OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

At 60 as Independent India observes another milestone, Offstumped bemoans the lack of national leadership.

Don’t get me wrong here, Offstumped is approaching this anniversary with immense confidence and optimism about India. Infosys Chairman MR. N.R. Narayana Murthy has done a great job summarizing the visions that have shaped Independent India.

While the 60th Independence Day is a cause for celebration of these visions, it is also a day for sober introspection for this is the first Independence Day that will see a diminished Prime Minister hoist the flag on the ramparts of the Red Fort.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, walks up to that podium to speak, he will be doing so not with the confidence of having the people’s mandate, not even his own party’s mandate,  but with this stark reality staring him in the face that he enjoys public office with the permission of the Congress President at the pleasure of the Communists.

The events of last week and this week around the politics of the Indo-US Nuclear deal have brought to forth this stark reality leading Offstumped to reflect on National Leadership.

But before we get to that a level set. This post is not going to debate the merits and demerits of the text of the 123 Agreement. Nitin over at The Acorn has an excellent essay. Offstumped’s position is similar to that expressed by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, it is not so much so the text but about how we negotiate to ensure Indian National Interest is secured and advanced.

Having said that I must break with my fellow bloggers on INI, Nitin and Rohit, when they bemoan the bad politics around the deal especially the criticism of the principal opposition BJP.

Yes, the BJP has seized on the issue as it makes perfect political sense from its perspective to sharpen the differences and bring forth the wedge that separates Manmohan Singh’s agenda from that of the Communists. But the bad politics around the deal is not about the BJP’s volte face on a deal for which it would have given an arm or a leg, the bad politics is about the lack of a political constituency in favor of the deal.

Where is the political constituency in favor of this deal ? Where are the rallies, the street protests ?

There are none.

Why is it that this defining issue, which probably will end up triggering a chain of events leading to the eventual parting of ways between the Congress and the Communists, has no political constituency in favor of it ?

The Indo-US Nuke deal will not be an issue in any election. No seat will be decisively by Manmohan Singh’s party because he secured this deal during his Premiership. No seat will be lost by the BJP because it opposed the deal, perhaps it might even be marginally helped in a few.

Most Indians care marginally about the text of the deal itself and are perhaps mildly Anti-American in their attitude towards the deal.

There in lies an important lesson for India, on this 60th Anniversary.

Leadership is about standing up for unpopular causes.

Leadership is about selling the abstract to the masses.

Leadership is about creating a political constituency where none exists for your agenda and seeking a mandate for your actions from that constituency.

Leadership is not just about doing what is Right but being able to explain it, sell it, defend it with a populist message.

So when you bemoan the bad politics over the Nuclear Deal, you must bemoan the bad Political Leadership that championed this deal.

It is not the job of the principal opposition to make the case for the deal to the people at large and hence a political constituency in favor of it. It is the job of the Prime Minister and his Government to make that case.

It is on this count that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stands failed and diminished. His Government may have negotiated the best deal for India with the Americans but it abjectly failed in selling it to Indians at large. It should come as no surprise why the Prime Minister failed to do so for this was a Prime Minister who was not elected by the people but was appointed. This was also a Prime Minister who when he had the opportunity to seek the mandate of the people directly could not to do so.

This Prime Minister simply lacked the political leadership to build public opinion in favor of this deal despite having negotiated it over the last 2 years.

Why is the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in India’s National Interest ?

The abstract strategic considerations apart, the Prime Minister should have sought to build public opinion around a simple populist message on the need for Nuclear Power. He should have enlisted the support of Chief Ministers from Power starved States, especially non-Congress ones by signing them up for a Center-State joint strategy/action plan around Nuclear Power. He should have linked the success of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal to the success of that strategy/action plan.

Had the Prime Minister shown the leadership to do all of that, it would not have been easy for the BJP to do a volte face as easily as it did nor for the Left to harp on Anti-American concerns as it would have become an “aam aadmi issue”. The strategic dimension to making the case for the deal apart, the populist dimension should not have been ignored, especially when you had two whole years going into the making of this deal.

If the Prime Minister finds himself alone defending the deal, the half-hearted support from his party and allies apart, he has only himself to blame for he should have demonstrated far greater political leadership in making the case for the deal.

Offstumped Bottomline: As we celebrate this 60th Anniversary of our Independence, Offstumped prays for this nation to be blessed with strong leadership. Leadership that can make the case for change, stand its ground and win popular support for doing what is Right.



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