Talking Shop as Seen Through Idiot Box

By a Sceptic

Lok Sabha, for the first time in its history, took up two motions of confidence, moved successively by the BJP and then the UF Govt., within a short span of just fifteen days. Debates were telecast alive and a large cross section of people across the length and breadth of the country all through remained glued to their TV sets.

On both occasions, BJP, knowing well they stand no chance in the numbers game, tried their utmost to capitalise on the debates and succeeded in prolonging the same despite the resistance of UF which preferred a straightaway division. Compared to the overall lacklustre performance of UF speakers, BJP stalwarts played to the gallery, and as opinion polls suggest, BJP and its star attraction Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee did draw lots of public support and sympathy.

Here we shall confine our review to the debate on the second confidence motion though to a large extent it was just the repetition of the earlier debate.
Deve Gowda, the fourth choice of the UF, tried to make a virtue of his incompetence by declaring that he neither knows good English nor can he speak Hindi, yet he knows the people. In the same vein he said, neither am I a scientist nor an economist, but I have lived among the people. He failed to add that his ignorance has been equally no bar in his enjoying most cordial relationship with multinationals and flying with Vijay Mallya in the private aircraft of Reliance group. His humble farmer origin is for public consumption, in reality his strength is derived from precisely these interlinkages with national and international capital and his turning Karnataka into a showpiece of new economic policies of liberalisation and globalisation.

Mr. Deve Gowda listed his priorities as providing drinking water, health, shelter, education etc. to the teeming millions. He is, however, known for his according top priority to the reactionary Land Reforms Bill which envisages doing away with the ceilings, and of course, to Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pepsi Pizza. None, however, preferred to debunk the myth of 'humble origin' and the Left speakers even went to the extent of equating Gowda's ascension to power with the ascendancy of labouring and downtrodden people! Ironically, none of the ministerial aspirants are interested in the berths related with the so-called top priority areas.

The Prime Minister virtually said nothing and was totally ineffective in setting the tone of the debate. The debate that ensued followed the predictable course.

BJP's main contention was that the UF is an unholy and unprincipled assortment of 13 parties who have joined hands just to share the crumbs of power. It came down heavily, in particular on UF's understanding with the scam-tainted Congress - the party which has lost the mandate.

UF and Congress leaders, on the other hand, maintained that despite all the differences they belong to a single secular camp and hence there is nothing unprincipled in their unity against communal forces. Moreover, their unity is based on a common minimum programme (CMP), a programme best suited to the agenda of social justice in the present context.

BJP in a bid to blunt the edge of attack on its communalism, began with the question of national security in the context of ongoing Geneva Conference on Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and demanded an unqualified assurance that India will not sign it and keep its nuclear options open. The point was initiated by Jaswant Singh and then finally reiterated by Atal Bihari. Gujral did come up with the assurance that India will keep the nuclear option open.

Well, there is no disputing India's right not to sign the CTBT until the big powers agree to dismantle all their nuclear arsenal, but in the concrete context, BJP's nuclear hullabaloo had nothing to do with India's sovereign stand vis-a-vis big powers. It was meant for maintaining regional superpower status of India in the South Asia and was specifically directed against Pakistan. In the discussion on foreign policy and national security, there was no urge for easing tension with Pakistan, no proposals to prevent the nuclear race, nothing. UF Foreign Minister only reiterated that foreign policy pursued by the earlier Congress regime shall continue, whatever it may mean.

The central debate on secularism Vs. communalism came in handy to avoid the crucial debate on economic reforms on the part of almost all the major players of the political game. On the contrary, the thrust of economic reforms, as put in the CMP of UF, received wholehearted support from both Congress and BJP. With Chidambaram promising to be bolder than Manmohan Singh and the CMP proposing the entry of foreign companies in the insurance sector, it looks more like the common maximum programme of Congress and the UF. Narasimha Rao gave away the game when he branded the CMP as almost a replica of Congress manifesto.

When Sushma Swaraj took a dig on left parties for their abject submission to opening up the insurance sector, no Left MP rose to dispute her allegation. It was left to Chidambaram to harp on the non-privatisation of LIC and GIC and their restructuring to sharpen their competitive edge etc. The essential question remained unanswered.

