Today, 22nd July 2008, is the date when the Congress-led UPA government will face a confidence motion to prove its Parliamentary majority. The UPA government earlier supported by a coalition of political parties fell short of majority after the CPIM withdrew support over the Nuclear Deal. The current round of poaching of Members of Parliament (MPs), for the government and against it, is almost dizzying and began with the President asking the government to prove its majority by seeking a vote of confidence in the Parliament.
In calling the bluff of the CPIM which has almost 60 MP's, the government was supposed to have clinched the support of the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Mulayam Singh Yadav and represented by the eternal fixer, Amar Singh. But the opponents to the government regrouped in two camps, the first was the ascendant BJP-led NDA and the other group formed around the CPIM, with the Telugu Desam Party and buoyed by the confidence of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But in Indian politics, the plot never works as it should. The first hiccup in the government's plans came when the SP realised that among its group of 39 MPs, there were a few who changed sides owing to the rising tide of Mayawati politics in Uttar Pradesh. The NDA got all aggressive and loud when it looked like the government was in danger but CPIM's efforts to gather a non-communal group with Mayawati has taken the air out of even the NDA. The last four days leading to the vote of confidence motion saw Mayawati as the crucial factor successfully gathering support from the smaller political groups.
But the entire process has been one of unbelievable greed and opportunism. Each of the formations are using ministerial seats, money and as many incentives as possible to 'poach' members from the opposition. An important variable was the supposed Muslim opposition to the Nuclear deal as it would necessitate closer India-US relations. There have been instances of MP's who have changed their minds and sides, many times after they dipped into their 'conscience', for example, Shahid Siddique, who till the 18th of July was the face of the Samajwadi Party, the voice of the Muslims within the party. And he was the expert on the nuclear deal, someone who expressed full-fledged support for the deal. On 18th July, Siddique defected and joined Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and slammed the India-US nuclear deal as being "...against our national interest. I was suffocating and under pressure from my community. This deal will only take us into the dark. I will surely join the BSP and will fight for the Muslims and Dalits," Siddiqui, standing next to Mayawati, told journalists.
The point of this post has been the sheer incredulity in the way the political formations are garnering support. Each party and each MP have their own political compulsions as per their regional, ideological and electoral factors not to forget politico-human avarice. It has been an exercise in reiterating for the nation, the criminal opportunism of our political class in its most naked form. The Congress MP from Karnal, Arvind Sharma, on Friday, the dentist-turned politician had, for the first time, attacked the government for "targeting" BSP chief Mayawati, sending Congress managers scrambling to bring him back to the fold. A meeting with Sonia Gandhi was arranged and by Monday morning, Sharma had been "convinced" to rejoin the ranks. But as the debate began in Parliament, Sharma announced that he was back with Mayawati, in effect in two days his politcal journey comprised 'Congress to BSP to Congress to BSP'. Members of Parliament who are in prison secured bail, those sitting in the wilderness suddenly became important, independent MP's over night became cash cows. The windfall had some of the smaller parties undecided, they were torn between the offers of the government and the anti-government formation. Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal with 3 seats in the Parliament was one such party. The Congress government named Lucknow airport after his deceased father and the ex-Prime Minister of India, Chaudhary Charan Singh. But by the weekend, Ajit Singh was sitting in the Mayawati+ CPIM camp who allegedly offered, a cabinet berth in the future Central Government, two ministries in the current UP government and reservation for Jats. One wonders if the Congress will revert back to the original name of the airport.
Similarly is the case of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which has 5 MP's. The JMM as it is known is led by Jharkhand tribal leader Shibu Soren and their most famous moment came in the 1992 Parliament when a Congress-led coalition had to similarly prove its majority in the Parliament. The Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Sigh was then the Finance Minister and charted India out of the balance of payment crisis with the economic reforms that changed the Hindu Rate of growth to the East Asian one, a jump from the static 3% to about 7-9%. The JMM was supposed to have received money, delivered in suitcases by a stock broker, Harshad Mehta! This time around, the JMM bargained hard and was offered the Chief Minister post of Jharkhand by the NDA in the next state elections as well as cabinet berths but the UPA got him to their side with the offer of a Central government Cabinet Post, Minister of state and the deputy chief minister of Jharkhand for his son.
