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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 32

Nation Bruised, Democracy in Peril


Wednesday 30 July 2008, by SC


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his overseas mentor, US President George W. Bush, can heave a big sigh of relief and they have already done so by exchanging warm compliments following the trust vote in the Lok Sabha on July 22. The PM and his government won it quite convincingly—of the 541 members 275 voted for the government, 256 against it and there were 10 abstentions; as many as 14 Opposition MPs [five BJP, one BD, one TDP, one JD(S), two MDMK, one TRS, one MPF, one NLP] voted for the government defying their party whips, whereas seven from the government side voted with the Opposition, among them six SP MPs and a lone Congressman. Interestingly the maximum number of Opposition MPs voting for the government and/or abstaining belonged to the BJP—as many as nine; the party has subsequently expelled eight of them (one, the MP from Chikmagalur, who was genuinely unwell and could not travel to Delhi to take part in the voting, has been spared).

Nonetheless, the fact is that even if the victory in the trust vote made the headlines since Manmohan, Bush and the corporate sector-driven pro-US media were all keen to ensure that victory by all means as the “future” of India (meaning their selfish and vested interests and not those of this billion-strong nation) was at stake, that was not the real news. Actually what the entire country was witness to on that day—it was all caught on the television screens as the Lok Sabha proceedings were being telecast live—was the most stunning development ever: wads of notes being displayed by three Opposition MPs belonging to the BJP on the floor of the House—the amount of Rs 1 crore alleged to have been presented to them courtesy the worthy General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party (now a close ally of the Congress which he hated till the other day) in the full knowledge and connivance of the Political Secretary to the Congress chief (both of them did not waste any time in denying the allegations, never mind their pale faces that spoke a lot of behind-the-scenes goings-on). This real, incredible news was most shocking and for a seasoned reporter like this writer—having covered Parliament for 30 long years since 1978, this was literally an unprecedented spectacle. And it tainted the vote and tarnished the PM’s clean image beyond measure as it remains to this day the most graphic and vivid manifestation of the Indian parliamentarians’ purchasability (the gravity of the situation is barely lessened by the CPM General Secretary’s holier-than-thou claim that no member of his party and/or any other Left party had been approached by the poachers thus establishing the fact that they are unpurchasable).

This is the new low that Parliament has touched and it definitely vindicates the CPI General Secretary’s charge of MPs being subjected to horsetrading at the rate of Rs 25 crores per member. One wonders if this amount was less than the average offered, given that speculation was rife in informed circles that the transactions were in several cases in dollars as the Americans, and most notably the US ambassador in the Capital, were more excited than on any past occasion to guarantee the deal’s passage in Parliament. There is no gainsaying that with the emergence of the redoubtable General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party at the centre-stage of the political happenings in the Capital immedia-tely after his return from the United States the speculation on this score acquired wide currency.

Only a week ago it was written in these columns:

... it is a highly dangerous scenario in which industrial houses as well as Americans are busy trying to influence policy... This has direct impact on both our independence and democracy. In a sense our future itself is in jeopardy.

The happenings of the last few days, capped by the incident in Parliament on July 22, arguably the darkest day for our parliamentary democracy, have further heightened that danger even if the country’s elite choose to ignore it in their jubilation over the “success” of Manmohan, Bush and the vested interests of all hues in pushing through the nuclear deal in Parliament. [It needs to be stressed that not only was money employed in buying up MPs; other inducements and allurements were also used—suddenly the Lucknow airport’s name was changed in honour of Chaudhary Charan Singh; JMM chief Shibu Soren was roped in by offering the prized Coal Ministry to him and an MoS for one of his party MPs while the post of Deputy Chief Minister of Jharkhand went to his son; a Naga MP from Outer Manipur told the Lok Sabha in the course of the debate that he had all along opposed the UPA because it did not pay any heed to his demand for redrawing the boundaries in the North-East to satisfy the idea of Greater Nagaland, but now he was voting for the UPA as he had been assured from the highest quarters that his demand would receive due consideration in the NCMP!]

