Vagaries of coalition politics

Congress is willing to compromise even on its foreign policy in order to humour its alliance partners who are in the habit of threatening to topple the government


If local factors sway strategic and defence policies at the global, regional and bilateral levels, India will erode its position in the comity of nations very fast

The price that the country is being made to pay to allow the Congress to keep its UPA in power at any cost is getting higher and higher. While ministers belonging to some of the alliance constituents have been openly looting the exchequer in return for continuing to prop up the shaky coalition (A Raja being the most notable manifestation of the malaise), the anxiety of the Congress to humour its partners is so pathetic that it is willing to compromise even on its foreign policy lest these junior players take offence and pull the rug from under its feet.

The latest such stooping took place when the government, coerced by the Tamil Nadu parties, voted in support of the US-sponsored censure motion in the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 22 demanding accountability on the part of the Sri Lanka government to the widespread human rights violations during the war against the LTTE in 2009. The repercussions of this U-turn will be felt for a long time to come. There has already been a sharp increase in anti-India feelings in the island nation since then, with a large section of the media even demanding that Sri Lanka should cast its lot instead with China, which voted against the motion.

Not only China, all the countries in the region voted against the resolution. The view earlier was that India would at worst abstain. But supporting the vote has added Sri Lanka to the long list of neighbours where anti-India feelings have flared up like never before.

With its Tamil Nadu blinkers on, India even failed to notice that the move was being initiated by a country which had not refused to see any human rights violations by Israel in seven decades and which itself had to account for what happened in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. 

Ironically, Pranab Mukherjee had said categorically on March 14 that “India does not vote on country-specific resolutions in the UNHRC” but on March 19, Dr Manmohan Singh did an abrupt flip-flop to announce that “we are inclined to vote”. Such was the effect of the ultimatum from the DMK, which had been seething ever since the Congress “dared’ to take action against its ministers in corruption cases, and had its revenge in this international matter, by threatening to pull out its ministers from the government at the Centre. Archrival AIADMK also has the same line on Lanka.

The government has been crying itself hoarse that it did so only to make sure that the Sri Lankan Tamils got justice, but the real motive was just too obvious to be obscured by any diplomatic sophistry.

No less embarrassing was the loss of face over the Teesta issue when Ms Mamata Banerjee made the Prime Minister eat humble pie on the river waters agreement with Bangladesh in September last year. Mamata refused to be part of the Manmohan Singh-led delegation to Dhaka at the last minute, with the result that the accord became a non-starter. All expectations that the treaty would be signed between Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Dr Singh were belied with the latter cutting a sorry figure.

Sheikh Hasina is one sincere friend we have in the region and yet we managed to ruffle feathers in her party as well by this atrocious act. No wonder, the radical elements which have a strong presence in Bangladesh, got a handle to beat India with. Sheikh Hasina also suffered in the process, but Mamata Banerjee was not amenable to reason. After all, her 19 MPs are her trump card.

Ironically, a hydrological survey of the Teesta river conducted by none other than a team of experts appointed by her own Irrigation and Waterways department has given a lie to her claim that sharing the waters of the river with Bangladesh would cause hardship to the population in North Bengal. It has come out with an astounding finding that the volume of water in the Teesta Barrage reservoir has increased from 4.3 million cubic metres in 2007 to 5.5 million cubic metres in 2012. Whatever the factual position may be, the relations with Bangladesh have been rudely soured.

She was equally churlish on the issue of FDI in the retail sector and forced the government to revise its stand. Apparently, no lessons had been learnt from the way her obduracy on the Nano car project was West Bengal’s loss and Gujarat’s gain.

The trend of the tail wagging the dog was clearly visible during the nuclear deal with the USA also. The communists held the country to ransom but in a rare show of spine, Dr Manmohan Singh refused to buckle. It was expected that such spunk would be shown in future also, but that was not to be. It has been a downhill journey ever since, with the Congress falling flat even when it is asked to just bend. Apparently, the message has gone out loud and clear to the allies that the Congress can be blackmailed without much effort, and they are enjoying this position of eminence with glee. The Congress-led government clings to power while the country suffers.

The policy paralysis had set in even in the times of Narasimha Rao. Doing nothing was bad enough, but now most of the policy about-turns are driven by regional politics and are self-destructive. The effects may not be visible to the untrained eye immediately but are exceptionally debilitating in the long run.

A country’s foreign policy is evolved over decades, keeping in mind not only its immediate interests but also long-term goals and ambitions. Unfortunately, regional parties are not in a position to think through these nuances, which are more like moves in a complicated chess game. For example, what will happen if the UN vote paves the way for similar calls on Kashmir, Nagaland or Manipur? If local factors sway strategic and defence policies at the global, regional and bilateral levels, India will erode its position in the comity of nations very fast.

There is no doubt that it is imperative to keep regional parties’ opinions and aspirations in mind while chalking out policies, but there should be better coordination and sharing of information on matters of vital importance like national security, anti-terror mechanisms, distribution of national resources and economic issues which will have a bearing on the future of the country. The spectacle of members of the coalition having pot-shots at each other in the power corridors of Delhi is bad enough. When these no-holds-barred bouts take place in the full glare of international attention, these are simply inexcusable.

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