The Prime Minister’s decision to go ahead with the nuclear deal has ignited long-buried patriotic sentiments in the most unlikely quarters, according to UPA sources. As proof, they point to expelled Samajwadi Party MP Ateeq Ahmed, who allegedly has 150 or so criminal cases pending against him, having a sudden change of heart. “In spite of the injustices heaped upon Ateeqbhai, he has decided to support the UPA government because he is convinced that the deal is in the national interest”, said a cell mate of Shri Ahmed’s. Unconfirmed reports indicate that convicted RJD MP Mohammed Shahabuddin has been so impressed with the nuclear deal that he is educating the other inmates of his jail on its finer points. “Shahabuddinji told us the other day about the Hyde Act, the NSG, the IAEA, the 123 agreement, the 456 agreement and the MHWTSS,” said a veteran convict emotionally. “He pleaded the UPA’s case with such fire and passion,” he sobbed, tears rolling down his cheeks.
However, opposition parties pooh-pooh the story. “There’s no such thing as the 456 agreement,” they say, adding that it probably refers to a large sum of money. They also claim that MHWTSS merely stands for “Make Hay While The Sun Shines”. But UPA sources hotly dispute the rumour that they have been scouring the country’s jails on the chance of discovering forgotten MPs who can be induced to vote for the deal. They claim there is no reason to worry, because, apart from the UPA members, they also have the support of the NLP, the SDF, the NPP, the MNF, the TRS, the JVM and the LJP among others. Opposition members are not so sure. “Do all these parties exist?” asked a sceptical BJP parliamentarian. “I have a sneaking suspicion that JVM stands for Jam Vith Money,” he added. He claimed that the NDA were the true patriots, because they were pro-nuclear test but anti-nuclear deal, while the Congress was pro-deal but anti-test and the Left was anti-Hyde. “That’s apart from us being right and them being left”, he explained. “I’m sure the masses will understand and give a fitting rebuke to those who are anti-test, pro-inflation, anti-Hyde and not right,” he added. As a clinching argument he points out that all experts say that the rise in oil prices is a secular trend. “Can there be a more damning indictment of secularism?” he asked.
A source in the left disagrees vehemently, arguing that imperialism is a bigger danger today than fundamentalism. “We will tell the people about the pro-Bush agenda of the Congress,” he said. “What’s more, we’ll distribute free copies of our 203-page book, ‘The Left’s stand on the Nuclear Deal’, certain to be a big hit with the masses.” Not everybody agrees, with several party bigwigs saying that distributing copies of Lenin’s “Imperialism, the highest stage of Capitalism” would be a better idea.
Party spokesmen also deny the allegations of horse-trading levelled against them. “These rumours of people wanting money or favours are absolute hogwash,” said a UPA source. “All we do,” he explained, “ is to go to the houses of our friends, carrying a large sack filled with papers explaining the Hyde Act, the 123 agreement, tracts on secularism etc. After a few hours, they are often so overcome with patriotic and secularist fervour that we have to physically restrain them from rushing to Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaeda.” He added the only reason Deve Gowda says he will make up his mind on the deal a day before the trust vote is because he would be taking a short nap till then.
All this has understandably left ordinary people confused, although they have no doubt the nuclear deal is very significant. Haridas Pal, an immigrant from Bengal living with 8 others in a one-room shack in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, proudly showed me his diary. “See, I’ve put the nuclear deal right on top of my list of ‘Important Things To Do’” he said. “It ranks just below world peace.”
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint