The Times of India, 25th March 2008
India's capitulation to invaders has historically been ascribed to the fractious nature of its polity. The rulers in mediaeval times not only presided over limited areas of influence, but were also so preoccupied with their own dreary quotidian affairs and skirmishes with local enemies that they never united to fight the aliens.
In addition, the concept of India as a nation was as hazy as ideas of what lay beyond its borders. Strange as it may seem, some of these debilitating deficiencies are again in evidence today.
Perhaps the most noticeable among them is the restricted perception of a large number of the ruling fraternity whose preoccupation with caste, creed, region and partisan agendas makes them oblivious of the larger picture.
Nothing has highlighted this disturbing element of the current Indian scene better than the stance of the various parties on the nuclear deal, which is undoubtedly one of the most crucial issues of the time. Leaving aside the communists for the moment, it may be instructive to examine the attitude of local satraps like Lalu Yadav or M Karunanidhi, who have no ideological objections to the deal.
Yet, their reluctance for an early poll made the government back down soon after Manmohan Singh's peremptory take-it-or-leave-it offer to the Left towards the end of last year. As another regional boss, Sharad Pawar, pointed out at the time, the deal wasn't a bad one, but not worth sacrificing the rest of the government's term in office.
Ignoring the suggestion that no politician wants to cut short his tenure if he can help it if only because each month in office fetches rewards for the less scrupulous among them, what is still evident is that neither the RJD nor the DMK nor the NCP seems to care for the consequence of letting the deal die an unnatural death. To be fair, the communists are at least driven by a conviction, perverse though it may be, about America's imperialistic ambitions, especially since it may inhibit China's growth, as CPM general secretary Prakash Karat was candid enough to stress.
But the RJD, the DMK and the NCP are evidently so obsessed with their provincial spheres of interest that they do not seem to care, and perhaps not even fully understand, if India will suffer as a result. Arguably, they may not be overtly anti-national, an accusation which can be directed at the Left because China, whose communist party has fraternal ties with Indian comrades, is the only one among the Big Five which will not like the deal to fructify.
But the limited vision of the regional parties seems to have made them unaware of the national and international implications of the deal, which enables India to join the nuclear haves in spite of having not only stayed out of the NPT, but even defied it by conducting nuclear tests. Yet, as The Economist - which opposes the deal — has pointed out, the world is willing to blow an "India-sized hole" in the nuclear regulations only because of our remarkable record as a multicultural democracy and responsible behaviour on the international stage.
Yet, this achievement is apparently not something that the RJD or the DMK or the NCP can appreciate because they are unable to see beyond the borders of the states where they have some kind of a base. It is indeed for this reason that parties such as these cannot be trusted with major portfolios like external affairs or finance. It is easy to imagine the confusion which the DMK — or the AIADMK — will cause because of its empathy (or antipathy) for the LTTE if it had to deal with foreign issues. Similarly, imagine the chaos which the Left will let loose if it was put in charge of finance.
Not surprisingly, the leaders of coalitions like the Congress and the BJP have preferred to keep these sensitive ministries in their own hands. The others have also quietly accepted this denial, which in effect, is a snub of sorts since it indicates that they are not mature enough to handle such adult matters. But it is the nuclear deal that has refocused attention on their immaturity, which, in turn, underlines their unsuitability to be in power at the national level. The perils are even greater where the communists are concerned. While the RJD and others may grudgingly accept a decision to bring forward the elections if assured of the coalition's success, the comrades will not hesitate to sabotage any such initiative lest it take India close to the capitalist world.
This is the first time in their long history tinged with dissimulation — after all, the Left's formal commitment is to people's democracy and not to the parliamentary form — that the communists have been in a position of power at the centre for a fairly long period. And the unwholesome impact of their presence is immediately apparent. Their sole intention has been to stall the country's forward march since the process of advancement does not tally with their textbook prescriptions, at least outside of West Bengal. Hence, their objections to economic reforms and now to the nuclear deal even though it promises to break the stranglehold of the nuclear apartheid in force against India since 1974.