THE COST OF COMPROMISE
The Congress may have outplayed a divided Opposition in Parliament but the victory only highlights the paralysis of governance and time for Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi to assert their political authority.
Was it the day of the Conquistador? When the Government survived the cut motions in Parliament, the upa masters were a study in political triumphalism. It was a victory built on the wreckage of the Opposition, and their smugness was partly justified by their ability to make best use of the divided enemy camp. It also gave them that much-needed adrenaline rush on the eve of the ruling coalition’s first anniversary. So, now that ipl nights are over, isn’t it the ideal time for the upa after-party? Imagine the hosts—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi—indulging their most important guests, among them such honourable worthies like Mayawati, Shibu Soren and Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose benevolent gestures made the Golden Tuesday possible. With such friends to count on in the time of acute political anxiety, the Government, headed by not your average politician but a global statesman in the making, can be sure of overcoming bigger existential crises.
The shallowness of the cut motion victory tells a sordid saga of opportunism, compromises, and a blatant repudiation of political morality. One look at the ladies and gentlemen who came forward to ensure the survival of the Manmohan Government will reveal the darker side of the victory—and the price they may have extracted from the Government. Or the moral price the upa may have paid for just being in power. For instance, Shibu Soren, and these two words stand for the worst instincts of Indian politics. The vote of the Jharkhand chief minister, an ally of the bjp in the state, and a man whose back story is a narrative in crime and punishment, alone will take the sheen out of the UPA victory.
Then there is the lady from Lucknow, who also happens to be the singular force that neutralises Rahul Gandhi’s admirable battle for regaining the dynasty’s karmabhoomi. Quite possibly unsolicited, she provided a lifeline to the Government. Would Delhi now dare to be ungracious to the magnanimous Mayawati? And what would be its effect on Rahul’s revival struggle in Uttar Pradesh? Maya is not the one who plays the game without a winning plan. She cannot, beyond a point, keep the Centre as a permanent antagonist, especially when she has the habit of getting embroiled in legal controversies. Manmohan may still aspire to be a stickler to political decencies but can he, or for that matter his party, rage against the transgressions of the autocrat in Lucknow with a clear conscience? Interesting days are ahead.
Equally dubious is the strategic absence of the foxy Yadavs—Mulayam and Lalu, both pillars of the Third Front and ‘victims’ of Congress’s highhandedness. It cannot be just the elasticity of secularism alone that has made them the friends of the Congress for a day. It may very well be the first instalment of a political investment which is certain to yield rich dividends in the future. Every vote that came from outside the upa—and every absence that benefited the Government—only brings out the politics of compromise that defines the Manmohan regime. Even the Congress’s cohabitation politics is sustained by the philosophy of mutually assured survival. All of them—whether it is the ncp, the tmc or the dmk—remain with the Congress because they badly need the spoils of power. They have never been taken into confidence; they have only been informed about major policies of the Government. And the Government rarely misses an opportunity to “defang” or “tame” the ally, the best example being the containment of ncp in the wake of the ipl controversy, or the cbi raid on the telecom ministry, which is headed by a dmk leader. The result: allies may vote with the Congress but they are not working with the Government in harmony. It is just the arithmetic of survival that keeps them together, not ideology or ideas of governance.
Inevitably, the real casualty of the politics of submission and survival is governance itself. If we are into legislative deep freeze, it is a direct consequence of the upa’s inability to make use of its mandate. The much-trumpeted Women’s Reservation Bill, prematurely celebrated as the Congress president’s ticket to history, is yet to be presented in the Lok Sabha, where the so-called male chauvinist Yadavs from the heartland are dreading its arrival. Looks like it may not reach there at all, and the commitment to gender justice is likely to be replaced by vintage Congressism: pragmatism at the cost of principle. Also, what about the controversial Nuclear Liability Bill, or the Foreign Universities Bill, both in a way dealing with subjects closer to the prime minister’s heart? I can go on listing stalled bills and each case shows paralysis of governance. The Government has no courage—or the conviction—to take the risk. It has even failed miserably to take advantage of a divided Opposition and implement its pet agendas. Sonia Gandhi may be back at the National Advisory Council, but no members have been appointed yet because of the conflicting claims of the social groups within the ruling establishment.
It is a failure incompatible with the mandate, and sadly, it is all happening in the first year of upa-ii. In the traditional five stages of power, the first is devoted to unveiling the road map, the second to delivery, the third to consolidation, the fourth to concession, and the fifth to election. The upa in its first year is doing what usually is being done in the fourth. Ideally, on the eve of its first anniversary, the Government should be spelling out its vision. After all, the upa retained power with a definitive victory, and the Congress is hoping to get absolute majority in 2014. And the current parliamentary matrix is such that there is the near impossibility of a non-Congress Government. The victory margin in the cut motion (289-201) itself proves how numerically strong the upa is. Still, at a time when it should be playing out the romance of renewal, the Manmohan Government looks tired and tiring, spent, as if every moment is caught between the limits of freedom and the demands of power.
In the end, it all boils down to leadership. Sonia needs to take a refresher course in the ways of the original Mrs G, one smart leader who realised the uses of adversity in politics. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to play Dr Moderation with a bit more political savvy. He should reach out to the Opposition on issues of national interest. Their credibility is still better than any other leader on the Opposition benches. They could be a formidable duo, and they could very well be the co-authors of the second golden phase in the life of India’s Grand Old Party. For that to happen, they have to first abandon the self-defeating politics of confrontation and compromise—and carry on with the agenda of reform.