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The Rediff Special/ Krishna Prasad

What if the parties had not issued a whip?

July 18, 2008

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Krishna Prasad glances at the events leading to the political dharamyuddh on Tuesday:

Four days to go, and there is still no clarity on which way the trust-vote will go. At least not on TV. The 9 O'clock news contradicts the 8 pm prime, which will no doubt be smothered by Business Breakfast.

"Close call..." "Touch and go...", "Nosing ahead..."

The racecourse terminology has an eerie echo with the horse-trading that is supposedly taking place. And with the stable owners cracking the "whip" on the mute but not necessarily dumb animals, the comparison is complete.

But here's a counterfactual question: What would the fate of the Indo-US nuclear deal have been if individual Members of Parliament were allowed to vote as guided by their conscience -- not as their parties are dictating, warning, bullying, threatening them to?

Is an MP's loyalty worth only Rs 25 crore?

Would all Congress MPs have been voting for the deal?

Would all the BJP and Left members have been against it?

Would the government led by a man from the "House of States" have earned the trust and faith of 272 representatives from the "House of the People" to go ahead?

These are hypothetical questions, of course, but there are some cheap thrills to be had in imagining the possibilities. Because, barely a fortnight ago, the nuclear debate was being framed differently. It was about transparency, technology, "national interest".

But as we approach the middle of the nuclear end-game -- or the end of the nuclear middle-game, depending on whether you are buyer, seller or broker -- it is plainly obvious that it is no longer about any of that.

It's about ego, survival, self-interest and an iota of ideology.

Which is why wondering how our MPs would have voted if they were free to vote as they wished -- or as "We, the People" would wish them -- becomes interesting in the context of a deal that is supposed to provide our bijli and through it our sadak, roti and broadband.

At his meeting with editors in Delhi on Wednesday, according to one television channel, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] is supposed to have hinted that all was not well within the BJP camp; that there were dissonant voices within the BJP camp.

And on Thursday, Rahul Gandhi [Images] gave the rumour some more oxygen in Amethi. "Every right thinking person favours it. Every youngster is clear about its advantages. This includes young politicians in the BJP and other parties, too. They are 100 per cent for it."

A subedar major of the BJP's shouting brigade popped up on the channel in question to deny the claim. "I know how your first story (on Manmohan making a similar claim) was withdrawn. Do not make me say things on live TV," he thundered and shut up the young things.

Maybe the PM and the late PM's son are foolishly presuming that all their partymen are behind the deal. Maybe they are doing some kite-flying about their rivals, to sow some seeds of doubt. Maybe, Rahul baba is only positioning himself by bestowing greater wisdom in younger MPs.

Maybe they are nervous, scared.

But it's scary to imagine that in a supposedly mature democracy of 61 years, all members of Parliament have the same thoughts and opinions on the deal as that of their parties -- for or against, and not a parliamentarian in between!

Scarier that anybody should say that a couple of them might not.

Scarier still that somebody should deny any such a possibility.

During the entire nuclear drama, the Left has tried to insinuate that the prime minister somehow does not have the legitimacy to push through the nuclear deal because he doesn't have an electoral base.

Can a prime minister who is only a Rajya Sabha member, and not an elected member of the Lok Sabha, they ask, really override the opposition of the people to the deal?

But are the people necessarily opposed to the deal because the parties are? Did we vote for the party or the candidate in our constituencies? Has the time come re-examine the legitimacy of the "whip" -- an archaic, anti-democratic, colonial legacy?

Merely because the parties issue a "whip" to our representatives that they should vote for or against the deal or face disqualification if they violate it, will what happens in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday really reflect the voice of the people?

So, what if there were no whips? Would Manmohan have sailed through, or would he have got singed?

Deal or no deal?

The Rediff Specials

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