Sunday, September 18, 2005

Unsettled Weather

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by MJ Akbar : Unsettled Weather

There are only two political blocs that can threaten the Manmohan Singh government’s stability. The first, unsurprisingly, is the Left. But what could the Left gain from such adventurism? The Left has never been as powerful as it is now, dining off the high table in Delhi, master of the kitchen in Bengal and heady with the aroma of five fulfilling years of power in Kerala after the next election. The Congress has been eager to sacrifice its version of economic reform at the drop of any red flag to keep the Left on its right side. So where’s the problem, comrade?

Dr Manmohan Singh’s government is not unstable. But it is unsettled. After the six-year stretch of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA it is not possible for a Central government to be unstable anymore.

Power in Delhi is now an equation in arithmetic. If two plus two equals 272 then there is no reason on earth, or in heaven, for anyone to ruin the distribution of office that constitutes a coalition government. All you have to do is keep adding some very flexible chips till the pile crosses the magic majority number in the Lok Sabha. And it will be as stable as a pile of chips at a casino, as long as you don’t gamble. Don’t risk anything for big rewards and you can always remain ahead of the game.

Flexibility is a far better glue than ideology, as the BJP’s partners in the NDA repeatedly proved, particularly when they became flexible over the gruesome Gujarat riots. The BJP returned the compliment, like a good, rubbery partner. Three core issues catapulted the BJP from relative obscurity to comparative prosperity: the demand for the construction of a temple to Lord Rama at Ayodhya; the passage of a bill in Parliament ensuring a uniform civil code; and the abolition of Article 370, the statute by which Jammu and Kashmir is constitutionally a part of the Union of India. All three were jettisoned the moment BJP ministers took the oath of office.

No comparable fissures afflict the United Progressive Alliance now in power. It may not be very progressive, but it is an alliance. Or, more accurately, the principal partners may have radically different views on the definition of "progress" but they have consciously abstained from the tug of war that can split the fabric. (How did fabric, a solid, virtuous word, evolve towards fabrication, with all its salacious implications? Could it be because of the spin put in the weave? There may be clues here for Prime Ministers who now cannot survive without plonking a spin-master’s face in front of television cameras on their behalf. They insist on doing so even when the chap is spinning at 78rpm instead of the required 33.)

There are only two political blocs that can threaten the Manmohan Singh government’s stability. The first, unsurprisingly, is the Left. But what could the Left gain from such adventurism? The Left has never been as powerful as it is now, dining off the high table in Delhi, master of the kitchen in Bengal and heady with the aroma of five fulfilling years of power in Kerala after the next election. The Congress has been eager to sacrifice its version of economic reform at the drop of any red flag to keep the Left on its right side. So where’s the problem, comrade?

The other group that could do Dr Singh in is, of course, the Congress. Its motivation would be logical: it would thereby force a general election in which it could significantly improve upon its numbers, which are only as good as P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri delivered. There is enough disarray within the BJP to tempt Congress calculators. A general election would have the additional merit of not only depleting the enemy but also clearing the air of dubious friends, Lalu Yadav being among the latter. But, as the old and wise proverb tells it, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Why tempt fate in this casino when you can enjoy power placidly for four more years? And who knows which way the chips will turn then.

Then why should the government be unsettled? Because the parts do not quite add up to the whole. Any tremor exposes a mismatch, and tremors are inevitable in the governance of a nation as complex as India. Candour can be seismic. One rumble was heard this week, and is doing the subterranean rounds.

I don’t know how right Rahul Gandhi was in his belief that he could have been Prime Minister of India at the age of 25, but he was spot-on when he said that there was no governance in Bihar. This has been an obvious fact for far too long. However, in conventional politics, such truths are reserved only for opponents. You don’t dish them out to friends, particularly an ally to whom you have declared undying fealty on the eve of a crucial election. Bihar will return to the polls in less than four weeks, and Rahul Gandhi’s verdict on his ally Lalu Yadav’s government will echo through the thicket as Yadav fights desperately for survival. It may be difficult for Rahul Gandhi to campaign now for the alliance, because doubtless his opponents will remind him of his remarks at every campaign stop. This is not just another election: it is literally do-or-die for Lalu Yadav, because if he loses power in Patna the ground beneath his feet will cave in. This was why Lalu Yadav virtually forced a nullification of the last Assembly election. If he is defeated, his bitterness will extract consequences.

Candour is a rare tactic in Indian politics, and a refreshing one. Rahul Gandhi’s straight-from-the-shoulder stuff will appeal to his core constituency, the young, who are fed up of the saccharine hypocrisy that sustains so much of political rhetoric. But in order to exercise such candour, Rahul Gandhi needs a Congress majority as big as his grandmother’s in 1971, if not his father’s in 1984. Ideology is not a problem among politicians, but they still want to win elections. Lalu Yadav knows that votes get trapped in mud, and he is always watchful about the direction from which mud is being slung.

