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What’s behind the UPA’s behaviour?

What’s behind the UPA’s behaviour?
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First Published: Tue, Jul 21 2009. 09 37 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Jul 21 2009. 09 37 PM IST
Everyone loves a conspiracy. At worst—if it ends up being just a theory—it will remain a good story that keeps readers and listeners riveted. At best, it could end up being true, but more on that later. For now, let me present a conspiracy theory as to why the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is doing what it is doing after it was re-elected with a margin that surprised everyone, including politicians and psephologists.
Among the first actions of the UPA, signalled through newly anointed commerce minister Anand Sharma, was its statement to the world that it would not block a global trade deal. The statement tacitly accepted that it was India, led by then commerce minister Kamal Nath, that had previously scuppered a deal. Ironically, this charge was first levelled by the US, which was widely seen to have played a role in the death of the deal, but does not carry the sense of guilt that India has now discovered. Even more curious, Nath did not continue at his old job and surfaced in the cabinet as the highways minister.
Fast forward to the Major Economies Forum on energy and climate that happened on the sidelines of the Group of Eight deliberations that took place earlier this month in Italy, where India was co-signatory to a statement that argued, at variance with the country’s existing stand, that all countries would have to be prepared to make some emission cuts linked to their growth strategy so that the efforts to contain climate change are on course. As Mint reported on 16 July, if a country accepts emission cuts, which are proportionately based on a committed growth trajectory, then when growth accelerates, it will have to commit to greater cuts in absolute terms. For a developing country more susceptible to business cycles, such a commitment can be tricky.
Then you have the joint statement India inked with Pakistan on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt, where India agreed to delink terror from the composite dialogue between the two countries and accepted Pakistan’s concerns about insurgency in Balochistan—something that has been happening for decades and which the Pakistani establishment claims is being orchestrated by India.
All of these have happened in the eight weeks since the UPA assumed power and are among the first key decisions of the new government. There is nothing unusual about that. Except if we throw in the fact that all of this also came in the run-up to the first ever visit of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to India. She also didn’t visit Pakistan during this trip, making the visit that much sweeter for India.
But was it really?
Was it merely a coincidence that the three items on Clinton’s agenda were environment, trade and Pakistan?
So, there you have it: a conspiracy theory that India is succumbing to US pressure in several areas. It’s a tough one to prove, but because politics is often about not what you do but what you are seen to be doing, there is cause for concern.
Especially because one of the pillars of the democratic system of governance—the Opposition—seems to have abdicated its responsibility for the moment. The Opposition is bereft and devoid of any purpose after the electoral reverses. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is struggling with its own internal differences, the Left Front is a diminished presence in the new Lok Sabha, as Mint reported on 18 May.
But if this is true, what’s in it for India?
A seat at the high table?
The promise of a permanent seat in the United Nations security council?
The fact that there is disquiet within the political leadership of the Congress party only reaffirms the conspiracy argument. Congress spin doctors, as reported in Mint on 21 July, said that party chief Sonia Gandhi had signalled to the key functionaries to intervene and limit the damage caused by the Indo-Pak joint statement that is increasingly being seen within India and outside as a victory for Pakistan. And, Jairam Ramesh’s public intervention during a meeting with Clinton on Sunday, reiterating India’s existing stand on climate, affirms that the party leadership is concerned about the drift.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not my case that the proximity to the US is a bad thing.
The point here is simply that India is a sovereign country and hence entitled to its independent choice and designed to maximize its self-interest.
Then, this could simply be a conspiracy theory.
Anil Padmanabhan is a deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
Comments are welcome at capitalcalculus@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Jul 21 2009. 09 37 PM IST