Saturday, July 19, 2008

No Trust Left Anymore

The polity in India is set to take a precipitous turn into the unknown as a trust vote awaits the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the country. Virtually reduced to a dependence on bit players to swing their support for survival, the UPA government has now resorted to various methods of alluring disparate members of parliament (MPs) to vote for the government during the trust motion. Methods such as dangling cabinet berths to hearing out crony capitalist demands to naming public property such as airports in the memory of a politician’s father to curry his support to plain old transfer of money are being touted as the ways to win the support of legislators over to the UPA’s side.

And all this for getting the nuclear deal to get a stamp of approval from the parliament, nipping in the bud, once and for all the widespread understanding that the deal does not enjoy majority legislative support. This kind of inducement led bartering of morality in governance and in politics, has been justified as imperative decision making in a fractured polity, by the unabashed spokespersons of the ruling coalition. They must know better, for such bribing of legislators was practised as a honed art by the Congress party, which went about this dubious charade in 1994 by paying off legislators belonging to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) to defeat a no-confidence motion. The then prime minister Narasimha Rao, his trusted lieutenant Buta Singh and the JMM MPs were later let off from the criminal case on this issue, owing to a ruling that provided immunity to legislators from criminal prosecution. History is now repeating itself as yet another farce with the same party, the JMM’s legislators led by its convicted chief Shibu Soren demanding favours in order to curry support for the nuclear deal. Soren ostensibly has categorically asked for a cabinet berth or at least the chief minister’s post in the Jharkhand state. Such is the level of murkiness that Indian polity has been reduced to, in the aftermath of the Left parties withdrawing support to the UPA government.

Criminality in politics is not a new phenomenon, nor is it something unexpected for a third world nation like India. But the very fact that such criminality happens in broad daylight, and at the highest decision making centres such as the parliamentary level on crucial issues of national importance makes a mockery of the entire procedure of formal democracy embodied by the parliamentary system. What is even more galling is that the government of the day has deigned it fit to carry public advertisements in the name of a government ministry (the petroleum and natural gas ministry) to tout the virtues of the nuclear deal. One such advertisement carries among its bullet points, a blatant lie, that nuclear energy would offer a viable and important substitute to fossil fuels at a time when crude oil prices are high. Nothing can be a more ridiculous an argument than this.

Nearly all of crude oil goes into creating refinery products that fuel transportation and other facilities such as cooking. None of the above functions can be provided by using nuclear energy. A very minuscule component of the crude oil imported is used for power generation. Plus there is no assurance that the nuclear energy that would be imported would add up to a strategically important component of the entire energy basket or if the imported reactors and fuel would arrive at a cost that would eventually translate into a reasonable user fee (from some estimates, the user fees charged would be much higher than electrical power generated through other sources such as from burning coal).

It therefore reeks of a dubious intent to publish advertisements that make a mockery of energy policy. Manmohan Singh and his party have not only thrown caution to the wind as they embark upon the ‘my way is the “George Bush is the friend” way or no way’, but have given the short shrift to any or whatever ethical norms of executive functioning that characterises the parliamentary system. Manmohan Singh even made the outrageous statement the other day in the ramparts of the G8 summit that “India and the US should work shoulder-to-shoulder together” to solve pressing issues of the world. When one realises that the US’ pig-headed aggressive and murderous foreign policy in west Asia for example is part of the great set of problems that the world faces today, it shames the “thinking Indian” when her/his prime minister says this at a summit with glowing reference to one of the biggest warmongering criminal heads of state today, despised by not only the majority of the world’s population but by his own countrymen (with historically low approval ratings hovering in the late 20s and early 30 percent points).

Some of the justifications made by the Indian establishment include a bizarre enunciation of national interest over-riding all other concerns about the US’ unilateralism. Since the purported benefits of the nuclear deal (which is supposed to recognise India as a nuclear power despite it not signing the NPT and accord it with privileges deserving of the nuclear-haves) are overwhelming for these folks, they are ready to ride roughshod over any argument against having any kind of strategic hug with the global hegemon, that too ruled by someone who sincerely believes in neo-conservatism and hostile militarism. As argued repeatedly, the purported benefits of signing the deal have been exaggerated, while the risks, which include burning bridges with already semi-hostile neighbours and other historical relationships in west Asia (read Iran), are played down and hidden away from the argumentative Indian’s ears.

What is left is therefore a rump of an argument that favours the nuclear deal, no matter what and tries to establish support from disparate sections with promise of power, pelf and patronage, with the scantiest regard for ethics in public life. The UPA for example broke a promise it made in writing to its erstwhile Left allies that it would not go ahead with operationalising the deal without getting the safeguards agreement initialled at the IAEA, being discussed threadbare at a co-ordination committee set up for that purpose. Shockingly, it also found it prudent to lie about putting off the step of approaching the IAEA board of governors till it won the confidence vote, by doing the same the very next day after it made this promise.

Then there is the saga of hiding the IAEA safeguards agreement text from public view, before it was leaked out onto the news websites and blogs, and after which the external affairs ministry was forced to carry the text on its website.

All of these shenanigans have added to a shrill negative image of the Congress-led government, which has deemed such methods a Machiavellian manoeuvre to get the nuclear deal passed. And this has only created a situation where there has been a total break in relations between the secular coalition, formed as it was to keep communal elements from getting to power. No prizes for guessing who will benefit from this break: the communal forces represented by the BJP themselves. A four year arrangement which promised to make a break from the governance paradigm led by the BJP, has ended up on such a bitter note that the chances of the BJP coming back to power have indeed brightened.

As one gets to see the spectacle of the Left voting against the government with the rightist forces spelling out their own reasons for opposition, and as one gets to see a handful of self-seekers siding with the government after having been bought off, in a trust vote, one loses any trust that is left of the parliamentary system. Someone said that the democratic polity in India represented the general will of the people. It turns out that what is left is only the general ‘wile’. Time would tell as what impact such disastrous expediency of the ruling UPA coalition would lead to.

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