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On Achilles Heels and Trojan Horses

Omkar Goswami

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 the immovables.

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 consequences.

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 niceties?

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 away.

Apt, isn’t it?

Published: Business World, November 2007


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