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Birds of a political feather flock together

Even before the report could be debated or the ATR prepared by the government, Natwar Singh found new friends in the BJP, Samajwadi Party and the AIADMK among others, writes Prakash Patra.

india Updated: Aug 08, 2006 04:25 IST

In a parliamentary democracy, the job of the Opposition is to oppose the government. No matter what the issue is or the underlying principles and ideologies involved. In coalition politics, the face of the Opposition is, as the Congress is discovering time and again, like a mirror game. Every political outfit in governance, notwithstanding its sphere of influence, keeps putting its head up to guard its space and keep itself running as a relevant player on the political centre-stage.

Who’d have thought that the UPA would face embarrassment from its ‘dependable’ ally, the CPI(M), which has echoed the BJP’s tune? It’s a rare convergence of interests between two extremes. Poles apart in their ideologies, the two parties have one common goal - to retain political space.

Who could have imagined that the former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, virtually indicted by the Justice Pathak Commission, would find sympathisers in the Opposition’s ranks? It was the Opposition’s outcry in the aftermath of the Volcker Committee report that forced the PM to strip Singh of his ministerial berth. Natwar Singh  had to step down after Sonia Gandhi made public her feelings on the issue.

Now, the same Opposition that bayed for Singh’s blood is rallying around him on an issue of propriety - who leaked the Pathak Commission report to the media? It’s certainly a matter of concern that the report found its way to the media before it was tabled in Parliament. But this is a non-issue for the common man. For him, only Natwar Singh’s role in the oil deal is of consequence. Was he instrumental in getting benefits from the deal for himself or for his friends or for his party? That’s the moot question.

Even before the report could be debated or the Action Taken Report prepared by the government, Natwar Singh found new friends in the BJP, Samajwadi Party and the AIADMK among others. The new camaraderie has one underlying principle - embarrass the government. It’s a different matter that the nation hasn’t yet been informed through Parliament about the veracity of the leaked report.

Coming to the Indo-US nuclear deal, the CPI(M) has somewhat endorsed the BJP’s position that the government should bring in a resolution reflecting the Parliament’s sentiments - goalposts in the deal signed by Manmohan Singh and George Bush on July 18, 2005, should not be shifted. The CPI(M) has hardened its position despite the PM’s assertion that the Left’s joining hands with the BJP can  spell trouble for the government’s stability.

One can understand the CPI(M)’s motivation. It continues to base its foreign policy on a pathological mistrust of the US. Its position is rooted in ideological moorings, however outdated these may be. What can be said about the BJP whose government had initiated the process on nuclear cooperation with the US? The BJP can issue any number of statements on what it wanted and what it got. But one would like to ask it whether the points now being raised by the party were ever discussed in Parliament. Had the party got parliamentary endorsement of its negotiations with the then US regime? The perception was that the BJP was willing to be the US’s partner in exchange for its recognition of India within the nuclear weapons club.

The Natwar Singh episode has reopened at the right time for the BJP. Former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh’s ‘book of revelations’ was becoming a vexing point. A new issue would help diffuse attention. The same holds true for the Left. The Front smells the possibility of a non-Congress and non-BJP conglomeration coming to power in the next round under its leadership. It wouldn’t want to yield the Opposition space to the BJP or be seen as the Congress’s partner.

In this vicious cycle of uncertainties, issues pertaining to national security and national interest are the casualties - secondary to the interests of political parties.