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N-deal: Congress facing isolation

With Left alienated, Congress leaders fear a 1989 repeat when ‘friendless’ Rajiv Gandhi watched power slip away, reports Vinod Sharma.

delhi Updated: Jul 19, 2008 01:52 IST
Vinod Sharma Vinod Sharma

The gun deal that brought Rajiv Gandhi ignominy and defeat in 1989 helped the country win the mountain war in Kargil a decade later.

At the core of the wanton anti-Congressism currently on display is another deal — one that promises to dismantle the post-1974 nuclear apartheid to help India gain access to technology she has been denied for over three decades.

Like the Howitzer contract the Opposition derided to bolster its artillery fire, history will judge the utility of the proposed Indo-US nuclear deal. But the political cost the Congress might end up paying in pursuit of the pact seems way beyond its means.

What’s worrying Congressmen in the face of a belligerent Left, a petulant BSP and the scheming BJP is their post-poll isolation. They may pass the July 22 trial of strength in the Lok Sabha. But the bigger, possibly insurmountable challenge will be about life after elections.

The wide chasm the UPA-Left split has caused in the secular flank is bound to cost the Congress the prima ballerina status it so assiduously cultivated in the post-2004 coalition ballet.

Quite real in that situation could be the forebodings of a repeat of 1989 when a ‘friendless’ Rajiv sat on the sidelines with the largest bulk of 197 MPs, watching V.P. Singh’s National Front wrest power with outside support from the Left and BJP.

If it was V.P. then, it could be Mayawati or L.K. Advani now, depending on the arithmetic in the 15th House. But a major dilapidating factor in the way of the Left propping up a third front regime in tandem with the BJP would be the post-Ayodhya, post-Godhra taint the latter lacked in the 9th House.

In a way, the present day political isolation of the Congress — that continues to lead a multi-party coalition and has the SP’s outside support — isn’t as wholesome and complete as it was in 1989 or during the 1977 Janata experiment and the 1967 SVD spurt.

But its full-blown confrontation with the Left has shifted focus from the BJP’s post 1992 track-record that had such leading stalwarts as E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Madhu Limaye urging secular forces to shun anti-Congressism to fight communalism.

For the present, the Left has gone on a rebound to Mayawati. By CPM general secretary Prakash Karat’s own admission, he hasn’t discussed with the BSP chief any long-term tie-up beyond opposing Manmohan Singh’s trust vote.

Howsoever short-lived, the Left’s companionship will help Mayawati — who has already branded the deal anti-Muslim — live down her past dalliances with the BJP to reinforce her clout with the community. After the polls, either side will chart its own independent course, placing a BJP-BSP lineup within the realm of possibility.

In contrast, the secular vote will be divided in the run-up to the elections, making doubly complex the task of unifying parties representing that mandate for staking claim to power. A typical heads-they-win-and-tails-we-lose situation for the badly-nuked secular bloc?