By Seema Mustafa
The Congress party, cussedly following the nuclear path set out by US President George W.Bush, has plunged the nation into chaos. The huge grins on the faces of Congressmen, buoyed by the "masterstroke" of getting the Samajwadi party on board have turned into visible despair as the "party managers" rush around, offering everything from cash to kind, to bring the smaller parties on board.
Rahul was particularly juvenile when he said with an arrogant shake of the head, "we are for the nuclear deal, if the government goes let it go." This one line reflected complete irresponsibility tinged with classical arrogance, a reminder that those framing policy in the Congress party really do not believe in accountability. His mother followed through the next day where she spoke on similar lines, and her complete support to the nuclear deal, at a public meeting in Andhra Pradesh.
The famous last words of Sonia Gandhi long years ago, "272, and more are still coming" (before the same Samajwadi party killed her ambitions) are again echoing through Congress corridors with the calculators out, as political permutations take over governance. The well publicized handshake between BSP leader Ms Mayawati and CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat came as a major blow to both the Congress and the SP, as neither had expected the Left to reach out to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. Proving that he is as much a tactician as a theoretician, Karat lost little time in reaching out to all the other political parties in a bid to consolidate opinion against the nuclear deal. The smiles froze on the faces of Amar Singh and his new friends in the Congress, as even they knew that the consequences of this alliance could only spell trouble for the trust vote in Parliament.
The Samajwadi party, despite two trials of strength in Delhi, has been unable to parade all its 39 MP's before the national media. The first time they were ten short, and at the second meeting closer to the trust vote they were 12 to 14 short. The Congress president Sonia Gandhi has had to issue an early whip, and arrange meetings with all her MPs to ensure that no one crosses over to the BSP that is now becoming taller by the day. The BJP has also decided to open its doors to any Congress or other MPs that might come its way, and the party is happy that many are at least stopping to exchange the time of day and see what might be on offer. The UNPA has not split because of the Left-Mayawati understanding, with Telugu Desam's Chandrababu Naidu now in touch with her for a larger alliance in Andhra Pradesh. The other smaller parties in the UNPA are also sticking together for the moment, at least until they have voted against the UPA in Parliament after which they can take a fresh look at the political scenario.
The point is that the walk over has crumbled even as the Congress and the SP were bringing out the crackers to celebrate. The UPA government is now fighting a desperate battle to survive the trust vote, with each new day bringing bad news. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has now joined Sonia Gandhi in personally trying to bring the smaller parties on board, and has been trying to woo Janata Dal (S) Deve Gowda and his two MPs. One JD(S) member has already declared his intention of voting against the government. This in itself is indicative of how close the race has become, with the BJP recalling the one vote defeat of the Atal Behari Vajpayee in Parliament that delayed its rise to power.
It is almost clear that only two possibilities are staring the UPA in the face: one defeat in Parliament, and two, victory with a very narrow margin. This in itself should be read as a defeat, and a verdict against the nuclear deal. Manmohan Singh has been claiming majority support, insisting in even his latest meeting with Bush on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Japan, that the consensus in India was behind him on the deal. He should know better than any other, that this consensus must be reflected in Parliament and a vertical split after the kind of horsetrading that the UPA has indulged in actually spells d-e-f-e-a-t if the Congress had only learnt how to spell.
The Rs 25 crore per MP figure given by CPI general secretary A.B.Bardhan has stuck, with even Congress leaders being unable to counter this. A rebel Samajwadi party MP has now declared that he was offered this amount to vote for the nuclear deal. So clearly cash has been made available in plenty, and kind has been left for the individuals to determine. The wish list, thus, is long and detailed. JMM's Shibu Soren wants his old Coal ministry back. Alternatively he wants to be Jharkhand's chief minister. Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh, back in the spotlights after a while, wants a ministership (may be even two) but more than this wants the seat sharing alliance in UP firmed up. In that he wants a certain number of seats and expects those he is talking to, to oblige. And so on and so forth.
In fact, even the corporate media working for the nuclear deal has been forced to admit that matters are not that smooth, and perhaps, just perhaps, things are not working out the Congress way. Worried Congressmen privately started blaming the Prime Minister for the mess, but this also did not last, as both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul cleared the picture publicly. Rahul was particularly juvenile when he said with an arrogant shake of the head, "we are for the nuclear deal, if the government goes let it go." This one line reflected complete irresponsibility tinged with classical arrogance, a reminder that those framing policy in the Congress party really do not believe in accountability. His mother followed through the next day where she spoke on similar lines, and her complete support to the nuclear deal, at a public meeting in Andhra Pradesh. The argument was the familiar, "this will give us power for the poor" with no mention, of course, of the pounds of flesh that the US will manage to extract from India in the process.
A word about Rahul Gandhi, now that he has started taking political policy positions will not be amiss. He has not said much, but when he does speak it is clear that he believes, like the Prime Minister, that India can progress only by attaching itself to the US through a strategic alliance that most others in the country still see as debilitating. He is fond of the good life, does not believe in mass struggles, believes ardently in the Nehru-Gandhi's right to lead the Congress and the nation, but lacks the charisma and the leadership capabilities that Congressmen had been so eagerly looking forward to. He is awkward with the political leaders, and often finds it difficult to disguise his dislike for the politician. He has still to grow into the space that his mother and the party managers have created for him. This along with his inability to enthuse the masses is now adding to Congress impatience, particularly in election year.
At the end of the day Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will have to explain why they took the conscious decision of de-stabilising a government and India in the process, for a nuclear deal that could have waited. What was the hurry, that the people of this country had to be witness to the worst kind of political machinations with the Congress in the lead? Bush would have been kicked out of office without a thought had he brought his government to a standstill, in the manner that the Congress has done for an international treaty. More so, when the nation is reeling under double digit inflation and spiraling prices. What is the hurry? The question has been asked by the Left, by every political leader in the UPA and outside? But the threesome who are pushing the nuclear deal with all their might, regardless of the consequences for the government, have no answer.