In secularism Vs. communalism debate most of the speakers on the secular side of the fence invoked the oft-repeated theme of Sarva dharma sambhav. Sharad Yadav, the sole ideologue of Janata Dal in this Parliament, made himself a laughing stock by jumbling up the historical facts. He defined the struggle between communalism and secularism as the struggle between fundamentalism and liberalism within Hinduism and much to the discomfort of several Muslim and Left MPs described the secular camp as the camp of liberal Hindus.

It is doubtful how far can this line of reasoning can work as an effective antidote against communalism. A Shiv Sena MP complimented Sharad Yadav for his equating secularism with Hinduism, no matter of the liberal variety. Vajpayee in his speech reiterated the BJP theme that contrary to the West, India has never been a theocratic state and has all along been secular precisely due to the preponderance of Hindus. BJP's appropriation of Gandhi and Ambedkar as Hindu social reformers and the strength provided to it by the Supreme Court judgement which made a subtle distinction between Hinduism as the religion and Hindutva as the way of life, and moreover, the impressive gains made by the BJP in this election even without the presence of the emotive issue of Ram Mandir, demand the redrawing of parameters of the historic struggle against communalism where secularism must be freed from all religious bondages and defined as the governing philosophy of a modern democratic state.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, not known much as a powerful orator, was his unusual self. He defended the killing of 16 kar sevaks during his tenure and termed it as much less a price for defending national unity and secular values of the nation.

Narasimha Rao's speech was a very cunning one and he was heard in rapt attention. He listed the so-called fundamental differences that the Congress has with the BJP and taking a dig at the UF constituents, added that Congress is the only party which has never made any alliance with the BJP. Left MPs who had vociferously propagated that Congress and BJP are the two sides of the same coin, were stunned into silence. While extending unconditional support to the Deve Gowda government, he made the shrewd remark that 140 odd MPs are not enough for forming the government but this number is enough to decide the fortune of any government.

When the other day in Bhuvaneshwar, addressing his party workers, he asked them to prepare for mid-term elections, and warned UF government to operate within the framework of the Congress programme otherwise Congress may have to withdraw the support, the myth of unconditional support was exploded. Not one or two conditions, here the UF government is blackmailed to follow the entire Congress programme!

To make clear the Congress strategy of continued opposition to UF constituents-run states, Mamata Bannerjee was fielded and amidst thumping of desks by BJP MPs she concentrated all her fire against CPI(M).

On the contentious issue of Babri Masjid, Banatwala of Muslim League hailed the UF's proposal to refer the matter to Supreme Court under Article 138(2) but Owaisi of MIM considered it as continuation of earlier delaying tactics and instead preferred hearing by the Special Bench of High Court on a day to day basis. Owaisi was indeed reflecting the dominant Muslim opinion. Newspapers have reported that Mulayam too has begun talking on these lines. Taslimuddin, Union Minister of State for Home, has however talked of declaring the entire area as national property. So UF has no unified approach on the issue and the essential desire is to keep the issue pending. Banatwala and Owaisi also demanded reservation for Muslims, dalit Muslims in particular, and in the coming days this has to become a hotly debated issue.

Opposing Uniform Civil Code, Narasimha Rao referred to the diversity of social customs. Vajpayee, in his reply, tried to rationalise the matter from the plank of gender justice, confining to issues like marriage and divorce and even praised the provision of Muslim law where formal consent of bride is mandatory. Any advocacy of Uniform Civil Code within the framework of Hindutava cannot but mean subtle attack in the identity of religious minorities and their apprehensions are of course genuine. One would have expected the Left MPs to interject in this national debate from the plank of gender justice. But once again, CPI(M) MPs kept mum and, strangely enough, despite having 33 members only Mr.Somnath Chatterjee spoke and much of his time was consumed in showering unstinted praise to Mr.Deve Gowda.

