In an NDTV discussion of the nuclear deal on day one of the trust vote in Parliament (July 21-22, 2008), Vinod Mehta of Outlook magazine explained that he was dressed in black because the next day would be a black day for Indian democracy. Referring to the opportunistic political alliances formed for the occasion and the allegations of horse trading and bribery that swirled around the ruling party’s frantic efforts to engineer its victory in the Parliamentary vote of confidence, he spoke of having come face to face with the ugliest face of Indian democracy in the preceding 72 hours.
Vinod Mehta was not alone in voicing revulsion and dismay at the tactics used by the ruling party to purchase victory in the Parliamentary vote of confidence. Condemnation of behind the scenes manoeuvres by Congress party functionaries came from many quarters. In its editorial the Hindu spoke of the surreally high cost of the exercise in realpolitik on the part of the Congress and asked if the confidence vote had not become a confidence trick. Noted journalist Siddharth Varadarajan predicted that Congress would emerge with a tarnished reputation even if it carried the vote. These reservations have been reinforced by the glee with which the world press has aired stories of multimillion dollar bribes being offered and jailbird Members of Parliament being recruited to shore up the sagging Manmohan Singh government.
In the wake of the UPA victory, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is basking in the sweet warmth of success. Obviously he is unfazed by the fact–recognized by all–that the ugly innards of Indian politics have been laid bare for the world’s entertainment. The Prime Minister has turned a deaf ear and blind eye to the bidding wars that were launched for MP votes in the run up to the trust vote. The open and shameless flouting of Parliamentary norms by Congress party managers seems not to matter to him, nor that votes were being sold to the highest bidder. By breaking with the Left Parties and bringing his government to the brink of collapse, he has cleared the way for keeping his tryst with George Bush. For the Prime Minister the pressing need of the hour is meeting US requirements by moving forward with the deal. Brushing aside principled domestic opposition to the deal from Parliament, civil society, scientists and intellectuals, he has chosen to pursue his nuclear nirvana with obscene haste. In a taunt directed at his erstwhile coalition allies, the Left Parties, the Prime minister spoke in Parliament of being expected to serve as their bonded slave. In view of his declared preference for independent decision making, it’s all the more astonishing that Dr. Manmohan Singh saw no harm in toeing the US line by voting with the Western powers at the IAEA on the Iran issue in 2005 and 2006 and by dragging out negotiations on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. He has made his priorities crystal clear. Snapping to attention to fulfil the UK diktat supersedes such trivialities as double digit inflation and continuing farmer suicides from the ongoing crisis in agriculture. The media has reported that in the week preceding the vote of confidence the Prime Minister spoke of the upcoming trial as a distraction that the government could ill afford at a time when it confronted urgent governance tasks such as controlling inflation. Perhaps such thoughts should have occurred to him before he chose to precipitate a domestic political crisis by going against the understanding that the UPA had reached with the Left Parties and taking the safeguards agreement to the IAEA board of governors for approval.