Today’s vote of confidence in Parliament is as much about a consensus on the Indo-US nuclear agreement as a ‘How do you do?’ is an inquiry about someone’s well being. That the pros and cons of the nuclear deal have been thrashed out well before Monday’s Lok Sabha debate and that earlier stated positions have not changed over the many months should not surprise us. The Left remains ideologically opposed; the BJP remains opposed for its own sweet reasons; while the Congress, after some feet-shuffling, has proactively tried to sell the deal that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly believes will reap benefits for the nation. What should have been a surprise — but sadly isn’t — is the way the trust vote has become a bartering system for too many parliamentarians by which to up one’s own stakes.
It would be extremely naive to believe that such ‘tit-for-tat’ tactics would not happen. But registering such a sorry state of affairs is not the same as being blasé about it. In Monday’s debate, we were at least willing to believe L.K. Advani when he stated that the BJP-led NDA had no intention of “destabilising” an elected government and that the UPA in general and the PM in particular had brought about this situation on themselves. This is clever rhetoric by which Mr Advani has made his party’s opposition-for-the-sake-of-opposition to the deal turn into a confrontation of the PM’s making. But at least we knew the BJP’s position well before the ‘number-crunching’ haggle-fest ended today.
So what about the ‘smaller parties’ — single-digit elements like the JMM and the JD(S) — who pretty much put themselves up for auction? There were noxious moments in which we had an MP support the deal in the morning and oppose it by the evening. There have been disgruntled and opportunistic leaders coalescing around BSP leader Mayawati for nothing else but gaining a ‘critical mass’ so that they can bring down a government. For what? Unlike the Left, not because they are opposed to the deal, but because the vote provided them the lovely opportunity to reposition themselves to a better seat under the sun.
The PM’s decision to table a trust vote and put so much at stake is not only brave but also honest. But the fact that many ‘fence-sitting’ MPs waited till the last minute to see where their penny dropped shows that even when today’s hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won, Indian democracy has been left playing national interest issues to the tune of the rustle of filthy lucre and obscene powerplay. And it is this stink that will endure — regardless of whether the present government does or not.