Thursday, June 20, 2024

Ideological crusade or crass opportunism?


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Strange bedfellows for anti-FDI battle

By Amulya Ganguli

The winter session of parliament will witness one of the most crassly opportunistic political line-ups in recent years, surpassing in its cynicism even the BJP-Left bonhomie during the debate on the nuclear deal.

The camaraderie this time will involve not only the “communal” BJP and the communists, but also the Trinamool Congress, which has no well-defined outlook apart from that of being a votary of the vacuous Ma-Mati-Manush (mother-soil-people) ideology.

The reason why the three unlikely musketeers have come together is not the similarity of their political philosophy, but antipathy towards the Congress. Had this enmity been a longstanding feature of their policies, their current alliance might have made sense.

But, the Left was an ally of the Congress till four years ago and the Trinamool was the Congress’s coalition partner only a few months ago. However, nothing marks their expediency more than the fact that the Left and the Trinamool have long been mortal enemies. In fact, this is the first time ever that they have shelved their mutual aversion to be on the same of the fence.

It isn’t only these swirling political crosscurrents, making a mockery of principles, which are a feature of the present line-up, another facet is the renewed proximity of two former allies, the BJP and Trinamool. They have had an on-again, off-again relationship ever since Trinamool was formed. After the leaving the BJP, the Trinamool became a partner of the Congress. Now, that this partnership has ruptured, the Trinamool is inching back towards the BJP.

The abandonment of principles for the sake of an expected political gain is not the only aspect of this tie-up. Another is the issue, FDI in the retail sector, which has brought all of them together. In this respect, too, there are contradictions galore. While the Left is motivated by anti-Americanism, the BJP has no such compulsion. In fact, the BJP and its earlier avatar, the Jan Sangh, was virtually the only pro-American party in India for years after independence when the Congress’s non-alignment moved it close to the Soviet camp. The BJP was also for reforms when it was in power at the centre.

But, today, the BJP’s diatribes against foreigners, which mean Americans in this context – according to Narendra Modi, the Manmohan Singh government is of, by and for foreigners – represent a remarkable change of stance. The BJP is apparently guided not by any thesis of an imperialist conspiracy like the Left, but by the belief that this policy to needle the Congress will help the saffron cause.

It is doubtful, however, if the BJP has read the political tea leaves right. Its opposition to the nuclear deal, for instance, is believed to have hurt its middle class base. In the present instance, too, the BJP is evidently trying to safeguard the interests of its traditional supporters among the trading community.

But, it is doing so at the risk of alienating other sections of the middle class, including those who are in the corporate sector either as businessmen or as employees. What the party has overlooked is that the middle class has grown to an estimated 300 million in a deregulated economy and that the banias or petty traders constitute only a small section of this group.

The BJP’s deviation from its earlier pro-reforms stance means that it will not only oppose FDI in retail, but also other measures on insurance, pension funds, etc which are on the anvil. This obstructionism may hamper the government’s plans, but it will have the chance to claim that the opposition’s cussed opportunism is holding up the reforms agenda.

Along with the Left and the BJP, the Trinamool, too, is against the agenda. But, the strange aspect of its position is that it is neither a left-wing party formally, nor a right-wing one. Instead, it always seems to obstinately battle its opponent of the moment without any thought to the consequences. If it was the Left earlier in West Bengal even if the comrades were in the process of undoing their previous mistakes by inviting investments from the private sector, it is the Congress now simply because the latter is pursuing policies which are not to the Trinamool’s liking.

At the moment, the Trinamool’s objections are to FDI in retail. But neither is it anti-American, nor do banias comprise its main vote bank. Instead, its disapproval of FDI in retail is based on the belief that the reforms, per se, are anti-poor. To be fair, it is not alone in holding this view. The Congress’s Kerala unit, too, is against reforms and is opposed to FDI in retail.

Arguably, the long association, even as adversaries, by the Trinamool with the communists in West Bengal, and by the Congressmen in Kerala, has made them imbibe some of the dogmatic prejudices of the Left. Both seem to live in the pre-1991 days of the licence-permit raj that favoured socialism. But, by taking a step backwards in time, the Trinamool may be courting political isolation because while it will be wary of associating with the BJP for fear of losing the Muslim vote, the Congress has apparently had enough of her mercurial ways. (IPA Service)


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