicidal. As I said earlier, there is not much anyone can do at this stage regarding the nuclear deal. Hence replacing Dr Singh will not be a wise decision.

Moreover, our prime minister is an honest man and I feel that he is the only person who has a vision for India. I would rate him on par with Dr Abdul Kalam who had a vision for India and not a vision for himself. We cannot afford to lose such a good prime minister.

I know for a fact that there must be people in the Congress waiting to grab power from Dr Singh and they must be behind the Left.

But let us pray that Dr Singh continues in power as he is the only person at this stage who can carry this country forward.

***

Krishna Bandyopadhyay, social activist and community worker, Kolkata

I wholeheartedly support the Left's stand on the nuclear deal with the US. India should never ever agree to such a demeaning deal. There are so many problems in our country. And a deal of this nature will only aggravate them. The Left should have taken the issue up long before. However, it's better late than never.

It's time the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance washed their hands of the matter. Going for the deal will be like selling our souls to the US. As it is, India tops the list of terror attacks and an agreement of this nature will make India the hottest target for terrorists.

Moreover, has any one thought of the environmental hazards that the deal will bring in? India does not have the infrastructure and capability to counter it.

What if the Left withdraws support and we are bound to have a mid-term election? I don't think Indians, neither politicians nor civilians, are prepared for one. Also, an election can never be the solution.

Ideally, Dr Manmohan Singh should give into the Left's demand. Else, he must step down. But I don't see any suitable replacement. Pranab Mukherjee may not fit into the prime minister's position.

***

G Krishnan, economist-turned-farmer-activist, Karukutti, Kerala

When a country signs an agreement like the 123 deal with another country, it has to look at the rules of that country too. Ultimately, it has got to be some kind of a compromise. There will be some conditions which you may not like. For example, the Hyde Act is binding on the American government and the American president. So, I feel the 123 deal is the best India can hope for but it need not be good for India in the long run. I am not saying that this is in the interests of the country.

For a country like India, in order to take care of the development requirements, you have to go in for nuclear energy. Once you decide that, the 123 deal is probably the only option because all our nuclear programs are lagging behind and despite all our efforts, the progress which we have been making through the self reliance process has been very slow. We also have problems with uranium, thorium fuel. So, we have to get it from abroad and America has much better technology than we have.

So, once you take a decision in favour of nuclear energy, this is probably inevitable and probably the best deal one can hope for. But let me say again that in the larger or long term interest of the country, this is not good.

The Left used to be principled in the earlier years. They may be right or wrong but at least the top leadership had commitment and a sense of dedication. Today, the Left is just like any other political party. I feel now, they want to make political mileage out of this deal.

The Left is not realistic and they always had an anti-US stand. But there is also some substance in what they say. If you consider the international political scene, India does not have an option. Unless America pushes the Nuclear Suppliers Group, they will not oblige and we will not get nuclear fuel. So, you have to take the American route, not because America is a virtuous country or anything like that.

At this point, the Left really do not mind pulling out. But I feel some sort of compromise will be worked out because elections are scheduled only after 18 months. If this had happened 6 or 8 months down the line, they would have pulled out, but not now.

Moreover, even if you go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, that will be a long process and it may take a couple of years. So, there might be some stalling tactics.

To the question whether Manmohan Singh mislead Parliament, I would say what Manmohan Singh said in Parliament was only a half truth. The truth is you have the right to test but if you do the testing, they will pull out. No way has the agreement said that India had no right to test. That way, what he said is correct.

At the same time, if we do that, they will terminate the agreement and they will take away whatever fuel and whatever equipment they have supplied and they have to be compensated for the loss.

As we are a nuclear nation, I don't think there is a need for any further tests unless our scientists are not confident about what we have achieved.

Personally, I am against India's closeness to the US and probably the people who take the policy decisions are also aware of the consequences. But in the present context where you have a unipolar world, probably we are left with very little choice. America is not concerned about India or anybody else. Nobody really trusts America.

Every nation is governed by its own self interests. We are also bothered about our commercial interests; all the BPOs and the IT sector are booming only because of America. Our approach or closeness to America is based upon business interests.

Our foreign policy will be the same whoever comes to power. We will try to have close relationship with the United States, at the same time try to be close to Russia, China, Japan, etc. I don't see any major shift in the foreign policy in the future.

