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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Politics over N-Deal question our democratic credentials

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Posted by: danish Ahmed 10:19 PM

The nuclear deal debate has polarised all political parties in India into two camps- those who support the nuclear deal and those who oppose it. Some months back I posted an entry here on the nuclear deal. My opinion on the agreement remains the same but my opinion of the Indian political parties has been further infuenced by the politics sorrounding the deal.

I have always considered the polity of India as a successful and vibrant democracy. It is easier to adopt democracy in culturally homogenous, prosperous and peacful countries like those of Europe but for a third-world country like India with its diverse cultures and traditions, heterogenous ethnicities and communities and acute socio-political and economic imparities, success of democracy is no mean feat. However, there are times when we begin to question ourselves on whether we, as a nation, nurture democratic temperament along with a democratic polity. The current political bickering is one such time when we are forced to question our democratic credentials.

As I said in the earlier post, it is very difficult to predict the consequences of the 123 agreement . It is one of those decisions whose merits and demerits can be known only after the results start coming in. For me the nuclear deal is more about if I can trust Manmohan Singh or not. After all, the last time I faced a similar situation was when Manmohan Singh as finance minister was bringing in economic reforms. I was in school then but still remember the apprensions and fear that the Leftists and the Rightists propogated. But apparently their allegations were misfounded since the economic condition of the nation has improved drastically.

But then Manmohan Singh is afterall a human being and is as prone to making error as everyone else (for a while lets just forget that he is a congressman also :p )
That is, of course, my personal opinion but the views of national-level political parties cannot be and should not be allowed to be influenced by political personalities but by merit and demerit of individual policies.
However there are indications that the current political bickering is more of a clash of personalities than a clash of ideologies. If the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is staking his own credibility on the n-deal and the Congress party is supporting him whole-heartedly, the Leftists rallying behind Prakash Karat who has taken up the task of defeating the deal as a personal vendetta. With general election round the corner it is now Manmohan Singh vs Prakash Karat vs L.K. Advani vs Mulayam Yadav/Amar Singh vs Mayawati. No matter who wins, it is the common man that stands to lose the most in this struggle if the political parties and their leaders don't look beyond their own selves, interests and narrow ideologies and work for the national interest.

With general election round the corner all political parties have taken stands that is percieved by them to be the best to garner their traditional voter base. The Left, a key member of the ruling coalition has formally withdrawn its support from the ruling coalition making Manmohan Singh's government a minority in the parliament. The Left Front may accuse the government of compromising the sovereignty of the nation to a foriegn power but most Indians know that the Left protests simply because that is the only thing it ever does. In fact, I will not be surprised to find the Left protesting against itself ! In the present context the Left could not be expected to take a different stand. Its ideology does not allow it to get into any sort of agreement with an imperialistic power like the USA. It is pretty intriguing why communists in India are so opposed to any sort of agreement with the US but rarely raise voice when fellow-communist China makes deals with the US. The Left argues that the 123 Agreement would undermine India's sovereignty. This is a purely speculative argument which may be proved or disproved in the future but in the present reality India's sovereignty has been time and again undermined by China during its numerous incursions into North-Eastern states. The Left Front has not exactly been very vocal about these incursions as it is being towards the nuke deal. On the other hand it views the nuke deal as America's game plan to encircle China.


It is interesting to note that both Left and the Right are united in opposition to the nuclear deal. The BJP has never been as anti-American as other Indian political parties have been but in this instance the saffron party prefers to side with the L. It is worth mentioning that Indo-US relationship recieved major boost during the NDA's rule. In fact, it was the Vajpayee government itself that laid the groundwork for the 123 Agreement but the BJP now opposes the same deal accusing UPA of making "strategic blunders". Leaders of the BJP say that if the goverment collapses now and the Sangh is voted in, it would renegotiate the deal with the US. I am sure that even the leaders who make such statements are aware that if the deal doesn't get through this time, it never will. Most likely the BJP's opposition to the nuclear deal stems from the fact that it wants the deal passed when it itself is in power and not allow the Congress to hijack it .

Now that the Right and Left are resolved to take whatever steps necessary to stop the government from going ahead with the N-Deal, the centrists led by Prime Minister are admant to see the N-Deal through. This is where the smaller parties and the regional parties come in. It now appears that after being rattled by the BSP the Samajwadi Party is willing to bail out the government. It is not clear what deal the party has struck with the Congress for changing its stand but ideologically it was in a strange dilemma. It could not afford to be seen voting along-side its bete-noire, BSP as well as the BJP which also happens to be the next powerful rival. At the same time the party did not want to risk losing its crucial Muslim voters base by supporting the agreement with the USA. The Samajwadi Party may have overcome its fear of losing Muslim votes but it has raised a question on whether political parties should be willing to meet every reasonable and unreasonable demands of its voters or should politicians also try to educate the masses in instances where their demands are found to be unreasonable.

Lately,Muslims world over dislike the US but almost all Muslim countries at this point of time are more aligned to the US than India ever can. The newly-elected government of Pakistan continues to take order from Washington without upsetting its voter base seriously. This trend indicates that inter-state relations are almost always governed with national interest in mind and not individual and communal perspectives. There is no reason why Indian Muslims would oppose the nuclear deal unless some political parties feed them wrong information to consolidate their vote-bank. I am not really sure if the Muslims are against the nuclear deal, no one around me is. Had the government of India been planning a military alliance with the US, not just Muslims but the majority of the Indian population would bitterly oppose it and for valid reasons too.

However, the 123 Agreement is not a military pact despite allegations made by its opponents, especially the Left Front. From what I learn from the media there is nothing in the agreement that could prevent India from walking out of it. Rapidly rising oil prices indicate that developing nations cannot depend completely on fossil fuels to sustain their growth rate in the future.
Even if we were to presume that this deal would actually influence India's foreign policy in the future, would we still be in a position to refuse negotiation for an indefinate period ?

As the world population increases and more and more regions begin to develop, the energy requirements would not be able to be met by the limited reserves of fossil fuels. Alternative and renewable sources of energy might then become crucial to sustain growth. Even a major oil producing country like Iran insists that it needs nuclear energy for development ( the US doesn't agree but its another story). For India to have access to nuclear technology and fuel even from traditional allies like Russia and France, it has to be formally admitted into the elite nuclear group which is unlikely to happen without US approval. Sooner or later India will have to gain admission into the nuclear bazaar by placing itself under the guidelines of the IAEA.
As the oil prices spiral out of control and inflation is on double digit Indian political parties should try to minimize their non-ideological differences and co-operate with each other for development's sake.

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