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SP's neo-Lohiaism: Self-interest supreme

SP's neo-Lohiaism: Self-interest supreme

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 6, 2008

Ram Manohar Lohia, guru of the socialist gharana, had a simple principle for his politics: Congress bad, everything else negotiable. Some 40 years after his death, Lohia's followers have splintered and anti-Congressism no longer has the same emotional pull. Consequently, Mulayam Singh and his associate Amar Singh claim they have adapted Lohia to 21st century conditions. Their neo-Lohiaism reads: Self-interest supreme, all else negotiable.

Not since Sanjay Gandhi parleyed with Raj Narain to bring about the downfall of the Morarji Government in 1979 has there been a more self-centred U-turn in Indian politics than the SP's bid to replace the Left as puppet master of UPA Government. It's a move corresponding to the neo-Lohia-ist philosophy. For the SP, there are no permanent friends or foes, merely defined self-interest. It had kept its lines open with BJP from 1999 till recently; now, it has bailed out the Congress on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

To describe the SP's nimble-footedness as opportunistic is to be needlessly judgmental. The SP, particularly Amar Singh, should be praised for dispensing with hypocrisy and putting self-interest at the centre of political calculation. The question is: What is its self-interest? The exercise of political influence is one calculation -- party needs to wield some power at either the Centre or UP. The protection of its supporters and patrons is another imperative -- Amar Singh's Saturday aside against Petroleum Minister "Murli Ambani" said it all. Finally, future electoral prospects matter at this juncture. On every count, SP's rapprochement with the Congress makes short-term sense for both parties.

There is, of course, one snag. Till former President APJ Abdul Kalam persuaded Amar Singh that the Deal was in national interest, the SP had based its opposition on one ground: That it didn't meet with Muslim approval. So visceral was its opposition to any civilised dealing with the US that it made it impossible for President Bush to visit the Taj Mahal during his 2006 visit. Some of us may remember the protests it organised against Saddam's hanging. For such a party to turn turtle is understandable, keeping in mind one type of self-interest. It becomes quite inexplicable judged against more conventional political compulsions.

That the SP has decided that no community can stand in way of national interest is hugely commendable. Unfortunately, it will take something more persuasive than Amar Singh's assertion that "LK Advani is more dangerous than Bush" to persuade those who have made anti-Americanism a part of the global jihad. It so happens that a disproportionate number of them tend to vote SP, in UP at least. For the SP, the U-turn on the nuke agreement is akin to the non-aggression pact Nazi Germany signed with the Soviet Union just before the invasion of Poland in 1939. Justifying it will need considerable out-of-the-box thinking.

It is the Muslim confusion that is calculated to trigger competition between parties for the bloc vote. Mayawati will understandably fish in these troubled waters. It is hoped that the BJP refrains from trying to court Muslims on the strength of misplaced anti-Americanism. It will end up making a fool of itself. As it is, the premier opposition party has found itself completely at odds with its middle class support base on the nuke deal. It shouldn't exacerbate the problem by trying to become the Muslim alternative to the SP and Congress. Indeed, nothing would suit the BJP more than for the nuke deal to be signed and sealed before the General Election. As the possible successor Government, it can conveniently fall back on the absolute need to honour a sovereign agreement which it knows is actually good for India.


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