After the hurrahs

Published : Aug 15, 2008 00:00 IST

Congress workers celebrating the victory, in New Delhi.-AFP

Congress workers celebrating the victory, in New Delhi.-AFP

Contrary to predictions, the Left has emerged with strength from the political commotion, having established ties with the BSP and the UNPA.

Unfinished agenda By Purnima S. Tripathi

THE positive side to the Congress winning the trust vote in the Lok Sabha is that the party can now plan afresh for the coming parliamentary elections without having to worry about the concerns of the Left parties. Although the party has not gained much political advantage from the victory except a politically relevant ally in Uttar Pradesh in the form of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), senior Congress leaders are hopeful that as they embark on providing the finishing touches to their unfinished agenda, they will be able to address the middle classes and further consolidate their programmes for the aam admi, which will give them a crucial edge in the elections. Senior party strategists are, however, aware that the loss of the Left parties support and the possibility of a Left-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance could prove costly if the Congress is not careful enough to counter the sting in time.

As the euphoria over the victory in the House receded, the All India Congress Committee headquarters started stocktaking and mulling over the challenges ahead. A senior party leader said the realisation had dawned on the party bosses that a massive political challenge lay ahead for the party as it had collected a lot of baggage on its way to winning the trust vote.

A party general secretary, however, said the freedom from the Left parties was no mean achievement. He said the Congress was now free to follow its reform agenda and it would be able to go all out to fight the Left parties in Kerala and West Bengal, unlike in the Assembly elections last time when we could hardly fight them. From a purely political perspective, the July 21/22 exercise could get the Congress and its once bitter enemy, the S.P., into a tighter embrace in Uttar Pradesh, a State which sends the largest number (80) of members to the Lok Sabha and where the Congress has been getting increasingly reduced to a non-entity by Mayawatis BSP. An alliance with S.P. leader Mulayam Singh Yadav is crucial for the Congress at this point of time to counter the threat posed by the BSP and to escape total annihilation in Uttar Pradesh. But climbing the S.P. bandwagon, the Congress leaders realise, has its own price the party will have to pay.

As in Bihar, where the Congress has relinquished its political identity to befriend Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad, in Uttar Pradesh they may face a similar future in the S.P.s shadow. But the party hopes to compensate for this in other States. In Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra too the Samajwadi Party can give us some crucial buffer zone. This will help us take on Mayawati strongly in other States, said this leader.

We had no other option in U.P.; even the Samajwadi Party had no option but to support us, he said, adding that the two parties have mutual interest in holding each others hand. We are stakeholders in U.P. and this journey will last long.

As for the challenges facing the Congress, the first and foremost ones would be to counter effectively charges of corruption and horse-trading that the party has faced in the course of the confidence vote, and keep its allies (read the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha) happy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is faced with the daunting task of striking a balance. Shibu Soren, JMM MP, is impatient to be re-inducted into the Union Cabinet, which will only serve to substantiate the opposition charge that members were bribed to seek votes. This, according to party strategists, is a risk they have to take. But they will also try and brazen it out by arguing that Shibu Soren has been acquitted in the murder case and that since his JMM is a partner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), he had every right to claim his share in power.

When you are in politics and are fighting against exploiters, you get to face charges. There is no constitutional bar against the induction of such people [as Soren] into the Cabinet. He has been acquitted in the murder case and in other cases; until proven guilty, he is innocent, said Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh.

Regarding the charges of horse-trading against the Congress-led UPA government, he said all parties indulged in it. When a trust vote is to be taken, the survival of the government depends on it, such things happen. What you call horse-trading is lobbying in political parlance. He said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not above board in such matters because L.K. Advani became Home Minister when he was facing criminal charges in the Babri Masjid case. Besides, he unashamedly exerted pressure on the Central Bureau of Investigation to get his name removed from the list of accused. Tell me which party does not have Ministers with charges against them, he asked.

