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Who rules India? PM or CPM?

Who rules India? PM or CPM?

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: Sept. 2, 2007

As the Middle Kingdom celebrates a remarkable foreign policy triumph achieved entirely by leveraging its hold on India's internal affairs, we should be asking one fundamental question: Who governs India? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat?

It's always hazardous to prophesise the course of Indian politics but the exultant body language of Messrs Karat, Yechuri and Bardhan last Thursday suggested that the Communists knew they had won their most famous victory since Non-Alignment mortgaged Indian foreign policy to the Soviet Union.

The scale of the Communist victory should not be minimised. First, regardless of all the brave talk of international diplomacy resuming in November, it is safe to surmise that time-servers in the Congress don't want the shadow of a snap poll looming over the UPA Government for the remainder of its tenure. They will ensure that the nuclear issue is not resurrected as long as the Communist threat persists. As far as they are concerned, the grandstanding is not worth jeopardising the remaining months in power at the Centre.

The Prime Minister's spin doctors have argued that a temporary postponement does not materially affect the negotiations at IAEA and with the NSG, but this is an optimism aimed purely at salvaging the week's headlines. Manmohan's pathetic isolation within his own party will become obvious regardless of Congress' acknowledgment of the merits of the nuke deal.

Second, the Congress will be naïve in believing that appeasement of the Left has secured peace and that subsequently good-cop Yechury will prevail over bad-cop Karat. Adept at boxing above its class, the August crisis has demonstrated to the Communists that it is possible to win the ideological game without spilling blood. It is now certain that the Left will now enlarge the battlelines to other spheres, viz economics, education and social policy. Incredible India should be ready to confront its most serious internal challenge.

Third, in taking on the threat of the Prime Minister to withdraw and be damned, the Left has shown that it is the more resolute player. Manmohan has not merely blinked, he has been forced to eat humble pie. Already regarded as weak, his belated attempt to come across as a decisive leader has come a cropper. Since failure is never a collective responsibility, the Prime Minister has cleared many obstacles in the path of his exit route. He looks set to go down in history as the leader who walked on snow and left no footprints.

Finally, the Left has not merely won a famous battle against "US imperialism", it has taken a giant leap towards shedding a baggage that it has been forced to carry for decades: The taint of being at odds with Indian nationalism and nationhood. This is a charge that has dogged the Communist parties right from their inception. Exorcising the movement of charges of extra-territoriality is, under the circumstances, a stupendous gain.

Curiously, the CPI(M) didn't have to lift a little finger to show that it is leading the charge to uphold Indian sovereignty against foreign encroachments. Its work was done by those who nominally sit in the Opposition benches in Parliament. The BJP's impression of reaffirming a me-too Leftism -- driven, it would seem, by the need to proclaim the infallibility of its spokesmen -- has unwittingly served as the most glowing testimonial to Communist nationalism.

The debate over the Indo-US nuclear agreement is not going to dominate the political discourse at the grassroots either now or in the future. The next General Election, whenever it is held, will be fought on bread and butter issues. However, the long-term effects of a thwarted agreement will haunt India. Future historians may come to view August 2007 as the moment the political class stalled India's leap into the big league. We may still get there but who will compensate for the lost time?

Still, magnanimity demands we shouldn't begrudge the victory celebrations in our eastern and western neighbourhood. They have shown that containing India is a remarkably low-cost option.

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