Saturday, 25 August 2007

Listen To The People

If this deal is so indispensable, why can't the government get even a simple majority in its favour in Parliament?

VINOD MEHTA
O, National Interest, what sins are committed in thy name! Prakash Karat is protecting our national interest, Manmohan Singh is protecting our national interest, Amar Singh is protecting our national interest, George Fernandes is protecting our national interest, V.P. Singh is protecting our national interest. Mother India is being suffocated by these eminent protectors. One longs for someone who is selling the country for a few pieces of silver! It seems not patriotism, but national interest is the last refuge of the scoundrel. So complete and comprehensive is this protection that the country's blood pressure is at bursting point while the government is hanging by its short hairs. India needs to be saved from its protectors.

How did we arrive here? Barely two weeks ago, the UPA was sailing smoothly, uplifted by impressive victories in a presidential and vice-presidential poll. Politics was at once boring and predictable. In the UK, August (when the natives go en masse on chhutti) is the silly season. Newspaper stories about spotting the first cuckoo abound. So, too, it seemed in our blessed republic where completion of 60 years of freedom had resulted in an orgy of self-congratulation.

Governments, especially coalition governments, fall regularly in all democracies. In India, sometimes serious, sometimes less serious issues cause a government to go down. However, never in our chequered history has a foreign policy issue caused the death of a government. It is always a local issue—Advani's rath yatra, Rajiv taking umbrage at some IB men loitering in the wrong place—which has profound domestic implications.

Now we have the possibility of a civilian nuclear deal with the United States, which 99 per cent of the indigenous population do not understand or care much about, dragging the Congress-led coalition to the brink of self-annihilation.

A civilian nuclear deal with America is important, even very important. The ayatollahs of get-into-bed-with-the United States confidently assert it is a life or death matter for the country. Perhaps. From 3 per cent to 7 per cent of nuclear power is a gargantuan leap, and who knows what other goodies await us in the brave, new world of technological embrace with George Bush.

Forgive the frivolity. The deal, we are told, is a "stunning foreign policy achievement". The deal is Manmohan Singh's gift to the nation. The deal cements the economic, strategic, political and emotional bonds between the world's largest and oldest democracies. The deal will further boost the morale of 1.5 million NRIs in the US (according to me, that is good reason for rejecting the deal). All the aforementioned arguments are either wholly or partially true. Nevertheless, one must ask: is the deal worth sacrificing the government for?

If the much-desired deal is for some reason delayed or scrapped, will the US declare war on India? Will McDonald's pack up, will Boeing stop selling us aeroplanes, will GE shut shop, will Pizza Hut quit our shores? Without the sainted deal, Indo-US ties are booming, they are touching the stratosphere. Those who maintain that non-signing will cripple or seriously hamper bilateral relations are being economical with the truth. We need the deal, but we don't have to cut our nose to spite our face in order to get it.

It is not just the comrades who are suspicious of George Bush or Hillary Clinton. To talk about an independent foreign policy is not the sole prerogative of the Communists or the cold warriors. Do we wish to get into a clinch with a country which could bomb Iran before the deal is signed by the US Congress?

In Delhi the latest parlour game is to heap abuse on the Left. Hypocrites, harlots ("power without responsibility"), ideological dinosaurs, blind, selfish, Chinese spies—Messrs Bardhan and Karat may well be the hate figures of our America-loving democracy.Alas, abusing them won't get us very far. If this deal is so indispensable, why can't the government get even a simple majority in its favour in Parliament?

Dr Manmohan Singh is a wise, sincere, honest patriot and politician. Someone who he trusts and respects must explain to him that politics without power is meaningless. If the PM wants this deal and other free market reforms to go through, he must help his party win 272 seats. At present, it is Deal vs Government. Which will he choose? More important: which will the people of India choose?

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