Hereafter, the foreign policy of the country will be dictated by business interests only. This was started in the 1990s with the new international order and globalisation. Economic factors will drive foreign policy today rather than geographical considerations or power blocs or cold wars.

***

Navkesh Batra, senior advocate, Bangalore

I feel the Left is completely unjustified in its actions. Having enjoyed the spoils of powers for 40 months and having backseat driven for so long, at this stage, the threat of the Left is absolutely unwarranted and not in the interest of the nation. It is not as if this deal was negotiated yesterday. The Left was well aware of all the negotiations and the direction in which the deal was moving. It is true they made empty noises on and off, but it was there for all to see that their opposition was only formal.

The Left has all along been primarily union based and hence have this inherent ability to hold people to ransom either by calling for flash strikes or bandhs, make fantastic demands and finally settle for something much lower. It has ruined industry in the bargain. Look at Kerala and Bengal.

But after having backseat driven for 40 months, they have now decided to ruin the country. The Left says it was not informed. But are they part of the government? They themselves opted to stay out of government.

Does India need the nuclear deal? Most certainly, yes. It is going to serve a national need for uranium, which is required to meet the country's energy requirement. Taking into consideration the growth exponential of industry, the huge infrastructure projects, rising GDP, globalisation, the economy and rising aspirations of the citizens of India, the deal is very much the need of the hour.

We are usually deficient in energy production. If we do not produce more energy quickly, it will have disastrous impact and not only arrest and inhibit growth, but also reverse the growth into negative growth. Therefore the deal is absolutely necessary.

Dr Singh has gone on record and said that George Bush has been one of India's best friends. From early 2008, George Bush will not be playing any role in the deal and if it is not signed by then, the chances are that the hawks will prevail and the advantageous deal structured by India will also not be available.

We have managed to bag the deal from the US without signing the NPT (nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty). This is a reflection of the US trust in the Indian polity and that we are a responsible nation.

Áre we ready for mid-term polls? I don't think we are at this stage. We do not need to increase the arrack sales nor do we need to pump in crores of unaccounted money for the elections. Plus, the country is doing well in the last few years and the political instability will rock the boat.

Most probably a hung Parliament will be returned and the so-called honeymoon between the Left and the Congress, which is now over, will have to be revived.

Better they save the country the agony and needless, wasteful expense and sit across the table and address the concerns.

Dr Singh is one of the best prime ministers the country has had till date. A visionary with unimpeachable integrity, he is the best bet for India. Why should he resign? The entire deal while it was being negotiated was very transparent and he is not responsible for a flip flop by others and hence his resignation on moral grounds does not arise.

On the other hand his resignation would result in political chaos, instability and loss of face for the country internationally.

In the future no country would have the confidence in negotiating any treaty with India because it would always cite this nuclear deal as a reason why they cannot have confidence in India.

Why are we talking about a replacement for Dr Singh? Is there a choice? I don't think so. Dr Singh should continue in the interest of the country.

***

Archana Roy, homemaker, Kolkata

I think the Left parties' stand on the nuclear deal is nothing but an attempt to gain political mileage. They want to prove a point to Dr Manmohan Singh -- they have muscles to flex. Had they been actually concerned about the nation, they would surely have done something to force the government cut down inflation.

India should never have gone ahead with the deal in the first place. Now that they have, it has put India in a tight spot. Personally, I think India cannot afford to have a deal of this kind. There are hundreds of other problems to address. Why should India invite more trouble by opting for this deal?

The government could delay approaching the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group by a few months -- before the deal goes to the US Congress for vote. With Bush's term ending in January 2009, our government will survive and the deal is ineffective.

At least such a stand will prevent a mid-term poll. India is not in a position to have a mid-term election. Hence, the government has to buy time to avert it.

However, delaying the deal will tamper Dr Manmohan Singh's image a lot and he would not have any other option but to resign. At the moment, I don't see any replacement for him -- Pranab Mukherjee in his chair would be a disaster.

Given the choice, I would suggest President's rule for one year. Let things improve a bit and then one can think of an election.

