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Ram, deliver us from Sitarams - The Economic Times

T V R Shenoy ()
26 February 1997

Title : Ram, deliver us from Sitarams
Author : T V R Shenoy
Publication : The Economic Times
Date : February 26, 1997

I can fight you," Narasimha Rao wailed, "but I can't fight Lord
Rama." It was nice of the Congress to admit that the Lord is on the
side of the BJP, but that is not what I wish to talk about now.

No, today we should discuss the forces backing the United Front.
On the principle that 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' the United
Front is backed, if not the Lord Rama, then by Sitaram. And on the
principle that nothing succeeds like excess there are two of them.

I refer to Sitaram Kesri and Sitaram Yechuri. On the face of it,
there could not be two men more dissimilar than the suave
Stephenian and the Congress' 'Chacha.'

But they have more in common than propping up the Deve Gowda
ministry: a deep and enduring contempt for the processes of
representative democracy.

The Congress and the CPI(M have roughly 175 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
Those MPs are the bedrock of the current ministry. Yet not one is
willing to take responsibility for the government.

That is not quite fair. I believe there are several Congressmen
who would be willing to join the government. (Any government!) But
Sitaram Kesri can't afford to serve under a prime minister from
another party. Nor can he allow some other Congressman to sign up
as, say, deputy prime minister.

How about the other Sitaram? As I said, this one has much in
common with his Congress namesake. There are communists willing to
join an honest coalition. But the young fogies of the CPI(M) will
have none of it.

Technically, of course, the general secretary of the CPI(N is
Harkishen Singh Surjeet. But he was shown his place in May 1996.
Comrade Surjeet (Jyoti Basu too) wanted an honest coalition. But
Yechuri and Co were having none of it.

They decided that they would stay out of the firing line, and be
deskbound generals. They wanted the power, but none of the

Do petrol prices need to be rationalised? Should subsidies be cut
to save money for other purposes? Don't Indians want a dose of
liberalisation in the insurance sector?

The answer is 'yes' in each case. But if the Deve Gowda ministry
inches towards acting sensibly, the CPI( M) is sure to raise Cain.

It is an interesting fact, but the only sincere compliment that
this government has received has come from the BJP! (The leader of
the opposition formally congratulated the ministers on signing a
clean defence deal the MIG deal with Russia).

My point is not that Atal Behari Vajpayee is a gentleman (which he
is). It is that the government has got nothing but a hail of
withering criticism from its nominal allies.

I include the Congress in the list of allies, even if Congressmen
are not found on the treasury benches as the CPI(M) MPs are. It
seems a very long while ago since Narasimha Rao solemnly vowed that
his party was committed to "unconditional support."

Sitaram Kesri has changed that to "issue based" support. Of
course, the Congress president has not spelt out any issue on which
he won't support the United Front.

This puts him in the same position as the other Sitaram. Both of
them criticise the direction the finance minister gives to the
economy (if from different angles.) Both of them criticise what
they are pleased to describe as the sloth and corruption of the
ruling Janata Dal. (The communists have staged rallies in the
backyard of Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav.)

In other words, both Sitarams want us to believe that the Deve
Gowda government is doing a bad job. But, and this is important,
they want to gloss over the all important fact: the Congress and
the CPI(M) are the ones who make this government possible.

To be honest, I really don't understand why they are so upset. The
Deve Gowda government has kept to the terms of the contract that
led to its formation. It was formed for one purpose and one alone
to keep the BJP away from power.

It is pointless for Sitaram Yechuri to claim, as he did on a TV
interview, that the mandate of the general election was a vote
against the economic policies of the Congress.

It was his own partymen who insisted the mandate was for
"secularism" and against "communalism." In simple English, that
meant a policy of blind anti-BJPism.

Well, that has been fulfilled, has not it? The BJP is still on the
opposition benches.

But the United Front did not come to power promising to do anything
about the economy. It did not have a coherent foreign policy or
defence policy. (This probably does not matter to Yechuri; despite
prodding he refused to side with India on our border dispute with
China!) It said nothing about education, health, or any of the half
a dozen other vital matters.

So how can you blame United Front for not living up to its
promises? The point is that its ministers did not make any
promises in the first place!

But if the Congress and the CPI(M) genuinely have axes to grind
with the Deve Gowda administration they have the remedy at hand.
All they need to do is to withdraw support.

They don't have the guts to do that. Instead they shall continue
to carp and whine that this government is acting irresponsibly.
Well, of course it is that is what the Congress and the communists
have taught it to do.

Power without responsibility is what the Congress and the CPI(M
sought. Why should a United Front government act any differently?

To whom, in any case, should the current council of ministers be
responsible? 200-odd MPs belonging to the BJP and its allies have
been deliberately denied any share in governing. 175 MPs those of
the Congress and the CPI( M) prefer to sit on the passenger seats.

Who is left? Only if the crazy quilt of small parties that make up
the rest of the United Front and a few others. The ministry, in
other words, needs to answer only to itself.

That is a perversion of democracy by any standards. But that is
the gift given to India by her two oldest parties.

The Congress was founded in 1885. The Communist Party was formally
created in 1925, in a tent next to that where the AICC met in
Kanpur. For a long time that was about as close as both got.

After Independence, relations between the two deteriorated quite a
bit. In 1954, for instance, the Congress invented the concept of
"support from outside." (To keep the communists out, the Congress
propped up a 19-strong PSP ministry in Travancore-Cochin.) This was
severely condemned by the Left.

Now, in the age of the two Sitarams the Congress and the communists
are once again cheek by jowl. The cynical and negativist politics
of 1954 has been transformed into the accepted doctrine of the
CPI(M of today.

Nobody can deny the Congress and the CPI(M) the dubious pleasures
of playing dog in the manger. But should the two Sitarams get away
with it? Only Rama, it seems, can save us from the two Sitarams!

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