Such pitfalls notwithstanding, the Congress is upbeat about its future because now we can embark on completing our unfinished agenda. The unfinished agenda, as elaborated by Manmohan Singh in his reply in the parliamentary debate leading to the vote of confidence, consists of nine priorities: contain inflation caused by the steep rise in oil prices; revitalise agriculture by increasing investment; improve the effectiveness of pro-poor programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the midday meal scheme, Bharat Nirman, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the National Rural Health Mission; give a major thrust to improving higher education; begin a nationwide skill development programme; get the new rehabilitation and resettlement policy approved by Parliament; give impetus to the 15-point programme for minorities; effectively implement the Right to Information Act; and deal firmly with terrorism, left-wing extremism and communalism.

Besides, the Prime Minister also outlined his vision for Indias growth, which, he said, should be at least 10 per cent per annum in order to get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and disease, which still afflict millions of our people. Making his point about the nuclear deal being all about energy, especially electricity, he said a basic requirement for achieving this order of growth is the availability of energy, particularly electricitywhich has to grow at an annual rate of 8 to 10 per cent.

This rate of growth in electricity, he said, cannot come only from hydrocarbons or coal but renewable sources of energy, particularly solar energy, which needed to be explored to their maximum potential. Atomic energy, he said, was the least polluting and least destabilising for the people, which was why Jawaharlal Nehru, way back in 1948, dreamt of powering India with atomic energy. But the atomic energy plants were languishing because of sanctions imposed on Indias trade with the rest of the world for fuel, equipment and technology.

The nuclear agreement, he said, was only meant to free India from these sanctions and power its civil nuclear energy programme, without compromising on its strategic autonomy or independent foreign policy. The nuclear agreement that we wish to negotiate will end Indias nuclear isolation, he said. The nuclear deal, he said, is all about widening our development options, promoting energy security in a manner which will not hurt our precious environment and which will not contribute to pollution and global warming.

Significantly, more than ending the political uncertainty for the Congress, the debate and the vote of confidence saw Manmohan Singh shed the weak Prime Minister tag. Not only did he persuade the party to fall in line and back him to the hilt on the nuclear issue, but he met his political opponents head-on, confronting the BJP and the Left with bravado.

He not only denounced Advani for using terms such as nikamma Prime Minister in describing him, he attacked him for sleeping through the Gujarat carnage and the terrorist attack on the Parliament building and for providing the inspiration for the demolition of the Babri Masjid with terrible consequences. He mocked Advani for his description of Jinnah, which had made his own party criticise him. He said that at this ripe old age Advani could not be expected to change his thinking but he should at least change his astrologers so that he gets more accurate predictions of things to come.

The Prime Minister took on the Left by saying that it wanted to veto every move he took towards negotiating the nuclear deal which, he said was unacceptable. He said they wanted me to behave as their bonded slave. In a direct attack on Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat, he said our friends in the Left should ponder over the company they are forced to keep because of miscalculations by their general secretary. This new-found confidence of the Prime Minister, Congress leaders agree, will give them a fresh impetus to justify the nuclear deal even at the cost of parting ways with the Left.

If the Prime Minister is so convinced and confident about the nuclear agreement being in the national interest, it makes it easier for us to convince people because his record in steering Indias economy is impeccable, his own image and reputation are above board, said M. Veerappa Moily, senior Congress leader and chief of the partys media department. According to him, the Prime Minister has emerged stronger and unscathed from this entire exercise, which makes the task of the partys leaders easier when they go to the people seeking votes.

Putting behind the trust vote victory, the party bosses are busy managing the political ground ahead. They are not only reaching out to people in areas where they think the Congress is strong, but protecting the partys turf in areas where it has been forced to become subservient to other parties, as in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. One major challenge now is to ensure that even as they combine with Mulayam Singh, they do not lose sight of their support base. We have to rejuvenate our party organisation everywhere so that we are on our own, Digvijay Singh said.

Another potential cause for worry is the probable alliance between the Left parties and the BSP, which, if consolidated, can cut into the Congress support base in a large part of North India and upset all political calculations. Senior Congress leaders are, however, not worried about the definitive role the combine could play. Knowing Mayawati, I am sure the Left parties will not be able to remain aligned with her for very long. So we are not bothered about this alliance at all, said Digvijay Singh, ruling out any erosion in the partys Dalit-Muslim vote base as a result of the Left-BSP combination. This level of confidence is evident in Congress circles and could help it prepare well for the elections.

