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Wednesday, May 16, 2001

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Obligations of a lameduck

By Harish Khare

MR. ATAL Behari Vajpayee is indeed a lucky man. There is no Jayaprakash Narayan in the entire Opposition crowd who can attract a gathering of one lakh people at the Ramlila Grounds and thunderously recite Ramdhari Singh Dinkar's wonderfully evocative poetry: ``Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai'' (vacate the throne, this the multitude demands). Jayaprakash Narayan had the stature and the public behind him to challenge an arrogant Indira Gandhi. Today's battlefield is overcrowded with pygmies. It would be extremely unfair and extremely unrealistic to expect Ms. Sonia Gandhi to ad-lib Dinkar's subaltern poetry; Mr. Harkishan Singh Surjeet is too old, too compromised and too discredited to rally the disenchanted political forces; Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav has mortgaged himself too blatantly to his corporate sidekicks and effectively ruled himself out of any purposeful national role; and, Mr. V.P. Singh is too a sick man to lead any battalion; others just do not have it in them to tap the dissatisfaction and the anger with the National Democratic Alliance arrangement.

The disenchantment has most emphatically been voiced by the voters in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam. The long and short of the vote in these four States is that serious doubts can be and should be entertained about the Vajpayee Government's mandate to rule the country. It is understandable yet deeply disappointing that intelligent politicians such as Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. L.K. Advani should be trying to deny any linkage between the verdict in the four States and the NDA Government, its non- performance and its many dubious acts of omission as well as its many doubtful acts of commission. It should be obvious to any disinterested analyst that the Vajpayee-led ruling contraption no longer enjoys the same level of public support and endorsement as it did in September/October 1999.

Admittedly, every mandate is rooted in its immediate context, and that context is bound to change to the disadvantage of the incumbent Government. The overwhelming 1984 mandate for Rajiv Gandhi was in the context of Indira Gandhi's assassination and the Congress(I) could crassly exploit the ``Mother India in danger'' sentiments; in less than two years that context gave way to another environment of doubts and apprehensions about an arrogant and avaricious regime. The 1989 verdict for Mr. V.P. Singh was a by-product of its time, which was determined to put a definite end to the creeping Marcosism of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; but that mandate too got dissipated when the Raja of Manda decided to become the grand social engineer. Mr. Vajpayee's 1999 mandate, similarly, is a product of the context of 1999. The unsavoury politicking that preceded the ouster of his Government in April 1999, the unseemly assertion made by Mr. Arjun Singh that Ms. Sonia Gandhi would be the next Prime Minister, and the cynical exploitation of the Kargil martyrdom, all combined to give Mr. Vajpayee a halo and a stature that helped produce a Lok Sabha majority. The NDA's spin-masters pitted a ``tried, tested and trusted'' Vajpayee against a novice and naive Sonia Gandhi. Once the verdict was in the bag, the comparison was of no operational use.

The noisy drum-beating that followed the ``victory'' drowned all those sane voices that tried to point out the thinness of the mandate. What was more, from day one the NDA regime began distancing itself from the very spirit and integrity of that mandate. On their part, the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues began behaving as if they had been elected not by the masses of this country but by the chambers of commerce; short of allowing the CII and the FICCI to open field offices within the PMO, the Vajpayee Government did everything else to rig the policies and institutions in favour of the organised business interests and their foreign collaborators.

If now at the first opportunity the people of this country have spoken out, punishing the BJP and its friends and rewarding its political foes, it is because the masses simply could not countenance cynically subversion from within of the 1999 mandate. What is more, the voters in distant Madurai, Jadavpur, Ernakulam and Guwahati are not as gullible as are the professional apple- polishers in the print and electronic media who rationalise, applaud and celebrate every compromise made by the Arun Shouries, the Jaswant Singhs, the Murasoli Marans and the Yashwant Sinhas. The voters have turned against Mr. Vajpayee and his alliance partners because his Government has turned its back on the promised politics of su-raaj, swabhiman and suraksha.

The BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar would hopefully have the courage to interpret honestly the 2001 vote. For those whose vision is unclouded with greed and arrogance, the lesson is loud and clear. The voters in the country refuse to subscribe to the bogus ``practical rationality'' that in the Vajpayee Government has become a license for organised corporate loot and disorganised bartering away of national pride and initiative. The voters have served notice that it was about time the Vajpayee regime disabused itself of its smugness and returned to its own fundamental promises and pretensions.

Above everything else, the Vajpayee dispensation has to understand that no Government - not even a single-party regime with 400 Lok Sabha seats - has the right to sign away the permanent national interests. Every country, society, and polity has a fair idea of its permanent national interests; no Government can be permitted to pursue policies that have the effect of permanently ceding the collective sovereign rights and claims, be it territory, public property and national honours and symbols. A Government merely expresses the temporary political and electoral preference of the day. The Government of the day is only a trustee of the permanent national interests and the collective well-being.

And, the very limited nature the 1999 mandate should have made the Vajpayee regime circumspect and cautious. Instead, there has been a tendency to brazenly ignore the public mood and national sentiment. The rush to privatise ports and airports, the inexcusable decision to allow a role to the foreigner in defence production, the unseemly hurry to embrace the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush's nuclear fantasies, and the untransparent selling off of profit-making public sector units, are just a few of the decisions which constitute a problematic inability to appreciate the immutability of the permanent national interests.

The masses have spoken up now and voiced their disapproval of the Vajpayee regime's disregard of permanent national interests. Earlier, the tehelka expose had stripped away the moral pretensions of the NDA regime; yet Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani continued to find it expedient to embrace the Jaya Jaitley-George Fernandes duo. What is worse, Mr. Fernandes remains very much at the core of the Vajpayee regime and continues to make his presence felt in matters of personnel and priorities. Now, after the 2001 vote, the Vajpayee Government has effectively lost the mandate to the rule the country.

Unless the Prime Minister is prepared to come to terms with the nature of the cultivated aberrations within his own regime, his Government should find it difficult to last another year in office. The apprehensions, anger and alienation of the vast segments of the populace cannot be calibrated to suit the disdain of the chattering classes for ``too much democracy'' and ``too many elections''. Those who have promised ``stability'' have to produce a genuine stability of open, transparent and nationally- anchored governance. The Vajpayee regime has to understand that it has no mandate to barter away the permanent national interests. Otherwise, it stands in imminent danger of being swept away permanently in the tide of public anger.

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