So while such intricate negotiations were taking place, the newspapers were abuzz with the nuanced details of MP's expressing their support on the basis of 'conscience and national interest' but it was the public and the private goods which dictated their interpretation. The number of offers which could only be cashed at a future date surprised me considering the fast changing political configuration and the lack of staying power of our MP's. The events have also highlighted the decision making predilections of the Indian political system. The Nuclear deal and its merits-demerits have been lost on People's representatives, the deal merely provided an opportunity to the MP's to cash in their potential. The key question is how does one account for such a disconnect between issues affecting the country and the political compulsions that affect our public representatives?
In referring back to an earlier blog post on democracy & development and the need for having a broad based system of funnelling grievances and ambitions into the system, does it mean that this round of political trading also furthers democracy and federalism? Or does it mean that such an exercise while positive on the power sharing makes the system inefficient in the short run but will have benefits in terms of stability of the political system in the longer run and therefore that it is the most effective method for the continuance of its legitimacy? The debate on the Nuclear deal has been lost in affected interpretations of 'national interest' and 'conscience' depending upon the political trajectory of the concerned Member of Parliament. The post-modern ways in which these terms are being used and bandied about, in fact this whole event, is something the political scientists have to translate for the masses in general. For those studying, Indian Politics, this is turning out to be a classic case study in play, follow it closely, it is soon going to be used in classrooms.
I am hoping that the government of India will win this vote of confidence. The Nuclear Deal is a much needed panacea for the ills that are plaguing the country's high end technology sectors. It would also serve to diversify Indian energy resources and perhaps improve energy production owing to the removal of the technology denial regime that limits it. In thinking about the Nuclear Deal, I have realised that it has been wrongly sold as a 'Indo-US' deal, it is anything but that. It is only so much Indo-US because the United States of America being the most powerful actor in the world was the only state capable of building the consensus to help provide this one time exception for India at the National Suppliers Group (NSG), an exclusive group of about 45 countries that controls the export and re-transfer of materials that may be applicable to nuclear weapon development and by improving safeguards and protection on existing materials. Once the deal gets through the IAEA and the NSG, the restrictions facing India as a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will be removed and India can trade and cooperate in nuclear materials with many countries. The largest beneficiaries are going to be the Russians and the French.
For many with empty lives, the current developments have provided a reason to feel alive. One individual kept asking (and I ask that at the end of this post) people what would they have demanded had they been MP's? In reply, someone told him that he would demand that they rename the Congress Party after him! The illegal betting industry has also gone in over drive betting on the odds of survival for the government and as newspaper reports suggest are willing to pay upto over Indian Rupees 35 crore per MP to influence the results. Yet another ex-comrade from JNU, a politics-eating-drinking place, demanded that like cricket and football matches, the vote showed be telecast live in the campus and in the bars of city, sponsored by Pepsi or Coke. Satire, never had it so good, one doubts, if professional cartoonist have a bigger-better bunch of jokers to lampoon.
Imagine you are an honourable Member of the Indian Parliament due to vote on the confidence motion for the Congress led UPA government. In order to leave your baser instincts intact, when it comes to making your informed choices, in 'national interest', of course, we will suggest you are an independent member.
The different political formations approach you to garner support. It is a give and take situation, you give your vote and they will listen to your demands and try to fulfill them.
In the comments section, you are encouraged to quote your price, feel free. This is the mother of all vote bazaars in the largest democracy in the world.
Sample these new Acronym's as reported by The Times of India:
UPA: United Poachers Association
BSP: Buying Samajwadi Party
SP: Service Provider
NDA: Non-Delivery Agents
CPM: Cross-Party Manoeuvres