***

Deepak Shetty, builder, Mangalore

The Left has been assigned to play an important role by the people of the country. If the present numbers in Parliament are an indication, then the people of India have cast upon the Left the important duty of being a watchdog. The Left has on principle not joined the government but yet to keep out fascist and communal forces supported this government from the outside.

All along the Left has been complaining about this government's tilt towards the US, its anti-worker and anti-people economic policies and the needless opening up of the economy in the name of globalisation.

The government has ignored the concerns of the Left and thought that it could carry on merrily without taking the Left into confidence and or structuring its policies to accommodate the views of the Left.

The prime minister dared the Left to withdraw support when he should have been canvassing the government's view. This only means that either the prime minister has no answer to the issues raised by the Left or has scant regard for a large number of Parliamentarians. The Left is fully justified and should withdraw support.

The nuclear deal is the last thing we need. We are a sovereign nation. We cannot have our sovereignty trampled over by a foreign nation. Joint military exercises and nuclear submarines docking in Indian ports, inspection of nuclear facilities are not things which are acceptable to India and her interests. We have the talent and the resources to develop other unconventional sources of energy. So there is no point in depending on the US.

Áre we ready for mid-term polls? If that is the only solution then so be it. At the moment, it seems to be the best solution available. I agree there will be a lot of money that will be spent on the election. But it has happened so many times in the past.

This time around it is serious and we cannot let a government which has sold the interest of the nation continue in power. Spending some money on re-elections is any day better than allowing this government to continue in power. Anyway, what is the point in having this government?

Thanks to the turmoil all developmental works have come to a halt. We have a major problem here regarding the re-laying of a road. But our MP is too busy in New Delhi thanks to this issue. There is no one else we can approach as he himself has to release the funds.

Dr Singh has been a pretty good prime minister, but on the nuclear issue, he has gone so far without keeping in mind Indian interest or Indian sentiment. If the deal is pushed through it will be compromising the interest of the country. If it does not go through, it will still be a major embarrassment for the country and in future it will be very difficult for his successor or succeeding government to enter into treaties with other countries as the credibility of the Indian polity will be lost.

All this responsibility must rest squarely on Dr Singh's shoulders. The question of a replacement does not crop up. This government itself has to go as both the prime minister as well as his Cabinet colleagues have fooled the nation.

***

Shyamala Rao, housewife, Mysore

Does the Left think it can ruin this country? It makes no sense to see the way in which they are behaving. How can they hold a government to ransom?

I can understand if the BJP was making all the noise about the handling of the nuclear deal. But the Left helped Congress form the government and it is very unfortunate that they are behaving like this.

When the petrol prices shot up, they just shouted a few slogans here and there and then kept quiet. What about the SEZ issue? They proclaim that they are protectors of the poor, but what are they doing about it. It seems to me that they just want to be in the limelight and setting the stage for the next election.

The Left knows for sure that if they withdraw support the government will fall and India will have to spend millions of rupees on elections. Let them debate the issue in the right spirit instead of talking of honeymoons and marriages.

From what I learnt, the nuclear deal cannot be re-negotiated. So what is the point in making everybody's life miserable?

Frankly speaking, I do not know much about the deal. My husband, who is a bank manager, told me that India will stand to gain in terms of energy. If that is the case, then the deal is helpful to us and it should come through. Our prime minister has assured us that the deal is good for India. I am sure he cannot afford to lie in Parliament. I am going by his word.

Personally speaking, I feel that any kind of affiliation with the US is good. It will at least keep Pakistan quiet and they will not play the fool with us as we are close to the US. All these years Pakistan had an advantage over us, because our relations were not good with the US.

But if this deal comes through, then there will be a long standing relationship between India and the US, which will be good in terms of security for the country.

It seems as though I came back from the polling booth only a few days back. The thought of another election irritates me no end. Just because one or two persons in Delhi want to prove a point, why should the entire country suffer? There is so much expenditure involved in our election process and can the country afford elections. It is just not fair for the people of the country.

If the Left pulls down the government, they should bear the cost for the elections. Moreover the entire election process is irritating, with candidates coming begging for votes, loudspeakers on 24 hours, alcohol being supplied through out the day. All this is bearable only once in five years.

So the question of an election is a big NO in my view.

Dr Singh is the best bet for prime minister as he is a clean and well behaved politician. The accusation against him that he had lied on the nuclear deal is a bunch of lies in itself. I don't think any prime minister and especially Dr Singh will have the courage to lie about such a big issue.

