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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 37

Indian Season of Troubles

Wednesday 3 September 2008, by Shree Shankar Sharan


Our season of troubles seem to have started again. The first was over the trust vote against the UPA Government.There was hardly a need for a trust vote but for the impetuosity of the Central Government or, more precisely, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the matching obduracy of the CPM leadership led by Comrade Prakash Karat.

The PM seemed in a frantic hurry to strike the nuclear deal while Bush was still the President of the US. Normally countries avoid making a deal with an outgoing government, lest it fails to return to power, but our own government’s judgment was bizarrely contrary to the normal. Does a deal bind the successor government if it does not believe in its efficacy or propriety? In politics, of course, these elegant phrases mean little and are euphemisms for what is profitable or convenient. The way Bush looks at it, however, may not be quite the same as Obama would, if he wins or even as McCain would if he were to win. There is no doubt an inherent conflict between the prohibitions under NPT, CTBT and an India-specific exemption based on India’s unblemished non-proliferation record which leaves a number of nuclear reactors unsafe-guarded for strategic purposes. To the Indian Government it amounts to a de facto recognition of the country as a nuclear weapon state. This is bound to raise eyebrows and fears of other nuclear powers or aspirants citing the Indian deal as a precedent to lift sanctions they are under or would attract.

Of course, there is very little that is India- specific in the 123 Agreement which is an exception provided in the Atomic Energy Act for accommodating suitable countries in the nuclear trade. China has also signed a 123 Agreement with the US. The only point of heightened interest globally in the Indian deal is its timing when US threatens an invasion on Iran on a perception that it is turning nuclear and makes a deal with a nuclear weapon state like India. Pressure is bound to build up in the Nuclear Suppliers Group to make India sign the NPT and also perhaps the CTBT as a deterrent against building its nuclear arsenal and not testing nuclear weapons with potentially global hazard of radiation for humanity beyond borders.

The Agreement, as long as it is on all fours with the Hyde Act passed by the American lawmakers, stood a good chance to be concluded by any successor government. A deal with the successor government would have been wiser by casting on it a stronger motive to abide by it and the unwritten nuances of the Agreement that might have been agreed to but not explicitly incorporated. A US Government that disagrees with the treaty is more likely to insist on conditionality, consistent with the Hyde Act, but not with India’s aspirations to be a de facto nuclear weapon state without signing the NPT and CTBT. The Indian Government, only a few months away from elections, was also binding its successor to the agreement should the Congress not return to power.

One of the justifications of the agreement is that it will lift sanctions against the import of dual use technology. There is nothing in the agreement or the Hyde Act to authorise this. Would the agreement, if concluded in the tight time-frame available, permit time to review the sanctions against India on the related issues?

The inescapable conclusion is that the haste with which the Indian Government has acted risking its own political future is to put the stamp of authorship on the Agreement just as its denial motivated the BJP to oppose it though they had co-fathered it when in power at the Centre. The haste is also partly due to the rather naive faith that the Indian Government places in the intent and ability of President Bush to overcome any roadblocks with the risk of hardening the attitude of the Democratic Party.

But apart from the merit of the nuclear deal or the merit of seeking energy security with nuclear energy in a country flush with solar, wind and oceanic energy and whether it will lead to a mortgage of our foreign policy to the US, the political price that the country has had to pay for pushing the deal has been enormous and regrettable. The ruling party, reduced to a minority by withdrawal of support by the Left, had to conjure a majority by seeking support from hitherto unfriendly parties and sundry minor parties. As their pound of flesh many unpalatable terms had to be agreed to. There were allegations of horse-trading and buying support and a wad of notes was displayed in the Lok Sabha with flourish as proof by some BJP MPs. The matter is since under inquiry but the country’s image has been globally besmirched and some shine taken off of our boast as the world’s largest democracy. The ruling party, specially the Congress party, owed a duty to the nation not to engage in nefarious deals and thereby set an example to the smaller or regional parties in more moral behaviour. But they have failed the nation a second time in meeting a moral test.

