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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2679

Manmohan reaches out to BJP

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

Much bruised during the successive sessions of Parliament that followed its licking at the hustings, the BJP ego must have been messaged when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began the New Year with a lunch exclusively for the top brass of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The meeting was seen by some observers as another attempt by the Prime Minster to reach out to the largest Opposition party which has started attacking him personally on matters of both domestic and foreign policies.

The sumptuous food was mixed with some serious business with the BJP netas—Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh along with the national security adviser during the NDA rule, Brijesh Mishra. The heavyweight guest list was balanced by the host with the presence of the external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, and prime minister’ principal secretary, T.K.A. Nair. It was indication enough that the nature of the ‘briefing’ would revolve round foreign policy issues.

One unnamed guest at the table told a newspaper that Pranab Mukherjee, speaking obviously on behalf of the prime minister, offered a tour de force of geo-strategic situation in India’s immediate neighbourhood with updates on developments in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. But nothing much about the luncheon meeting was officially conveyed to the media.

Apart from mend fencing with the principal Opposition, it was believed the prime minister had invited the big three of the Saffron Brigade to share their ideas and suggestions on certain issues that have been agitating the BJP and other Opposition parties lately. If media reports are true, it was mostly a one-way affair with the guests deciding not to be very forthcoming, though it must have been quite an effort for Jaswant Singh to resist the occasion by not launching into another display of his verbal obfuscation in the baritone.

There are contradictory reports on whether there was any discussion Gen Pervez Musharraf’s recent proposals on Kashmir. It is absolutely necessary for an ‘ultra nationalist’ party like the BJP to declare if it is ready to look for an ‘out of box’ solution of the Kashmir issue. If it has decided not to budge an inch then it is hard to see if the BJP is really willing to resolve the festering ‘dispute’ that has contributed nothing but the poison of unmitigated hatred and mistrust in the sub-continent. Anyway, it appears that even the controversial civilian nuclear ‘deal’ with the United States was not on the menu of the PM’s luncheon.

If it was only a host’s monologue, the Manmohan Singh spread must have been rather bland. That would raise doubts if the meeting did succeed in achieving its aim—if that was the case--of the PM reaching out to the main Opposition party by removing their misgivings on issues of vital national concern. The BJP has never missed an opportunity in the last two years to run down the government’s Pakistan initiatives, even at the cost of inviting self ridicule since it was the BJP which after a long stand off with Pakistan had taken the first step in turning a new chapter in Indo-Pak relations in January 2004.

Then, alarmed to see the Left steal the thunder on the issue of India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, the BJP reinforced its ‘nationalist’ credentials by censuring the Bush-Manmohan Singh initiative. Again, at considerable cost to its credibility because the civilian nuclear ‘deal’ was a corollary of the initiatives taken by the NDA government, particularly when Jaswant Singh as the external affairs minister was chasing the Clinton’s era assistant secretary of state, Strobe Talbot all over the globe.

Manmohan Singh’s luncheon meeting with the BJP leaders being the first of its kind, it should have set the tone for a free and fair exchange of ideas on a range of issue. Ideally, this exchange should be conducted in a more transparent manner, in parliament. But politicians have devalued parliament to such an extent that not much of substance is expected to be discussed there. Democracy cannot be well served if serious business over lunch and dinner are to become substitutes for open discussions in parliament.

It needs to be added there is no suggestion that the prime minister must discontinue his meetings with Opposition leaders. Far from it; he should meet them more often. But the point is the people of the country have a right to know the exact stand of various parties apart from the government on matters like Indo-Pak relations and nuclear tie-up with the US.

Political parties in India are shamelessly double-faced. They take one stand when they are in power and reverse it when in Opposition, and more often than not, they take one stand in public and quite the opposite in a closed door meeting. An open discussion may not altogether prevent them from double-speak but it may at least discourage them from being patently economical on honesty and truth.

The so-called ‘serious’ differences on policy matters among the various parties often look unconvincing. For instance, there seems to be hardly any major deviation in the basics of economic, social and foreign policies advocated by the Congress and the BJP. The ‘ideological’ divide is becoming thinner and thinner with the mushrooming of political parties headed by regional ‘lords’ or parties designed to project one person and his/her family. If the Marxist ruled West Bengal is an indicator, even the Left parties seem to be in a mood to tacitly support many of the new ‘capitalist’ economic postulates.

What is worrisome is that the ‘differences’ arise because of bad chemistry between parties and their leaders. Not wishing to fix the blame on any one party in particular, it will appear that these days political parties think that personalised attack is the most effective way of hitting the rivals. That trend has to end before gourmet lunches at the PMO--or party headquarters-- are to be extolled for their political virtues.

- Syndicate Features -

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