Sunday, July 30, 2006

BJP must not flirt with foes (July 30, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

If public memory is woefully short, the recollections of politicians tend to be conveniently expedient. Those of us who remember the heady days of May 1998 when India exploded its nuclear devices in Pokhran will recall that the national celebratory mood did not always cut across party lines. The two Communist parties—which had in earlier decades celebrated the “worker’s bomb” of the Soviet Union and China—were incensed. Equally agitated was the “progressive” wing of the Congress whose world view was aggressively articulated by K. Natwar Singh, then a member of the Lok Sabha. Eight years after Pokhran-II, it would be instructive to re-visit some of the pronouncements of the Comrades and the Nehruvians—if only to confer profundity to the saying that consistency is the virtue of little minds.

None of this history is unfamiliar to Yashwant Sinha, the BJP Rajya Sabha member who has taken it upon himself the onerous task of delivering his party to grateful clutches of Amar Singh and Sitaram Yechuri—the moving spirits behind the proposed parliamentary resolution on the Indo-US nuclear understanding. Sinha is sufficiently appreciative of the political instincts of the cause he represents to realise that being seen on TV addressing the media with the Samajwadi Party’s public face by his side (as he did last Thursday) does not bring instant comfort to those who swear by Indian nationalism. Making common cause with the public defenders of SIMI doesn’t exactly convince the average Indian that national security is uppermost in the minds of the BJP.

Nor were matters helped by Sinha’s boast that even Natwar Singh was on his side. The man who was instrumental in pushing the NDA Government into acquiescing to the “unanimous” pro-Saddam Hussein resolution of Parliament in 2003 may hate the Americans for what they did to his great Iraqi friend. But didn’t the BJP, only a year ago, wave the UN-sponsored Volcker Report to argue that the recipients of oil vouchers had sold the country’s foreign policy for 30 pieces of silver?

The attempts by what can best be called the Hizbollah faction of the BJP to win brownie points with the Samajwadi Party may yet come to nought because some of the Comrades are loath to abandon political untouchability. That, however, would be an unforeseen face saver. The larger question is: what is the BJP doing in the company of those who hate America because of its unrelenting fight against terrorism?

This is not to suggest that everything is hunky-dory with the Indo-US relationship. There are some aspects of the ongoing legislative ratification of the July 18, 2004 agreement which warrant concern. These are concerns shared by the White House too. The BJP would be justified in expressing these concerns forcefully and with clarity. But nit-picking over a clause or two cannot be allowed to divert attention from the fact that the nuclear understanding is symbolic of a larger strategic partnership.

India today needs business partners, markets and a loose security umbrella to further its remarkable success story. The US is a “natural ally” in the quest for technological excellence and the fight against jihadi terror. In a world which is lurching towards a civilisational conflict, India and the US will inevitably be on the same side of the divide, unless India is overwhelmed by dhimmitude. For all his shortcomings, the Prime Minister has grasped this, although vote bank politics rule out any formal acknowledgement of national threat. It is astonishing that the BJP believes it can do business with forces whose primary commitment isn’t (and never was) to India.

Where it needs to oppose uncompromisingly—as on the Office of Profit Bill and the lax national security—the BJP either effects backdoor compromises or spouts inanities. Where it needs to be supportive it goes ballistic and ends up unwittingly embracing Communists and jihadis. Is there a leadership left in the party? Or, can any hustler hijack the agenda?

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, July 30, 2006)

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