There are other parts, smaller, that do not fit. Shibu Soren in Jharkhand does not suit the cleanliness standards that Dr Manmohan Singh correctly demands and the Telangana separatists have an agenda that is a direct challenge to the Congress ethos and conviction. The Congress will not divide Andhra Pradesh and hand over Hyderabad to a parochial group that in any case is too weak to bring down the Union government by itself. Mrs Sonia Gandhi hands out an irregular jar of honey each time the Telangana child begins to bawl. However, that bawl is threatening to become a brawl. And little brawls grow up to become a skirmish.

There is a way to calm the simmering unease. Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi should send out an invitation to all the UPA partners for a quiet, friendly weekend by the sea. They should then bring out the Common Minimum Programme, tear it up into tiny bits and throw it into the sea. That programme was drawn up, in a bit of a hurry, last year after the election results: a new dawn was lighting up the horizon, and the sky was flush with the rosy tint of great promise in which everything seemed possible. The government is now entering the noon of its life (time does not pass evenly in power). The sun is harsher, reality more visible, and sweat can be discerned on more than one brow. The group should sit together and write a second minimum programme. If the first was of minimum proportions, then this should be minimalist. There should be about a dozen essentials rather than a hundred wannabes.

There must be detailed and honest analysis of where the government, as well as each of its constituents, has reached since coming to power in Delhi. They should then discuss where they should, or can, go. There should be a political section as well as an economic agenda. The partners must define their territories on the political map, and shake hands against poaching. Dozens of bridges have to be planned to cover the innumerable pitfalls lying ahead. They should then pull out a three-year calendar and measure options against a timetable. The reinvention or rebirth of the Dr Manmohan Singh government can be celebrated from that weekend.

Just now, the great sin is a sense of ad hoc-ism. The Left discovers what has happened in Washington after it has happened in Washington. Others are bystanders while politics erodes a bulwark in Bihar or Andhra Pradesh. Some compulsions become too regional for the national interest, which must be the principal interest of a Union government.

Dr Manmohan Singh is a great believer in economic transparency, and probably induced more corrections into the economy than any finance minister before or after. He has to now lead the way in political transparency. Indian politics is not very holy, but it is Biblical in one sense: it does not live by bread alone.


tapori said...

"How Green is My Valley" mein aur "Unsettled weather" mein zameen aur aasmaan ka farq aur doori hai. Title literal sense mein bhi aur content and inspiration mein bhi.

Kya hogaya aap ko?

Yeh "Unsettled Weather" ka aap ka roop, maine toh, kabhi nahin dekha!

Kahin mujhey ghussa dilane toh nahin likhena!? Acha, you think I will get angry and will go and do something.

No chance saabh. Aise traps ki achee pehchaan hai mujhey. Agli baar aisa khel math khelna, kyon ki duniya ki nazr mein aap bure dikhayi denge aur hum ache bachey.

Yeh kuch achee baath nahin naa saab. Hamara kya..ghareeb, tapori logh, kuch bhi likh ke time pass karlete. Magar aap ka naam toh aham hai na Saheb ji. Is ko keechad mein math daliyegaa, maila hojayega. ( Something akin to Pakeezah filmy dialogue...of Raj kumar..lolzz..lols ..)

Green valley padh ke khush hogaya. Magar saheb ji aap bio-tech ko recommend kyon kar rai wo arabbi buddhon ko.

Kahin arabbon ko maarne ki conspiracy toh nahin ka rai naa aap? tch..doubt aaya...Aiseech.For a change aaplying conspiracy theory on You :)

Bio-tech is weapon of white death and is a tool to create famine, if you trace all links and follow it to logical conclusion. Bina jaane is danger zone mein math jayeeyegaa.

Barbaaadi ki pahli nishaani hai. Magar us mein bhi eik litigation hai.Kabhi maukha milaa toh lecture maarenge aap ko, is par bheeee.

Isliye zaraa bach ke rahna hum se, ya prepare kar ke rakhna apna dimaagh ko, ke yeh danger zone hai, jis mein aap ka aur mera, phir eik aur marthaba, hurricane Katrina honewala hai.

Hurricane Ophelia khatam hogaya ya jaaree hai?

Theek hai..katteef katteef katteef.

Alto said...

Dear Sir,

Congratulations! on your trip to Holy city of Kabaah.

Democracy as a concept was Blessing and inspiration given to us by Prophet Muhammad ( PBUH).

Is it not Last Prophet ( pbuh ) of Islam who resolved the dispute amongst chieftains by asking all of them to place the black stone in Kabbaah by placing the stone on cloth and hold it from all four sides, so that none of the tribes is discriminated and none of the tribes feels powerful.

What else can be better example than this for sowing the seeds of democracy? This while he was still a boy and had not yet attained prophethood.

Is it not Last Prophet(pbuh)of Islam who brought the tradition of consultation, fairness, justice and truth in civil and political matters, to this World?

Europe was wretched in monarchy and feudalism and famine at that time.

Your audiences,might not be knowing that concept of democracy was given to this World from Islam, by Last Prophet( pbuh) of Islam.
One should tell this story promptly and shoot it like an arrow to the person who questions on Islam and its democratic crednetials.