Eric Hobsbawm titled his memoirs of the 20th century interesting ti-mes, borrowing from an ancient Oriental curse, despite its doubtful origins: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ The current political uncertainties centering around the dispute between the UPA government and the Left parties (which provide crucial outside support) on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal are, indeed, such times.
The UPA came into existence because the Left provided the decisive support based on its commitment to have a secular dispensation at the helm of affairs. This support was extended despite the fact that of the 61 Left MPs in the Lok Sabha, 54 of them reached there by defeating Congress candidates. Such commitment of the Left to have a government of the secular forces remains.
However, the UPA also came into existence on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP). This programme was arrived at after serious and prolonged discussions. In the process, the initial formulation in the foreign policy section, seeking a strategic alliance with the US, was replaced with the following: “While pursuing closer engagement and relations with the US, independence of India’s foreign policy position on all regional and global issues will be maintained.” Further, the CMP defines such an independent foreign policy to be pursued, “to promote multipolarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism”. Through these columns, we had shown in the past how the Indo-US 123 agreement rooted firmly in the US Hyde Act severely compromises such an independent foreign policy. Additionally, it also draws India into the US’s global strategic framework that impinges upon our sovereignty.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that this Indo-US nuclear deal is outside the framework of the CMP which is the basis on which the Left extends its support to the UPA. It is, therefore, the UPA that is departing from the CMP. One may well argue that a departure which is good for the country should be supported. As we have seen, apart from violating the foreign policy positions of the CMP, this nuclear deal is not even worthy in terms of India’s much-needed energy augmentation. It is prohibitively expensive. The targeted 20,000 MW if generated through using either coal, water or gas (all of which we have in abundance) would cost around Rs 60,000 crore while using imported nuclear reactors would cost us over Rs 2 lakh crore.
Just imagine the benefits of utilising this difference of amount in the fields of education and public health. With just 7 per cent of our eligible youth entering higher education, India is creating a flutter in the international knowledge economy. We could increase these numbers instead of providing huge profits to multinational corporations from whom we intend to import nuclear reactors.
Leave aside other details and consider the larger question. The UPA and its CMP provided an opportunity for a paradigm shift in the content of the economic reforms, i.e. shift the focus from being solely preoccupied with corporate profits towards improving people’s welfare. Some important measures in this direction have, indeed, been taken, despite tardy implem-entation, like the rural employment guarantee scheme and forest rights to the tribals. There are increased allocations in health and education, though not to the extent promised in the CMP. Unfortunately, however, much of the CMP’s content has become a victim to the neo-liberal economic agenda that continues to be pursued.
There was yet another paradigm shift taking place. This was in the content of public discourse. The communal content of public discourse during the six-year BJP-led NDA rule was increasingly being replaced by discussions on vital issues of people’s welfare like employment guarantee, farm loan waivers, revival of sick public sector units, right to information etc. The country was no longer besieged with being asked to take a position on M.F. Husain’s paintings or Deepa Mehta’s films or Ghulam Ali’s ghazals. This shift in the terms and content of public discourse is, alas, being threatened to be reversed.
This column reaches the readers on the day of a ‘Bharat bandh’ called by the BJP on the revocation of the land allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board in Jammu and Kashmir. Such whipping up of communal passions is central to the BJP’s electoral agenda. The BJP resurrected its core communal demands like the building up a temple in Ayodhya, the common civil code, replacing dharma nirpekshata with panth nirpekshata in our Constitution.
Back in the 1990s, the BJP came before the people with three ‘B’s — bhookh, bhay and bhrashtachar — promising to eradicate them. However, its six years in office have compounded the people’s miseries on each of these counts. For the coming general elections, they have forwarded three ‘I’s instead — inflation, internal security and incompetence. Their track record on each of these issues is hardly anything to write home about. These slogans apart, it is clear, both in the deliberations of its national executive and the pronouncements by its leaders, that the hardcore communal agenda will be its bedrock in the coming electoral campaigns to consolidate the ‘Hindu vote bank’.
As this needs to be checked in order to safeguard and strengthen India’s secular democratic foundations, it is imperative that the UPA abandons its digressions from the CMP and gets down to seriously implementing the pro-people content of the CMP. Three of the past four years were pre-occupied with public airing of differences between the UPA and the Left on this Indo-US nuclear deal. The UPA must give up pursuing something that is not part of its CMP and resolve the present crisis. Instead of being cursed, let these interesting times be put to use for creating a better India.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and MP