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Between the line

India has its task cut out
May 27, 2009


THE Congress does not have to ditch its allies any more. Indian voters have given it 205 seats and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 261 in the house of 543. Practically, every other party, except the BJP and the communists, has queued up to be the Congress ally. It does not have to look for 11 members to take it to the 272-mark. Many parties have pledged unconditional support on their own, taking the tally to 330.

Both Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh and Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Yadav, once an integral part of the UPA, are ringing their hands unnecessarily. They have been intentionally marginalised because Rahul Gandhi, calling the shots, wants the Congress to go it alone in the two big states, UP and Bihar, to retrieve the ground which the party occupied some three decade ago. That the Muslims, once its vote bank, are coming back to the Congress makes it even more confident.

Rahul’s gamble has paid off in UP. The Congress won as many as 21 seats, nearly double of what Mulayam Singh had offered. But the party could get only two in Bihar where chief minister Nitish Kumar had concentrated on development and law in order, the fields which his predecessors, particularly Lalu Yadav, had neglected.

It appears that the Congress has formulated a new strategy to be the all-India party on its own. After all, the party did enjoy a monopoly in the first five decades after independence. But then small entities pulled the party down. Now the voters are turning away from them after finding that the Centre is becoming unstable. The wheel is beginning to turn against some of the regional parties also. The Congress has made inroads in West Bengal and Kerala, the communists’ strongholds, and Rajasthan and Uttrakhand of the BJP.

Development is one issue which has weighed with the voters most. Although they trounced the BJP elsewhere in the country, they have voted for the party wherever it has made economic progress: Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, Raman Singh’s Chattisgarh and Shivraj Sngh Chouhan’s Madhya Pradesh. The Congress has itself benefited from such schemes as the loan waiver of 7,000 crore of farmers and the NREGA which guarantees 100 days of work to a poor family.

Manmohan Singh’s own image of someone who knows how to boost the economy at the time of financial meltdown has been a big plus for the Congress. The soaring share market shows that. After last election, he was Sonia Gandhi’s nominee. This time he stands tall on his own.

Yet this does not mean that 10 Janpath will lessen in power or importance. However, it does mean that he is no longer a pushover. In the last government, even the Congress ministers did not pay him much attention. An important person in the Prime Minister’s office confirmed this, adding that even its allies went their own way and paid little heed to what Manmohan Singh said.

The stability will help New Delhi take the long-awaited steps to deal with the situation prevailing in Pakistan. Hardly had it settled downed from the Lawyers’ agitation when the Taliban began spreading from the haven of the FATA to Swat and other adjoining areas. There is no doubt that the Pakistan army should have curbed the Taliban there and then. But it is a history of failed dreams and scotched ambitions which cannot be told in the midst of hostilities. The fact is that there is a determined force of Islamic fundamentalists who want to break up all that Pakistan has built in the form of democratic structure, free media and liberal way of living.

True, India has proved again and again—recent Lok Sabha election underlines it—that the nation, despite aberrations, has developed a secular temperament. On the other hand, a country constituted on the basis of religion has difficulties in fighting the forces which are from the same religion. The predicament of Islamabad needs to be understood, not scoffed at.

New Delhi can help if it treats terrorism as terrorism, not dub Pakistan a terrorist state. No doubt, Islamabad has been soft towards the Taliban for a variety of reasons. But the reverse against Islamic fundamentalists can spell ruin to India as well. Lahore is some 25 kilometres from Amritsar. This is no time to look back on what happened in 1947 or later. Identities cannot be restructured. Yet there can be honest and sincere efforts to respect them and take such steps which would eliminate confrontation.

There will always be problems between India and Pakistan because of lack of trust. New generations do not know each other because there is practically no contact between them. But they can be taught that they come from the same stock and share the same history. Unfortunately, this is not happening. Textbooks in Pakistan are particularly bad. The two countries are going apart, seeking satisfaction in each other’s failures or increasing problems.

The new government at Delhi has difficulties in starting afresh because the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage have not been brought to book. But the dialogue agenda can have the terrorist attack on the top of it. We have traveled long to narrow the distance between ourselves even on a problem like Kashmir. Those who have participated in the composite dialogue say that 80 per cent of the journey has been covered. Let us pick up the thread from where we had left it off. In the process, the Taliban will get the message loud and clear that India and Pakistan have joined hands.

Maybe, we should discuss a no-war pact. It has a bad history, but India can unilaterally renew the offer. The pact is important for Pakistan at this time when it requires concentration on its war against the Taliban. It should be able to withdraw all its troops without fear from the eastern border with India to the northern where the Taliban are entrenched.

Another problem that India faces is the death of LTTE and its chief V. Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka. The situation is uncertain because the Tamils, even without having sympathy for Prabhakaran, feel insecure. The devolution of power to eastern and northern provinces where Tamils are in a majority has to be real and quick. Above all, they must get a feeling that they are equal citizens in a preponderantly Sinhalese state. New Delhi will have a hard time in Tamil Nadu if the people there come to have a feeling that the Sri Lankan Tamils have been let down.

Elections are not the end by itself. They are just the means. India has its task cut out now that there is political stability at Delhi.

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