The Manmohan Singh government is fighting for its life. Monday was Day 1 of the trust vote that will decide whether the UPA Government will survive or crash.
Will the UPA Government survive the trust vote? CNN-IBN conducted an exclusive poll of India's top 25 editors to find out their views on the issue. That question was also raised on CNN-IBN show Face the Nation.
On the panel to discuss the issue were senior journalist M J Akbar; Editor-In-Chief, The Pioneer, Chandan Mitra; Editor-In-Chief, IBN Lokmat, Nikhil Wagle; and Comments Editor, Mail Today, Manoj Joshi.
Sagarika Ghose initiated the discussion by asking whether the debate on the first day of the trust vote was purely ideological, considering L K Advani’s slightly meandering speech that lacked fire in its belly.
M J Akbar, who has been a strong critic of the UPA Government and the Indo-US nuclear deal, disagreed with the statement that Opposition’s speech was inconsequential.
“The debate on the deal has been widely disseminated. I heard a minister saying that certain points of the Hyde Act are not applicable to us. I think that is a bit of misinformation because according to the Hyde Act, the US president will be required to give an annual character certificate on India’s good behaviour,” he said. “There’s one thing about Americans, that they never hide anything.”
But at the end of the day, if the Government does manage to survive it will be a pyrrhic victory because everybody will see the manner in which this kind of victory was achieved, with the inducements, the offers being made, the allegation about money being offered. So a taint will attach itself to the Manmohan Singh government?
Manoj Joshi replied that the fact remains that in our country, political opportunism rules the roost.
“We all know,” he said, “that BJP actually does not have any real differences on the nuclear deal. They would have signed even an deal yet they are taking a position against the deal. In these kinds of circumstances, the UPA has to deal with the instruments at hand.”
Addressing Akbar’s Hyde Act statement, Joshi said that it’s not just the Americans who have been open. “Our Government has been remarkably open too. I can’t think of any other agreement where we have had this much information available to us. We have had texts of agreements, entire parliamentary debates on the nuclear issue, etc made available to us,” he said.
Denying Akbar’s claim that Hyde Act would impinge on India’s foreign policy, Joshi said, “Hyde Act was based on the 123 agreement. Americans ensured that the 123 agreement conformed with the Hyde Act. Everybody is fine with 123 agreement so why should Hyde be a problem then?”
Never in the history of parliament, has a grand moment of democracy been demonstrated where a foreign policy issue that does not have to go to the parliament is debated openly in the forum of the people. Has the Government ceased a moral advantage by doing that?
Disagreeing with Joshi, Chandan Mitra accused the Government of being opaque. “They did not want to show the IAEA agreement even to their UPA-Left committee. They tried to hide it till it went on the Internet,” he said.
He added that there was nothing particularly great about the open debates on the nuclear deal. “We have debated the nuclear deal in parliament three times before and the sense of the house has been that the deal is not in India’s national interest,” he said.
UPA’s dependence on abstentions
Is there anxiety in the BJP camp that the Government might just sail through with the abstentions that might take place within the NDA?
“I don’t think there’s any anxiety,” Mitra replied. “As of now, the numbers are in Opposition’s favour but yes, it’s a night of long knives and deep pockets and big suitcases,” he said, hinting that it was too soon to arrive at a decisive conclusion.
Trust vote: A referendum on Manmohan Singh?
People are talking about price rise, coalition politics and Amarnath yatra, but the Indo-US deal is not getting the kid of debating time that it should. Has the Government transformed the trust vote into a referendum on Manmohan Singh?
Nikhil Wagle said the debate that took place in parliament on Monday was hardly a debate. “They were election speeches,” he said. “This was grand rehearsal for next Lok Sabha elections. Even if the Government survives tomorrow, it has lost its moral authority. Dr Manmohan Singh’s clean image has been dented,” Wagle added.
Singh is King?
The interesting thing about Monday’s debate was that nobody targeted Sonia Gandhi. The person who was consistently the focus of all the attention was Manmohan Singh.
Akbar replied that the reason why Manmohan Singh’s name is being mentioned more than Sonia Gandhi’s is because he has been a one-point PM. “Nothing else seems to have consumed his term in office apart from the deal. On the other hand, Sonia Gandhi has been an old-issue leader. In fact, one of the great achievements of Sonia Gandhi was that she had reversed the anti-Congressism of the Rajiv Gandhi days and put together an anti-BJP platform. Manmohan Singh has actually destroyed that platform,” he said.
Lashing out against the reasons being given to justify the steps employed by the UPA to secure majority, he said, “Guru Gobind Singh was invoked at the beginning of the trust vote. Guru Gobind Singh’s name is synonymous with honour in battle and life. I doubt if Guru Gobind Singh would have picked up three convicts from various jail and brought them on his side.”
Losing despite winning
Seeing that people convicted of murder are voting and in fact convicted murderers are being offered ministerial berths. The notion is that if this Government does survive, it will be a dead Government. Can it actually pass bills, can it carry out economic reforms? Even if the Government wins, does it actually lose?
“I don’t think so because I think it is important for this Government to win. I think Manmohan Singh has overseen a remarkable government, which has given us highest economic growth rate and a riot-free administration. You had no Gujarat, no surprises like Kargil and no big scandals,” Joshi said.
“As for the convicted murderers being asked to vote,” he said, “you are confronted with a situation where you need to prove your majority in parliament and when you need that majority and when everyone is using all kinds of tricks, I think, on that level, the rules of the game are not being decided by the Congress party.”
Speaking about the status of the Government in case it wins the vote of confidence, Joshi said, “I don’t think it will be a dead Government because once it gets this trust vote I think you’ll see a number of reform measures, which were earlier blocked by the Left.”
Is the BJP worried because LK Advani, PM-in-waiting, suddenly finds out there’s another PM-in-waiting who’s female and decades younger — Mayawati. Is the BJP actually hoping against hope that the Manmohan Singh does not fall?
Mitra said that we have had many PM-in-waiting but ultimately it is up to the people of the country who they want to be the PM of this country. “With 17 MPs, agreed she’s a gainer in this round but it’s very early to say anything. She can entertain prime ministerial ambitions but there’s nothing to suggest that L K Advani should be trembling,” he said.
Final result of exclusive poll of top 25 editors: Will the UPA Govt survive?
No opinion: 9
Monday began with the Speaker defying the CPM and deciding to chair the special session of Parliament. The Prime Minister moved the trust motion invoking Guru Gobind Singh and saying the trust vote could have been avoided and his Government could have focussed on handling inflation. Opposition Leader L K Advani made a speech bringing Hindutva, terrorism and inflation to the table. He said the Prime Minister has made the nuclear deal into a personal, ego issue. Foreign Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, also made a forceful speech on why the deal was important. he hit out at the Left for not focussing on real issues affecting the common man. Now, with 24 hours for the trust vote in the nuclear pot-boiler in Parliament, the UPA Government seems to have an edge in the numbers game - not because there is more support coming its way, it is just banking on abstentions in the NDA camp. CNN-IBN has learnt that the UPA is counting on 10 absentions, including five from the BJP. Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee has announced that she is against the nuclear deal and will abstain from voting.