In my previous allegorical article on the UPA-Left
Front nuclear impasse (‘And The End is Nigh’), I had
written, “Now a divorce is on the cards… Should she
[the much abused UPA wife] wait for the husband [the
Left Front] to humiliate her yet again before he
leaves the household that he did nothing for? Or be
a modern Indian woman, call the shots, and throw the
man out?” I thought that after upping the ante the
way it did, Congress wouldn’t blink.
How wrong I was. After huffing and puffing about the
non-negotiability of the deal and how those who
opposed it prevented progress, the Congress
capitulated without a whimper. Within 24 hours, both
Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh claimed that the
deal was not a make or break for the nation; that
the coalition dharma came first; that governance was
not about getting your way with a single-point
agenda. Life will go on, they said. You lose a
battle to win a war, said their all-knowing
supporters, desperate to claim tactical prescience
in the face of a rout.
The fact is that the Congress, Manmohan Singh and
Sonia Gandhi have got egg on their faces. They were
polite. The Left didn’t budge. They tried
statesmanship. The Left was unmoved. They growled.
And the Left bit. Having won, the Left didn’t gloat.
It merely exuded the body language of an inevitable
winner with the eminent grise Jyoti Basu saying,
“Now that good sense has prevailed upon the
Congress, the matter is over. The coalition will
continue for the full term.”
It wasn’t a tactical retreat. It was a rout — of the
vacillators being overwhelmed by the united might of
In hindsight, there were three major
miscalculations. First, the implicit assumption that
somehow the Left would blink. It was a poor premise.
The deal was a ‘No-No’ for the Left, and everyone
knew that. True, the Left didn’t want a mid-term
election; but that wasn’t going to make them agree
to the deal. It had to be scuppered, irrespective of
Second, I suspect that neither Mr. Singh nor Ms.
Gandhi fully appreciated the fickleness of the UPA
allies. In today’s politics, it is na´ve to believe
that if a coalition Cabinet agrees to something,
then each Cabinet minister bears collective
responsibility of that decision. On more than one
occasion we have seen the notion of collective
Cabinet responsibility being thrown by the wayside.
In crunch time, especially on what was becoming a
decision that would inevitably lead to mid-term
elections, how could one expect fair weather friends
to stick to such unnatural Westminster-like
Third, there were miscalculations regarding even the
Congress MPs. Few, if any, had the gumption to
accept a consequential mid-term poll. They couldn’t
say it boldly to the Supreme Leader. But over time,
and as the Left’s position hardened, their
frightening murmurs got too loud to be ignored.
Shorn of niceties, coalition dharma is nothing other
than a series of Faustian pacts. And as we all know,
only the Devil wins in a Faustian pact. A coalition
made up of many Achilles heels (the Congress MPs)
and Trojan horses (others of the UPA) should not
look to the Left to apportion blame. Which brings me
to a joke whose punch-line can only be in Hindi.
A Jalandhar sardar made tons of money, and decided
to go on his first phoren holiday. He bought a
British Airways First Class ticket to (where else?)
London. As he sat down he saw a parrot on the next
seat, by the aisle. After the plane took off, the
parrot repeatedly pecked the stewardess’ bottom —
for which it would get friendly pats on the head.
The sardar decided if the parrot, why not him? He
pinched. And hell broke loose. The crew, the captain
and the passengers decided to throw him out of the
place, 30,000 feet up. As the sardar was about to be
pushed out, the parrot piped up, “Sardar, tum urh
sakte ho?”. “Nahin!” wailed the quivering sardar.
“Phir panga kyon liye?” asked the parrot, cackling
Apt, isn’t it?
Published: Business World, November 2007