As for the Left and genuinely nationalist, anti-imperialist forces, they now have no option but to unitedly resist the offensive of the ruling dispenstion. The Lok Sabha debate in itself was an indication of the “resolve” of not only the PM (his language against the Left, especially his use of the term “bonded labour” to describe how the Left leaders had maltreated him on the question of proceeding with the 123 Agreement, did not behove his dignified exterior), but the government as a whole. The External Affairs Minister had no compunction of misleading Parliament when (a) he said there was no commitment on the part of the government to show the text of the draft safeguards agreement worked out with the IAEA to the Left at the meetings the UPA-Left committee on the nuclear deal (whereas that specific commitment had been made by the government at a meeting of the Congress chief, PM, EAM and the General Secretaries of the two CPs on November 10, 2007); (b) he blandly spoke of the government’s prerogative against showing the document to the Left (which only betrayed the lack of trust marring the Left-UPA relations); (c) he asserted that the government had subsequently made public the safeguards agreement with the IAEA following the distribution of the document to the members by the IAEA Board of Governors (but suppressed the fact that the annexures to the agreement have yet to be made public by the MEA).

Unfortunately, the Opposition MPs, particularly those of the Left, failed to rise to the occasion to pin down the government in such matters, something a Madhu Dandavate, an Indrajit Gupta, a Madhu Limaye (or even George Fernandes of yesteryears) would have successfully done with their parliamentary skill, prowess and acumen. They also could not effectively highlight the imperative necessity from the standpoint of parliamentary democracy, to sort out the issue of cash-for-vote (or Cashgate) scam, revealed on the floor of the House, before the trust vote could be taken up as has been affirmed by several constitutional, legal and parliamentary experts. The Leader of the Opposition too cut a sorry figure in this regard and one was forced to conclude that his heart was not in the debate. This does not augur well for the BJP’s Prime Minister-in-waiting.

It has been repeatedly pointed out in these columns that much beyond the nuclear deal lies the ulterior design of the ruling dispensations of both India and the US to evolve a new kind of relationship, of India as a supplicant accepting a “charter of dependency” from the sole superpower. (This was best revealed when the PM went to meet the US President on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Japan—in his talks with Bush, Manmohan said: “I’m very happy to report to the President that our relations have moved forward handsomely since our first meeting in July 2005.” The PM’s language in itself was revealing—no head of government of a self-respecting country would speak in this tone and tenor.) In his own style one of the most articulate proponents of this course has given a special certificate to the PM and the entire class backing him a day after the trust vote in Parliament.

For decades, the fear of being tarred with “pro-American” or “pro-Western” labels made India’s Centrist leaders shun any political cooperation with the US. That a Congress Prime Minister chose to defy this iron law of Indian politics underlines the emergence of a self-assured India that no longer jumps out of its skin at meaningless slogans from the past. [“At home in the world” by C. Raja Mohan, The Indian Express, July 24, 2008]

What this signifies is that the challenge before India, wedded to the concepts of self-reliance and non-alignment upheld by Jawaharlal Nehru and later his daughter, has increased manifold in the prevailing scenario especially after the Manmohan-Bush success in getting the vote of confidence in Parliament. In such a setting the Left, as the most consistent champion of late of those values (intrinsically linked to our freedom and sovereignty as well as democracy), has to unitedly meet this challenge with all sections of our toiling humanity. For that very purpose a joint movement encom-psssing all segments of our people as well as diverse political organisations, representing the extreme Left, Left, Centre in particular, does not brook the slightest delay. We have no time to lose nor do we enjoy the luxury of remaining ensconced in our sectarian grooves (trying to assess the extent of reformism that has crept into the activities of the stalwarts of the parliamentary Left). Resistance to the overwhelming neo-liberal and neo-colonial offensive, both ongoing and underway, warrants allout patriotic mobilisa-tion—any prevarication in this respect by dismissing this earnest appeal for united action will prove to be suicidal in the days ahead.

July 24 S.C.

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