KOZHIKODE, Kerala, India – In the event, the vote wasn’t even that close. 275-256, a comfortable margin of 19 votes. Several opposition MPs defied party discipline to vote for the government. The BJP staged a disgraceful demonstration waving huge stacks of money and accusing congress of vote-buying. Now the BJP are guardians of political morality, evidently (not to casually dismiss the charges of corruption or vote-buying. Perhaps India could address this corruption problem by formalizing vote-buying through a more developed lobby system, like Western countries have?). In fact, the BJP probably think they benefit from any disruption in normal procedural functioning of government. They also managed to prevent the Prime Minister from making his own remarks.
The remarks of the PM, Manmohan Singh, published in the newspaper the next day, were interesting in several ways. Let’s dismiss the BJP – they were not opposed to the deal, nor to nuclear energy, nor to nuclear weapons, nor to entanglement with the US – they saw (and still see) a chance to gain from the fall of the government and exploited it. The Left’s criticisms of the deal were that if nuclear energy were to be pursued, it could be pursued without greater entanglement with the US, and that the deal was part of greater strategic and economic dependence on the US. The Congress government’s reply was not so much to defend greater entanglement or loss of autonomy, but to say that the deal won’t cost India autonomy and won’t involve subordination to the US. If it were true, and this was the only (and cleanest – the PM spoke against coal on climate change grounds, acknowledging an interesting tradeoff that many will be facing) way to generate energy, the Congress government would be right in pursuing the deal.
But if it were true, the US would not be pursuing it, since the US is not interested in helping to build autonomous powers, but dependencies and clients. More on that later, I hope.
In any case, as unfortunate as it is that the deal is going to go through, this government surviving is not the worst of outcomes, even for the Left in India. As Siddharth Varadarajan, a fine journalist and commentator who spent some time in Canada, wrote in the Hindu before the vote, the government’s fall would not really have benefited the left. A BJP government would not benefit the left. A reconstituted Congress led government without the left wouldn’t benefit the left much either. What Siddharth didn’t exactly acknowledge was that it was the brief period when the left played a role as power broker that was anomalous: centrist parties don’t like to depend on the left, and as politics usually drift right following the current of concentrated wealth, such alliances are always unstable and always break down over something.
The left’s current move is to join in a group of at least 10 parties, including that of the UP Chief Minister Mayawati, to campaign against the nuclear deal, communalism, inflation (it’ll be interesting to see what policy prescriptions they have on this), and agrarian problems. Hard to know what this formation will do, or what its relationship to Congress will be. For me, the behaviour of the BJP in the parliament and since, as well as the textbook controversy here in Kerala, suggests that communalism is still very much alive and needs to be considered as a danger in any political thinking or work.
Hopefully more to say on development, economic, and environmental problems in the coming days.