Cussedness, underhand dealings mark countdown to trust vote (Commentary)

July 19th, 2008 - 10:51 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Amulya Ganguli
The prelude to the July 22 trust vote in parliament on the nuclear deal on which the fate of the Manmohan Singh government depends has added yet another dark chapter of opportunism and horse-trading to Indian politics. In their frantic bids to cobble up support, neither the government nor the opposition has covered itself with glory. While the former has been accused of doling out sops to woo the fence-sitters, including a possible cabinet berth for Shibu Soren, a former minister who was jailed on charges of murder, the Left has committed what is a cardinal sin in parliamentary politics - dragging the speaker into a controversy.

By including Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s name in the list of MPs who are withdrawing support to the government, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has not only outraged jurists but also provoked dissensions in its own ranks.

While Chatterjee has asked everyone to wait till July 22 to find out what he does, others have taken umbrage at the way he has been treated. Speculation that Chatterjee is unwilling to vote with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the nuclear deal has been virtually confirmed by West Bengal Minister Subhas Chakraborty, who is known to be close to Jyoti Basu, the nonagenarian Marxist patriarch.

Several Muslim members of the CPI-M have also voiced their disquiet about their party voting along with the BJP. Since the “communal” BJP is supposed to pose a major threat to India’s secular social fabric, the CPI-M has long claimed to be its main opponent. Its support to the Manmohan Singh government was based on the premise of keeping the BJP out of power.

But now with the Marxists on the same side of the fence as the BJP, the CPI-M is a trifle embarrassed. Its explanation that the Congress too has voted with the BJP to bring down several governments may not be too convincing since it equates a “bourgeois-landlord” party with the party of the proletariat, which is expected to set a higher standard.

The indirect links with the BJP are not the Left’s only worry. After being ditched by an old ally, the Samajwadi Party, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat met Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who is the Samajwadi Party’s main adversary in the state. But it is this tie-up between a party that swears by class with one that depends on caste which can seem odd even to the party faithful.

No less significant is the fact that the alliance between the CPI-M and the BSP brings the Left another step closer to the BJP since it is widely believed that the post-poll scene will see yet another example of cohabitation between the BSP and the BJP.

The contacts that the BSP have established with another critic of the nuclear deal, the Telugu Desam Party, suggest that the former is trying to take the Samajwadi Party’s place in the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) or the so-called Third Front with the CPI-M’s blessings.

But any such initiative will be a curious one since the UNPA is supposed to be an anti-Congress and anti-BJP combination. However, the BSP’s earlier and possibly future understanding with the BJP goes against the UNPA’s main
purpose.

What these crosscurrents suggest is that although the Left claims to have based its opposition to the nuclear deal on an ideological objection to any proximity to the US, ideology has played little part in its attempts to defeat the government on the floor of the house. To achieve this end, the Left has had no compunctions about tying up with both casteist and communal parties, either directly or indirectly.

Evidently, it is indulging in the kind of opportunistic games which it often accuses the “bourgeois” parties of playing. Its adherence to ideology in one respect has apparently made it lose sight of principles in another.

Turning a blind eye to ethical norms is nothing new in Indian politics, but if the present efforts seem rather more frenetic than usual, the reason is the narrow difference between the two sides in parliament.

As a result, since every vote counts, no holds are being barred in trying to win friends and influence people. Although the Congress cannot be unaware that the inclusion of Shibu Soren in the ministry will be an indelible black mark on its record, it apparently cannot afford to lose the five votes of his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), for the sake of high principles.

Ironically, the case involving the former minister is related to an earlier instance of the Congress government of P.V. Narasimha Rao buying support from the JMM. A subsequent falling out within the JMM over the distribution of the money led to the murder.

Apart from Shibu Soren, the government has secured the release, with the judiciary’s permission, of several criminals who are also MPs.

Whether or not the nuclear deal is signed, the accompanying political process in India has been a tale of obstructionism, cussedness and underhand dealings. Yet, none of this would have been necessary if there was a greater

realisation of the value of the deal and a principled refusal by both sides to take recourse to dubious manoeuvres.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

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