Much of the proceedings was dominated by acrimonies among MPs from Bihar rendering the parliament into an Akhara (wrestling ground). Often it turned out be a fierce legal battle over technicalities in order to prevent any reference to the fodder or urea scam. This raises serious doubts on UF's commitment to fight against corruption and it was further confirmed by Deve Gowda's vague and generalised references to corruption. Let's see how far the conflict between judicial activism in unearthing corruption and legislature's reluctance to pursue the same, permits the law to take its own course.

Both the women speakers of BJP were quite impressive and then it was Mamata Bannerjee from Congress. None of the women MPs from UF benches were asked to speak. Bhagwati Devi tried in vain to draw the attention of the speaker, Phoolan Devi preferred to take a nap in the cool surroundings and Menaka Gandhi was a perfect backbencher.

Sushma Swaraj's comparison of BJP's ouster from power with Ram's banishment to the forests for 14 years and that of the denial of Yudhishthir's rightful claim to the throne, rightly aroused a derisive laughter from UF benches. But it must not be forgotten that with the whole nation watching the telecast, this appeal to Dharam Yudha had a powerful emotional appeal and BJP is sure to make it its next election plank.

Comrade Jayant Rongpi, our party MP, in the debate on first confidence motion, despite strong obstruction put up by Sangma, made a powerful speech and some newspapers categorised it among the best five or six speeches. He did not disagree about the growth of BJP which many UF speakers tried to deny but simply pointed out that all growth is not healthy. He compared the growth of BJP in the nation's body politic as the malignant growth and referring to the phenomenon of Ranvir Sena showed how BJP's growth is based on the reliance on feudal forces.

In the second debate he was to raise serious objections over the thrust of economic reforms in the CMP and question how different is Gowda-Chidambaram team from Rao-Manmohan team. He would have also questioned the absence of right to work from CMP and demanded the Govt.'s policy on separate state of Jharkhand as well as on autonomy to various tribal entities in the Northeast. But he was prevented from speaking and his repeated pleas were illogically dismissed by the Speaker who also made uncharitable remarks unbecoming of the Chair. Jayant had no option but to walk out of the session. Shibu Soren of JMM too followed him.

Deve Gowda Govt. won the confidence motion by a thumping majority and a tense drama thus ended with the promise of cooperation from all sides. The crisis of government formation in the hung parliament paved the way for a government enjoying the support of over 300 MPs, a commendable feat in itself.

P.S. The very next day Hegde was expelled throwing Karnataka JD into turmoil; next, to stem the rebellion in the party hawala-tainted Sharad Yadav was made the Working President of JD. Again, Chidambaram came out with his austerity measures threatening retrenchment and wage freeze; left parties and trade unions reacted strongly; Narasimha Rao threatened withdrawal of support; and so on and so forth. Are we going back to square one?

When during election campaign we talked of the possibility of JD-Congress coalition, some of our journalist friends didn't believe us. They pursued the idea that eventually Atal Bihari and Narasimha Rao, bound by Brahminical fraternity, will join hands. The alternative scenario peddled by them was a revolt in Congress against Rao's leadership and secular Congress MPs coming out in necessary numbers to provide support to UF. This was the hypothesis initiated by CPI(M) with a firm declaration that they will have nothing to do with Rao and his Congress. Nothing of that sort happened and the same journalist friends are now advocating principled relationship with Congress, of course, Rao Congress. Brahminical fraternity is still there, but it is between Messers Narasimha Rao and Chaturanan Mishra. Have you read Chaturanan's article praising Narasimha Rao in no uncertain terms?

CPI(M), a powerful constituent of UF and important contributor in formulating the CMP, is now crying itself hoarse over Chidambaram's utterances and asking people not to harbour much illusion about the govt. Comrades, people never had any such illusions. Better to introspect yourselves. And, by the way, what are you doing sitting there in UF if not to create such illusion? Why cannot you revive the LF, come out and let the UF-Congress tacit alliance come out into an open adjustment? Your criticisms will carry much credibility when made from outside.

It is reported that VP Singh and, of course CPI(M), have put suggestions to include in the cabinet, men from upper castes too to make it fairly representative. Exactly, how to do it? Take in Messers Indrajit Gupta and Chaturanan Mishra, and Ms. Geeta Mukherjee. Communists representing the upper castes in the ministry. Hats off to Brahminical communists!