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Leave national interest alone

Leave national interest alone

Author: Editorial
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: July 19, 2008

A few months before the Emergency, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi put the dreaded Maintenance of Internal Security Act in the statute book. She said that it was required in the national interest.

Several opposition leaders, including Morarji Desai and Atal Behari Vajpayee, had most vehemently opposed the MISA Bill, arguing that its provisions were too draconian and that it would be misused to harass the ruling party's critics. Mrs Gandhi strongly rebutted the criticism, giving a solemn assurance on the floor of the House that not even a single political worker would be held under MISA.

And she again justified MISA in the name of national interest. What followed is now history. Tens of thousands, including Desai and Vajpayee, were detained for 19 long months under MISA during Mrs Gandhi's own Emergency, though their detention orders took care to mention that they were required to be held for the sake of safeguarding national security, nay, interest.

We are reminded of Mrs Gandhi's perfidious conduct in imposing the Emergency by the current drum-beating of national interest in order to `sell' the controversial nuclear deal. Sonia Gandhi on Thursday told a listless rent-acrowd rally in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, that the deal was in the best interest of the nation. Saying the party did not require a certificate of patriotism from anyone, the Congress boss nonetheless was most critical of those opposing the nuke deal. Now, if the simple-minded folks, who had been collared into sitting through the rally as the scorching sun shone over their bare heads, came to conclude from her earth-shaking oration made from a prepared script that all those opposed to the deal were antinational, you couldn't really blame them, could you? But, honestly, the masses are more likely to be left thoroughly confused than enlightened by such simple assertions of national interest. It is because those who oppose the deal, led by the Communists, too claim to do so in the name of national interest. Indeed, is there any politician who speaks of anything other than the defense of
the national interest, whatever be the issue in hand.

So, the question that needs to be asked is: Who decides what constitutes national interest? The ruling party controls the levers of power, alright. But does that give the overriding veto to Congressmen over everyone else who might have a different opinion from them to define national interest? Some four years ago, the same Congressmen had cried themselves hoarse challenging the Vajpayee Government's view of national interest. Indeed, at the height of the Kargil war, the Congress Party had pooh-poohed the NDA Government's efforts to beat back the Pak aggression, accusing Vajapyee of hurting the national interest. Again, at the time of the Kathmandu to Kandhar hijack crisis, while the Government released the four Pak terrorists in the larger `national interest', the Congress Party had launched a whisper campaign against the BJP-led regime, charging it with a `sell-out.' The point is that while elected governments have the power to do what they consider best in the pursuit of their own policies and programmes, history is replete with instances when ruling governments have not proved the best judge of national interest.

But having concluded that the deal with the US is in the national interest, is it right for the Congress Party to procure the support of stray MPs through monetary and other allurements? The charge by the CPI leader, A.B. Bardhan, that the ruling party was paying Rs 25 crores to each MP willing to vote for the nuclear deal cannot be without any basis. So can one argue that the buying of MPs is justified since it is meant for the support of the deal which, as Sonia Gandhi has told the nation, is in the national interest? The `aam aadmi' is now being bombarded with multi-media propaganda, paid for from taxpayers' funds, that the deal would meet our growing need for power. True, but the critics insist that the nuclear power would be so expensive that the `aam aadmi' would not be able to afford it. So, who will decide the cost-effectiveness of power from nuclear reactors to be set up once the deal with the Americans is passed by the Lok Sabha, mind you, for the sake of national interest?

In other words, can we expect the warring champions of national interest to leave it well alone and, instead, offer real arguments, for and against the deal, in simple, straightforward terms which can be understood by the `aam aadmi.' This relentless harangue about national interest must cease. It is nauseating hypocriy and counter-productive, besides.

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