Exposed image By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

L.K. ADVANI, the Prime Minister-designate of the BJP, was a picture of dejection as the final tally in the confidence vote moved by the UPA government was being announced in the Lok Sabha on the evening of July 22. Nodding in despair, he sank back into his seat.

The BJPs commitment to vote against the UPA on the India-United States nuclear deal had been questioned time and again but the party leadership had consistently brushed this aside as baseless talk. It was asserted that the party would not let go of an opportunity to bring down the anti-people UPA government. This claim was defeated by eight BJP members who crossed to the treasury benches for considerations that had nothing to do with the weighty, Hindutva-oriented political and ideological issues raised by the BJP.

Clearly, the organisation that used to pride itself as a party with a difference was no longer different from the run-of-the mill parties and was infested with people who were using politics as an instrument to seek fortune. This trend manifested itself in the past when BJP MPs were said to have been involved in human trafficking using their official passports and were caught on camera taking money for asking questions in Parliament. But the display on July 22 surpassed earlier instances in terms of scale.

Many BJP leaders admit that the desertion could not have come at a worse time for the party. Over the past six months, the BJP was seen to be going from strength to strength with repeated election victories in Gujarat, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, and it was truly being perceived as the party to head the next government at the Centre. But the fact that eight MPs could leave the party for individual considerations has, in terms of realpolitik, raised doubts about the BJPs preparedness to come to power in the next round of elections.

This was not the only setback the party faced in the run-up to the trust vote. According to a senior BJP leader, when the vote of confidence process was set in motion, the party was clear that the government had to be brought down paving the way for snap elections. It had sought to wean away parties such as the JMM from the UPA and thus emerge as the leader of the campaign against the government. The surmise was that once this was done other anti-government parties such as the BSP, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Left parties would be forced to follow its leadership.

This strategy, however, did not work because the BSP, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Left joined hands. They, along with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Janata Dal (S) and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), virtually took over the anti-government campaign, pushing the principal Opposition party and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to the third place.

By July 21, the BJP leadership and the NDA started to realise that at least a dozen MPs had been won over by the UPA. It was at this juncture that the party leadership decided to counter this and, if possible, expose the UPAs machinations. And thus the sting operation that led to three BJP MPs Ashok Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora placing wads of currency notes on the table of the Lok Sabha was born. The MPs had claimed, while talking to the media, that it was the emissaries of Congress leader Ahmed Patel and S.P. leader Amar Singh who approached them with money. They also got the interaction with the emissaries recorded on camera and presented it to the Lok Sabha Speaker. Argal, Kulaste and Bhagora have filed a formal complaint with the Speakers office.

The S.P., on its part, has filed a defamation case against the BJP leadership, including Advani. Whatever the result of the parliamentary inquiry into the incident, the BJP has decided to use the bribery issue to recover its lost image and to build up an anti-corruption campaign against the UPA. According to party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, the unravelling of the MP purchase-plans of the Congress-S.P. combine has reinforced new energy at various levels of the party. Another senior leader from Uttar Pradesh says that the bribery scandal has given more vigour to the partys campaign than the controversies over the land for the Amarnath temple board or the Sethusamudram project.

He is of the view that the cash-for-vote scam will change the BJPs electoral fortunes in the same way that the Bofors controversy did in the case of Vishwanath Pratap Singh in the 1980s. The BJP believes that it would be able to consolidate the partys urban, middle-class vote bank, which has got scattered over the years.

The BJP, which exuded confidence following the Gujarat and Karnataka victories, has certainly been forced on the back foot. It may, in the near future, face certain machinations aimed at toppling its government in Karnataka which has a wafer-thin majority. Some of the BJP defectors may play a key role in this operation. It would be interesting to see how the party copes with these challenges.

Emerging ties By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

THE developments relating to the trust vote have thrown up a unique political paradox, especially in Uttar Pradesh, the countrys most populous State. The two main forces in the State, the ruling BSP and the opposition S.P., have both emerged as gainers in political terms. The situation that has emerged now has taken the tussle between these two principal adversaries in the State in newer directions and into newer political arenas. This is bound to have a significant impact on national politics too.