Why should he resign? What wrong has he done? He has only acted in the interest of the country. Dr Singh especially has only thought of the future of the country. So I am sure that it will be no different when it comes to the nuclear deal too. Replacing him will be the biggest blunder. There is none in the Congress who can replace him. I was so happy when he became prime minister. This country can dream of a future only with people like Dr Singh at the helm of affairs. All others in the Congress are true politicians and will put themselves ahead of the nation.

***

Shyam Sundar, teacher, government primary school, Bidadi, Bangalore rural district

I am thankful that the Left has finally woken up. There were a lot of expectations from the Left when it supported the government. They failed to make a noise when the government hiked the petrol prices and also on the SEZ issue, but now thankfully they are opposing the deal.

I feel that the Left has every reason to be bitter about the deal. They were kept in the dark through out and the prime minister even had the cheek to dare them to withdraw support. This was not the song the Congress sang when they sought the support of the Left to form the government.

It is not as though the Left came out one fine day and decided that it was time to end the honeymoon with the Congress. They had sought details of the deal several times, but the Congress decided to keep quiet. The Left is acting in the interest of the country and it is human tendency to threaten or get upset when someone you have helped in the past turns round and stabs you on the back.

At no cost should we go ahead with the nuclear deal with the US. As a common man I am not fully aware of what the deal has to offer to us. All I know that is the US will not enter into a deal unless it has more benefits.

Moreover, the US has not insisted upon us signing the NPT. This itself makes it look suspect. All I know is that we cannot conduct any nuclear tests. If we test then the deal will be called of. What sort of an agreement is this?

We have terrible neighbours like Pakistan, China and Bangladesh who will pounce on us at any given time. Hence, there is a need to be able to show of our military strength. But this deal puts a curb on us testing, which puts India at a disadvantage.

The deal makes us dependent on the US, which according to me is a dangerous sign. Look at the manner in which the US interferes in Pakistan. Does India have to go the Pakistan way?

Although, it is not feasible and there is too much expenditure involved in it, a mid-terms election seems to be the only way out. There is too much political instability in New Delhi and the country cannot afford that. Thanks to this issue, all our ministers are too busy trying to save the government as a result of which there is no work which is going on.

The last thing we need is political instability at the Centre. The people have a right to have a stable government and hence the only way that could be achieved is by going in for elections and voting for a single largest party.

Dr Manmohan Singh has sealed the fate of this nation. He may have tried to enter into a pact with the US in the country's interest, but the entire thing went haywire. It is very evident; he allowed himself and his government to be bullied by the US. Why did he not discuss the deal with all those in Parliament? If not a public debate, all the MPs should have been consulted.

The truth about the nuclear deal especially that part which does not permit India to test has come out in the open only now. Dr Singh has lied in Parliament and of late he is talking rubbish. It is better that he steps down and saves the country of further embarrassment.

The question of a replacement does not arise over here. Do you think Pranab Mukharjee will be any better? They were all aware of what was happening and yet decided to remain silent. Hence, it is best we go in for fresh polls and change this government which has betrayed us so badly.

***

Tathagata Bandyopadhyay, senior lecturer in English, Bangabashi College, Kolkata

There is no question of my supporting the stand taken by the Left parties on the nuclear deal issue. I think it is nothing but a political tamasha. The Left parties are protesting more out of their age-old anti-US stance than anything else. All that they want is to highlight their political standing.

I think the Left parties are playing a pre-destined game. Neither would they withdraw support from the government (as they would then have to shake hands with BJP), nor would the government fall. Things would be sorted out soon. Therefore, the question of a mid-term poll doesn't arise at all.

I think India's withdrawal from the deal now would spell doom for its ties with the US. It just can't afford to do so. The Left parties should have raised a hue and cry long before. Why are they crying foul so late?

As a prime minister, I have nothing against Dr Manmohan Singh but I feel he should get rid of his 'to be or not to be' approach and should be more assertive. However, if he needs to resign amid the present political upheaval, it would be difficult to find a replacement. Will Pranab Mukherjee fit into his shoes? I am not too sure.

Interviews conducted by Shobha Warrier, Indrani Mitra Roy, Vicky Nanjappa