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Deal of convenience

Deal of convenience

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 27, 2008
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Columnists/S_Dasgupta_Deal_of_convenience/articleshow/3286095.cms

Speaking as an Indian in the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi invoked the hopes of Kalawati, a struggling villager from Vidarbha. "Nuclear energy," he said, "is going to act like Kala's main crop and act as an insurance policy in times of need." There were just 22 individuals who ensured that Kalawati's dreams were not dashed last Tuesday evening. Among those who, in the prime minister's words, showed the world that "India is prepared to take its rightful place in the comity of nations" was 72-year-old Harihar Swain from the Ganjam district of Orissa.

An MP from Aska, a constituency that Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik likes to think as his own, Swain was expected to be among those who were bent on subverting the brave new world of Manmohan Singh and Amar Singh. Two days before the trust vote, he attended the lunch hosted by his parliamentary leader, flashed the mandatory V sign to photographers and was both present and eating at L K Advani's dinner. The next morning he was telephoned by his ever-courteous chief minister who wanted to be doubly-sure that the foul air of Lutyens' Delhi hadn't contaminated his Kalinga army.

Swain turned quite emotional on the phone. He said that he would never forget the exceptional help from the chief minister during his long illness. The subtext was clear: the rumours of his plans to emigrate were baseless. At no point did Swain speak of the brightness that would elude Orissa if the nuclear agreement was spurned. Nor did he rue that India would be abandoning its "rightful place" in the world if the government fell. To Naveen, whose musical tastes are quite retro, Swain may as well have been echoing lines from a famous Gilbert and Sullivan opera: "I voted at my party's call/ And i never thought of thinking myself at all."

On Tuesday evening, Swain voted in favour of the trust vote. "I have not voted in favour of the UPA government," he clarified subsequently, "I have voted against Naveen Patnaik ... to give him a shock of his life." On Wednesday and Thursday, according to media reports, the prime minister telephoned all those who defied their party whips to "give a clear message to the world that India's head and heart are sound." As one who fitted the bill, Swain, presumably, also got a thank you call.

It is said that a little duplicity is unavoidable in the battle for good causes. The King of Ayodhya and the Pandavas weren't fanatical about the Queensbury Rules when confronting what they regarded as evil. Manmohan Singh may well fall back on the epics to justify the murkiness that accompanied his government's victory. Those who see the Indo-US nuclear agreement as a turning point in Indian history, genuinely believe that no means - not loyalty, not honour and not ordinary decencies - are too disreputable in thrusting greatness on an indolent India. The Samajwadi Party's advertisement, after all, says the nuke deal will ensure "every home will get electricity."

Yet, the doubts persist. Were those who ensured that a 10-vote deficit was transformed into a 19-vote majority voting to put India on global prime time? Not one defector said so before the vote and not one has said it subsequently. What is revealing, however, is what the unfortunate Swain, who now faces social boycott at home, has listed (in the Lok Sabha website) among his various socio-cultural activities - "serving the poor and needy persons in public life."

For some, the trust vote has ended up as a pension fund-building exercise for "needy persons in public life". For others, it has become an occasion to transform crony capitalism into policy. Those who bailed out the government have apparently served India well; now it's for India to serve them handsomely. In the process, the nuke deal has been marred in total disrepute.

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