Technically, it is the S.P. that is on the winning side in the trust vote since it was a major player in the UPA grouping and had, in many ways, guided the operations to induce Lok Sabha members belonging to many opposition parties to cross over to the government side. That the party was able to contribute to the production of a positive result for the UPA in spite of losing as many as six of its 39 Members of Parliament to the BSP was creditable.

The BSP did finish on the losing side, but it enhanced its standing in national politics by becoming a major partner in a new secular-political consortium which includes the Left parties and regional outfits such as the TDP, the RLD, the JD(S), the TRS, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVP).

In the process, BSP leader and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has also advanced her claims to being a prime ministerial candidate. The manner in which she won over RLD leader Ajit Singh and JD(S) leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who were reportedly all set to get into the UPA fold, and convinced them to stay with a third formation was indeed a political master stroke.

In fact, her emergence as a kind of Dalit alternative to Manmohan Singh and BJP leader L.K. Advani during the run-up to the trust vote virtually rattled the UPA and the NDA. Even after the trust vote Mayawati has persisted with the Dalit prime ministerial alternative line. Her immediate reaction to the trust vote was loaded in such a manner as to hit her core constituency in a telling manner. She interpreted the trust vote verdict as the result of collusion between the NDA and the UPA to prevent a Dalits progress to the Prime Ministers chair. A large number of political observers are of the view that this line is bound to impact the Dalit constituency across the country.

In the past week, our party has risen from the ranks of a regional party to a national mainstream force to reckon with, pointed out one of Mayawatis associates. This assessment cannot be faulted because the run-up to the trust vote saw Mayawati literally relinquishing her famous insular approach, negotiating and tying up with various parties and emerging as a rallying point of non-Congress, non-BJP secular parties.

The future contests of the S.P. and the BSP are expected to cover the realms of realpolitik, policy perspectives and ideological positioning. In terms of realpolitik, the trust vote battle infused a new life into the S.P.s organisational network and political support base. Different levels of the party leadership and also large sections of the rank and file have, over the last few years, developed a kind of craving to enjoy the fruits of power and these sections know very well that the trust vote victory and the situation after that have once again brought them the opportunity to fulfil their appetite.

The trust vote victory marks the very first political triumph that the party has had in the past year and a half. The S.P. was going through a series of reverses since the April-May 2007 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, which saw its ouster as the ruling party and the emergence of a regime under Mayawati. The fact that the BSP victory marked the return of a single-party government in Uttar Pradesh after 15 years had imparted a special significance to the election results.

Approximately an year after the ascent of the BSP government, in April 2008, the State witnessed five byelections three to the State Assembly and two to the Lok Sabha. The S.P. leadership had visions that the party would make some gains in these on account of what it perceived as the beginning of an anti-incumbency sentiment against the Mayawati government. But the results proved that their hopes were misplaced. The BSP won all the five seats. Following this, a restive mood seemed to capture different sections of the S.Ps organisational hierarchy, which led to the departure of many of its State-level leaders and MPs. Many of these leaders took shelter in the BSP.

It was in this context that the S.P. leadership started making moves to make up with the Congress through negotiations with a section of its national leadership. The political understanding behind this was that it required the backing of a secular party such as the Congress, however minuscule it may be in real electoral terms, to put up a strong fight against the BSP.

An opportunity to concretise this conciliatory movement came when the Left parties withdrew support to the Manmohan Singh government over the India-U.S. nuclear deal. The S.P. gave up its longstanding opposition to the nuclear deal, parted ways with the Left and offered support to the Manmohan Singh government. The trust vote battle has enhanced the qualitative dimensions of this relationship, on account of the contributions made by the S.P. leadership to win over MPs from opposition parties.

The situation after the trust vote should naturally provide an opportunity for the S.P. to partake of the advantages of power, though it is still not clear whether the party would actually join the government. In any case, the very fact that the party has become a stakeholder in the ruling dispensation at the Centre should influence different levels of its leadership to stay on and combat the BSP, in both political and organisational terms. Indications are that the party, in association with the Congress, will seek to replicate in Uttar Pradesh the tactics employed in the trust vote battle at the Centre and win over a number of BSP MLAs in order to topple the Mayawati government.