A worse, and more serious, consequence of the political wheeling and dealing has been the choice of the Left to set up a third force under the leadership of the UP Chief Minister, Mayawati, who has thereby made a claim to be the country’s Prime Minister both as a Dalit ki beti and the CM of India’s largest State. The criteria put forward by her for Prime Ministership says enough of the suitability of the lady for the country’s top post. But surprisingly Prakash Karat, so deeply ideologically committed as to oppose Jyoti Basu’s election as the PM some years ago, has thought it fit to continue to sponsor a Third Front under ideologically so deficient a leader as Mayawati and plays along her dream to be PM. The Left has certainly raised her stature in the eyes of her caste supporters in the country and dissenters of other parties who have been on the look out for a new platform like Natwar Singh. Her chances to garner more seats in the next Parliament election in UP has certainly gone up.

Indian politics has had to suffer a double whammy by the Prime Minister’s insistence on pursuing the nuclear deal. The Congress and the CPM leadership are the latest to join the league of eminent men who have muddied and weakened Indian politics and moved it a step closer to its disgrace and debasement.

Trouble in Kashmir

THE other seat of trouble is the old one in Jammu and Kashmir. By a controversial decision of the J&K Government to transfer 100 acres of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board on which the State Governor presides, a volley of protest was kicked up in the Valley as an attempt to change the State’s demographic character. It gathered large support in which the separatists, the Hurriyat and the PDP all joined in. It was met with force, more trouble and finally revocation of the order of transfer of land to the Shrine Board. That provoked a growing body of protest in Jammu, again met with force and that only added to the protest growing in volume and intensity and the BJP combine jumping in to fan it. A kind of blockade on the movement of trucks via Jammu to the rest of the country occurred, causing scarcities in the Valley and, worse, a rotting of apples in the Valley which could not move to its market.

As a brilliant retaliation a call was made to the people of the Valley to go to Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir and met with a handsome response of lakhs of people and trucks starting to move there, only to be stopped by the strong use of force with some loss of lives. The agitation in Jammu tragically took a communal turn with mutual killings and destruction of property. Both are now under curfew except for a few hours of quiet.

All about so little as the two Governors must have thought. But the government has grievously misread the situation where the littlest event can be the last straw in Kashmir. Two things are important to sooth and assuage ruffled feelings. The blockade must be effectively lifted. Communal trouble must be effectively ended.

But more is needed beyond this. While the transfer of land cannot be restored as of now more should be done ostensibly to make the lives of pilgrims to Amarnath more comfortable.

Additionally, India should boldly talk to Pakistan to allow the import of Kashmiri apples along its old trade route. Lifting barriers on all trade with Kashmir should be proposed to Pakistan as one of the important measures for Indo-Pakistan détente in Kashmir.

The season of mistakes and consequent troubles must end with some permanent good.

Sixth Pay Commission

REVISION of pay scales by accepting or going beyond the Sixth Pay Commission with an outgo of nearly Rs 12,000 crores in two years and Rs 29,000 crores on payment of arrears is pushing the nation in an unwanted financial crisis. The State Government employees are bound to clamour for parity which will sink State governments and push the load back at the Centre. In a country with 26 per cent below the poverty line and most on the margins of poverty, public servants meant to serve them do not have to be awarded such cushy rewards many times more than the official daily wages in a National Employment Guarantee Scheme. We seem to have forgotten both our cultural and Gandhian legacy to be content with and proudly live a life of poverty if well and honestly lived, and the enormous damage and social tension of widening economic disparity. To hope to hold our civil service down to an honest discharge of duty by being made rich is pure mirage. An appetite for riches, if whetted, will only promote dishonesty. If anything, it is the daily wages of the NREGS that should be enhanced to Rs 100.

Besides, the measure is totally out of sync with our fight against inflation. So much more money in the hands of public servants will not fight but fuel inflation. A wise realisation of this reality made Mrs Thatcher and later other European governments to delink dearness allowance from cost of living index. The hasty announcement of the Sixth Pay Commission award has been partisan and unfortunate. The damage should be controlled by spreading its impact over more than two years, and giving up for good our search for parity with the private sector. We, public servants, cannot have the cake and eat it too.

The author is the President, Awami Ekta Councial, Patna/Delhi.

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