Manmohan and Karat - two antipodal faces of a debate

June 24th, 2008 - 6:19 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Monobina Gupta
New Delhi, June 24 (IANS) In the face-off in one of India’s most debated political issues in recent times stand two men of distinction riven by conflicting ideologies - one espousing close ties with Washington, the other spurning the mere thought of it. And neither is willing to move from his respective ideological anchor. But now one of them has to make that tactical shift if the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has to last the rest of its tenure in office.

Will Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under siege because of rising food prices, finally blink, breaking the jinxed spell cast on the government’s nuclear deal with Washington?

Or will Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) chief Prakash Karat take “two steps back” as part of that famous Lenin tactic “one step forward - two steps back”?

“Only two people are playing an ideological game: Manmohan Singh and Prakash Karat. For the rest it is all a political game,” political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao told IANS. “It is a clash of two personalities backing two different ideologies.”

The two men at the fulcrum of the nuclear row have come to the precipice where, one of them at least, has to pull back from the edge.

Like former general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet was the face of CPI-M’s coalition politics in an earlier era - its political turnabout to get the party support a Congress-led government in the 1990s - Karat has put himself up as a symbol of its ideological opposition to the White House.

When the prime minister agreed on a nuclear deal with the US, there were apparatchiks in the corridors of A.K. Gopalan Bhavan, the CPI-M headquarters here, who were all set to sound the government’s death knell even then.

Party leaders cautioned that strategic camaraderie with the US was like wounding the CPI-M at its most sensitive ideological nerve. “More than economic reforms, foreign policy would lead to a showdown between the Congress and the Left,” said party hardliners in unison.

They also said that Karat, whose doctrinaire approach to economic reforms has somewhat blurred with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s open door industrial policy, will not blunt the knife-like edge of his party’s opposition against the US administration.

Manmohan Singh, striking a diametrically opposite note, believes that India’s interests will be served well, strategically as well as economically, if it stood with the US, the world’s richest and pre-eminent power.

The easy bonhomie shared by Karat and Manmohan Singh apparently turns sour whenever the spectre of the White House rears its head, say those who are familiar with both.

Analyst Rao says that Surjeet would perhaps have commiserated with Manmohan Singh’s predicament, especially with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trying to fish in trouble waters to take the central space on India’s strategic policies.

“He would have softened his party’s stance on the nuclear deal,” says Rao.

Karat has shown no such pity for the man who pins his hopes on the nuclear deal to diversify India’s energy resources.

The two opposite sides of an ideological spectrum upheld by two men who came together to keep the BJP out of power in 2004 might still have to repeat that alliance after the next general elections. That is why their colleagues and allies are trying to persuade both to bridge their ideological divide so that an election that few want is not thrust upon the nation to the advantage of the BJP, their common foe.

Or will Manmohan Singh and Karat agree to disagree - at least for some more months? Or will ideology and individual perception of “national interest” prevail over political expediency?

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