The assessment in both Congress and S.P. circles is that the trust vote association is the beginning of a larger political relationship between the two parties. Both have realised the need for each other, in terms of day-to-day politics as well as electoral struggles, said Pramod Tiwari, a senior Uttar Pradesh Congress leader, to Frontline.

Until the last elections in the State, the two parties were bitterly opposed to each other, trying to get a greater share of the Muslim minority vote. The past few elections in the State had proved that though the S.P. used to garner a major share of the minority vote, the BSP was making major inroads into that vote base. The Congress was the primary party of choice of Muslims at the national level and the S.P. had that position in Uttar Pradesh. When they saw us fighting each other, some sections of the community moved to the BSP and other parties. Now that the S.P. and the Congress have joined hands, even those sections who were confused earlier would know where to align with, a State-level Congress leader told Frontline.

It remains to be seen how far these calculations work out. A number of media surveys conducted in the run-up to the trust vote had shown that nearly 70 per cent of the Muslim community was opposed to the India-U.S. nuclear deal, the basis on which the Congress and the S.P. joined hands. Whether it joins the government or not, the S.P. would have to continue to support the policies of the UPA government, which is all set to harden its neoliberal thrust.

During its three-year regime in Uttar Pradesh between 2004 and 2007, the S.Ps social and economic policies sought to combine the themes of social justice, populist measures and neoliberal economic initiatives. Party general secretary Amar Singh, who was at that time the Chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Development Council, had described this approach as one dictated by pragmatism. He indicated to Frontline that the party would be dictated by the same pragmatic approach in its dealings with the UPA government. We would be guided by a cautious and well-thought-out approach. Unlike the Left, we would not constantly rock the boat, he explained.

But the one factor that may throw a spanner in the UPA-S.P. works is the corporate struggle that the two parties have come to reflect over the past four years. The parties have taken sides in the fight between the Ambani brothers, with Congress backing Mukesh Ambani and the S.P. lending support to Anil Ambani.

In fact, there was a meeting between Mukesh Ambani and Manmohan Singh in the run-up to the trust vote. While the exact details of the points of discussion in that meeting are not clear, an overwhelming view in corporate circles is that apprehensions were raised about a prospective rise in clout of the other Ambani in the echelons of power. Clearly, the struggle of the Ambani brothers is a political minefield the S.P.-Congress bonhomie has to cross.

While it is accepted that there is need for some fine-tuning of political, ideological and corporate interests to cement the S.P.-Congress alliance. The BSPs new partnerships apparently are on a more sure footing.

Barring the tie-up with the Ajit Singh-led RLD, which has a predominant following among the Jat community in western Uttar Pradesh, all the BSPs new partners are, by and large, compatible, politically, organisationally and ideologically. The RLDs core support base of Jats and the BSPs core support base of Dalits have been at loggerheads socially for decades together. Ajit Singhs effigy was reportedly burned in several parts of western Uttar Pradesh for aligning with the BSP. While there is concern over this in the BSP, the party leadership has expressed satisfaction about the growing association with the Left parties.

According to a BSP leader, who has been associated with the party right from its early days, by pushing the Left to the BSP and vice versa the Congress has given Mayawati the right instrument to advance her own political reincarnation. Mayawati had initiated the process of reincarnation by reaching out to an upper-caste constituency in the last few years. And now, the political dimensions of this process will become sharper and clearer. The alliance with the Left would enhance her minority support base, essentially because all sections of minorities in the country view the Left as their primary benefactor. Clearly, this is a natural alliance that needs to be nurtured carefully and developed, he said.

The BSP is optimistic about its new-found place in national politics and the possibilities it has opened to the party. The big question is whether the party can display enough political and organisational skills and manoeuvrability to fulfil its ambition.

Bigger battles By T.K. Rajalakshmi

THE debate on the nuclear deal made it clear that the Left parties were firm on their position. The BJP position was ambiguous, which was reflected in the cross-voting that went in favour of the UPA government.

