Power without responsibilities gives rise to a dangerous entity. Add untrammeled politics to this and we have something that believes it has the self-ordained right to speak for everyone else. In the landscape of India’s parliamentary democracy, the Left has revelled in playing this role, despite being a bit player in terms of shoring up electoral support. In its latest obstructionist move, the ‘outside supporter’ of the UPA government has railed against the India-US nuclear deal. It wants it to be scrapped for reasons that can be explained in terms of psychoanalysis rather than in terms of national interest. Too many times in the past has the Congress-led UPA government succumbed to the self-righteous pressure tactics of the Left parties. So forgive us if we winced at the prospect of the Government of India rolling over and complying yet again to communist sulking. But even the ever-patient Prime Minister has now come to the point where he has been forced to remind Left leaders where the line starts and where the line ends.
It would be worth remembering — and reminding — that the UPA came to power in 2004 with a mandate that approved the coalition’s common minimum programme. The Left parties, cobbling up between them 60 seats, have two outposts, Kerala and an increasingly un-Leftist West Bengal. For the likes of the CPI(M) and the CPI — and, even more remarkably, one-trick ponies such as the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party — to have the power to constantly scuttle and delay India’s economic and foreign policies is surreal. The agit-prop against the nuclear deal is just the latest response to the Left’s endless litany of woes. On the economic front, it has played the dog in the manger by blocking insurance reforms, stalling the sales of loss-making public sector units, opposing the privatisation of airports in Delhi and Mumbai, halting pension reforms, and opposing foreign universities from entering India. Left leaders are quick to tell us what they don’t want. We rarely get details about what they do want.
Which brings us to the adage: you can’t clap with one hand. The Congress has given the Left a very long rope, a rope that is used on a regular basis to keep the UPA tied up in knots. It’s one thing to seek counsel from ‘conscience-keepers’. It’s quite another to be led by the nose by people who have no popular mandate. Manmohan Singh has finally called the Left’s bluff. The UPA has nothing to lose but its chains.