Manmohan beats the Marxist-Mayawati-Manuvadi trio

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS,

It will not be wrong to say that Tuesday’s trust vote in parliament marked a watershed in Indian politics.

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At the international level, it will undoubtedly move India into the American orbit via the nuclear deal, which will now probably be put on the fast track by Washington.

The clinching of this path-breaking agreement will mark the end of India’s half-a-century-old policy of non-alignment although New Delhi may continue to remain a member of the virtually dysfunctional non-aligned Third World club.

However, India is not expected to become a camp follower of the US in view of its size, cultural and civilisational heritage and, most importantly, its boisterous democracy, which continues to have a strong anti-American tinge.

In domestic politics, the prime minister will now in all probability emerge as a major figure whom few will able to call weak, as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani repeatedly did.

Having fought off his adversaries both inside his own party, the ruling coalition and the opposition, Manmohan Singh will earn a measure of respect mixed with envious fear from those around him. It was his insistence on sealing the deal, which compelled his risk-averse party to go for the vote in parliament although the outcome was by no means certain.

Arguably, his success has been tainted by the wheeling-dealing that characterised the Congress’s efforts to win support, with politicians with a criminal background being openly courted by the party.

The allegations towards the end of the debate that the celebrated “fixer”, Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party, had tried to bribe three BJP MPs also cast a shadow on the outcome. Their display of wads of currency notes in the house was a new low in Indian parliamentary politics. The incident enabled Advani to say that the Congress had won only a numerical victory, not a moral one.

However, Amar Singh and his supporters countered the charges by saying that, first, there was no proof that the Samajwadi Party leader was involved, and secondly, that the BJP had enacted a drama through the MPs when it realised that it was going to lose the trust vote.

It will obviously take time for the dust to settle. In the meantime, Manmohan Singh and his party can take solace from the fact that, in the end, the winner takes all.

Whether the prime minister’s stature will become big enough for him to win a Lok Sabha seat (he is now a member of the Rajya Sabha) cannot yet be said with certainty since he still seems temperamentally unsuited to the rough and tumble of parliamentary politics. But the country has certainly seen the emergence of an unusually assertive Manmohan Singh in the last 24 hours.

The prime minister’s new image is in striking contrast to the diminishing positions of his critics. Perhaps the biggest loser is Prakash Karat, the grim-faced general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), who appeared to have made it his life’s mission to belittle Manmohan Singh.

To achieve this end, Karat did not mind teaming up with the “communal” BJP and the ‘casteist’ Mayawati, leader of the Dalit-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Manmohan Singh’s singular achievement has been to rout this Marxist-Mayawati-Manuvadi combination. It may be recalled that one of Mayawati’s criticisms of the BJP was that it followed the codes of Manu, the ancient Hindu lawgiver who sanctioned the ostracism of the Dalits.

What the Left’s defeat means is that its hopes of steering India away from a possible strategic relationship with the US have been dashed. If its marginalization now enables the Manmohan Singh government to pursue the market-oriented economic policies with greater vigour, the Left’s cup of sorrows will be full.

The communist rank-and-file may also begin to question the wisdom of Karat in following such a single-track policy of humiliating Manmohan Singh – the Left wanted him to be its “bonded slave”, the prime minister has said – which has now ended in disaster.

In the last few days, Karat was also seen to be trying to humiliate Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who is a member of the CPI-M, by hinting that he should side with his party rather than play the customary neutral role.

Chatterjee’s defiance may invite disciplinary action, but such a step will not be appreciated in his home province of West Bengal, where the Left is already perceived to be on a sticky wicket following its setbacks in the panchayat and municipal elections.

Like Karat, Mayawati too has seen her hopes of becoming a kingmaker, if not the “king” or prime minister herself, turning to dust. The calculation was that if the government was defeated, a makeshift alliance with the BSP leader as the prime minister, supported from outside by the CPI-M and the BJP, could be installed.

Mayawati was perhaps also been by the Left as a replacement in its Third Front for the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has switched his allegiance to the Congress. Now, this plan has fallen apart.

The third unit of this group – the BJP – has also been badly mauled. As a result, Advani’s expectations of becoming the prime minister after the next general election have received a blow since a clinching of the nuclear deal is likely to bring the middle and upper classes to the Congress’s side.

Estimated to number around 300 million, this group is no longer numerically insignificant, as in the past. What is more, its members no longer shy away from exercising their franchise, as they used to do in the past when they did not like to queue up for hours in the sun to cast their votes.

In view of the BJP’s setback, an internal debate is likely to begin in the party about taking a virtual anti-American stand like the Left’s on the nuclear deal, thereby alienating its “natural” middle class constituency. The wisdom of choosing the octogenarian Advani as the shadow prime minister may also be questioned in view of the rising profile of the youth in India.

With the Left, the BSP and the BJP on the mat, the Congress can afford to smile after a long time. Its recent series of election defeats will now be forgotten and the party can look forward to the next round of assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir with much greater confidence than before.

The virtual routing of the opposition also means that the Congress will be in no hurry to call an early general election. It can be held, as scheduled, next year by which time the currently high rate of inflation is likely to subside.

All is well, therefore, for the party and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). And for this it will have Manmohan Singh to thank because it was his single-minded determination to go ahead with the nuclear deal that forced the timorous Congress (following his threat of resignation) to opt for the trust vote.

On his part, Manmohan Singh may well have to thank Rahul Gandhi because, as a strong supporter of the deal, the young Congress general secretary and scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, played a crucial behind-the-scene role to make his mother, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, and through her the party, to stand behind the prime minister.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])