In a joint statement a day after the trust vote, the leaders of the four Left parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), said: The Manmohan Singh government has won the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha but the entire country has witnessed how parliamentary democracy has been subverted.

They demanded that the tapes submitted by a television channel on the alleged move to bribe some BJP members be made public. They made it clear that the Left parties would continue their opposition to the nuclear deal and build up a wide movement on the issues of price rise and agrarian distress and that in this venture they would join hands with other like-minded parties to take up their issues.

In a significant break from the past, the Left has forged a campaign alliance with the BSP, which opens up the possibility of a third front. The BSP, whose social base includes the most oppressed sections in society, is a leading player in this alliance and some Left leaders have said that its leader, Mayawati, might head a government formed by this alliance in the future. By incorporating the BSP leader in the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), the Left prevented the collapse of the front after the S.P. desertion.

The move also allowed the Left to forge a wide platform on the issue of the nuclear deal and on economic issues. Soon after the trust vote, the Left parties and some of its UNPA allies, including the BSP, launched a campaign focussing on the nuclear deal, inflation, corruption in high places, misuse of the office of the Central Bureau of Investigation, agrarian distress and issues of economic reform.

The Left parties launched their campaign on July 14 at a joint public meeting in Delhi, where they criticised the government for its secretiveness about the draft of the Safeguards Agreement (now in the public domain) and explained why it was necessary to withdraw the support to the government. Similar public meetings will be held in Patna and Bangalore soon. A major public meeting with UNPA allies is planned for the first week of September.

The withdrawal of support by the Left was not a whimsical decision. The Left parties felt they had been betrayed twice over. The government reneged on its promise to present the outcome of the talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before the UPA-Left Coordination Committee. It had also made a commitment to take into account the findings of the committee before proceeding further.

The BJP, despite being the principal opposition party, did not move the customary no-confidence motion. A Left leader remarked how Manmohan Singh, in a bid to enlist the BJPs support, referred to former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee as the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian politics. On July 21, after Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani made his somewhat ambivalent speech, Mohammad Salim, a CPI(M) member from West Bengal, in a hard-hitting speech, accused the Manmohan Singh government of betrayal; he did not spare the BJP, either. He reminded the House that the electorate had not given the Congress an unqualified mandate in the last elections.

He emphasised that the Congress had forgotten its own legacy of non-alignment in foreign policy. The government, he said, was obliged to tell the people what would be the cost per unit of electricity generated by nuclear energy; it was not enough to say that the nuclear deal would ensure electricity for everyone. The debate could go on for two nights but the country ought to know what was there in the deal the agreement was not between two individuals, he said.

The Left parties reacted sharply to statements made by Manmohan Singh in his reply to the debate. Referring to his remark that the Left expected him to behave like a bonded slave, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat said it was unfortunate that the Prime Minister should have used such words.

If he was being used as a bonded slave, why did he continue to take the support of the Left for four years? This kind of statement does not add to the dignity of the Prime Ministers office. Both the Congress and the BJP should know that it was by the vote of the tainted MPs that the government has survived, she said. It was only the Left, she said, that took a principled stand and not a single broker had dared approach its MPs. Referring to the Prime Ministers charge that the Left vetoed everything that was suggested, she said the Left only opposed policies that violated the spirit of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP).

Brinda Karat also told Frontline that the results of the vote of confidence pointed to a rightward shift in governance. The Finance Minister, she said, had already announced that the process of reforms would be taken forward. This portends a dangerous shift that is bound to affect the interests of the people of this country, she said. The Left parties would continue to oppose these policies and they expected the Congress allies to stall reforms that would isolate them from the people. Manmohan Singh had said in his reply that he had outlined a far-reaching programme of economic reforms whose fruits are now visible to every objective person.

Brinda Karat said that the fruits of reforms were visible in Indias distinction of having the largest number of malnourished people in the world and in the unprecedented levels of inequalities. The report of the Arjun Sengupta Committee, appointed by the government to look into the working conditions and livelihood patterns in the unorganised sector, had revealed that nearly 70 per cent of the population lived on less than Rs.20 a day.

The Kalawatis and the Sasikalas suffer because of the very same policies introduced when he [Manmohan Singh] was the Finance Minister, she said, referring to the two women from Vidarbha mentioned in Rahul Gandhis speech. If at all the government had taken up any pro-people measures, it was because of the Lefts intervention, she said.

She rejected the charge that those who voted against the government were as opportunistic as those who supported it. The outcome of the trust vote had made it clear, she said, that it was the Congress that had to rely on tainted members to save itself. We voted according to our agenda. We told the country that if the Congress goes against the CMP, we are not going to support it any longer. There was no ambiguity anywhere, anytime, she said. In 1993, she said, the Left had moved a motion of no-confidence against the Narasimha Rao government.

The BJP also voted against the government but it was according to its agenda. It is those who have given up their principles in the struggle for preserving Indias sovereignty and who support the predatory moves of national and international corporate interests who should be pondering about opportunistic alliances, she said. On Railway Minister Lalu Prasads remark that there was no room for Left ideology in India, she said it was unfortunate that the Minister should have found himself in the company of those who have predicted the end of communist ideology and whose predictions have been proved wrong.

D. Raja, national secretary of the CPI, said it was uncharitable on the Prime Ministers part to say the Left treated him like a bonded slave. He is not a child. By negotiating with the Samajwadi Party, he has proved that he is no political novice, he said, claiming that the mandate of the trust vote was questionable. The country watched how Parliament was divided on the issue of the nuclear deal. Everyone saw that the government won because of bribery and cross-voting, he said, demanding that the tapes lying with the Speaker should be made public. If they cannot make it public, at least it should be done so in a specially convened session of Parliament members, he said.

Reacting to the Prime Ministers reply, Debabrata Biswas, general secretary of the AIFB, said the former had not answered any question raised by the Left. I wonder which speech of the Prime Minister is to be believed, the one that he gave on the 60th anniversary of Independence, where he spoke of inclusive growth stating that the economy was growing at an unprecedented rate but that development had not touched 70 per cent of the people, or the speech he gave in Parliament about the great achievements of the UPA, Biswas said. He said that though Manmohan Singh had spoken about his rural roots, the village boy had no time to visit the villages now where he would find things were very much the same. History will definitely judge the Prime Minister on how the trust vote was managed, he said.

Biswas said that the UNPA had been reconstituted and the alliance was primarily forged to rally people against both the Congress and the BJP. This is the first time in the history of independent India that an international agreement has been debated in Parliament with the Left parties taking centre stage. It was because of our political position that we forced the government to debate the issue. I am thankful to Prakash Karat for creating a nationwide opinion on the nuclear deal and mobilising not only the Left parties but public opinion as well on this issue, he said.

Abani Roy, Central Committee member of the RSP and a member of the Rajya Sabha, said the CMP had not envisaged a complete surrender to the United States. Responding to charges of opportunism among opponents of the government, he said the nation had seen what had happened. We are not the losers. However, we cannot do the kind of things that were resorted to by the government in order to stay on in power, he said.

For the UPA and its new constituents, the debate on the nuclear deal may be over. But the Left parties believe that the government still has a lot of answering to do to the nation. Their queries regarding the IAEA safeguards agreement still stand. They have maintained that the corrective steps inserted in the preamble of the safeguards agreement do not address several issues. Once the text of the agreement is approved by the IAEA Board of Governors, the Left has pointed out, the initiative will go out of Indias hands. It is the U.S. that will take the next step of moving the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries for a waiver and placing the 123 Agreement before its own Congress.

The Left also maintains that the nuclear deal is not really about energy security. Even if the order for imported reactors is placed the day the deal is operationalised, it will take seven to eight years for electricity to be produced, whereas coal-fired plants can be built in three to four years. The cost of electricity, too, would be Rs.5 a unit instead of Rs.2 or Rs.2.50 a unit provided by coal-fired plants.

The Prime Ministers reply made practically no reference to inflation and the measures taken to check price rise. Even if the nuclear issue does not become a major factor in the next elections, the rise in the prices of essential commodities definitely will.

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