I’m in India right now and over the weekend have been on a forced diet of the news channels. Top of the news menu is the possible fall of the government over the 123 Agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the US.
The coverage since yesterday on NDTV seems more like a soap opera than anything else. Like a soap opera it is low on content, high on drama but the acting is terrible. At the end of an hour long program in which many pols from both CPI(M) and Congress were interviewed, I was no more enlightened about the issues as I was before the program. (thank god for Wikipedia!). To the credit of the NDTV anchor, he tried his best to get his guests to talk about the issues, but it was clearly not a top priority for them. They preferred to refer to documents and dates without talking about what was in them. Make bombastic statements about the sovereignty of India being compromised or protected. And of course throw accusations at the other party about their motivations.
A few weeks back I had written about the challenges that leaders face in communicating complex economic issues. This is a living example of that if there ever was one. The current issue is an economic one (energy) as well as being related to defence and foreign relations. And it is a complex one. The voter doesn’t understand the issues and can’t be expected to have a position. In such a situation, you have two options, if you are the leader of the government:
– Make nice with the opposition and alliance partners and see it through Parliament.
– Explain it to the voters.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did neither. A few days back it seems, frustrated by the foot-dragging by the Communists, he made a statement that this was the best deal that could have been negotiated with the US under the circumstances, and so this was a “take it or leave it.” Who knows what he meant by it, but I can see it not going down well with Prakash Karat and the other fossils in the politburo.
As far as explaining it to the people, here is his statement on August 13, excerpted by Business Standard. I quote from the first two paragraphs:
An elaborate multi-layered consultation process has been included with regard to any future events that may be cited as a reason by either party to seek cessation of cooperation or termination of the (123) agreement. Both parties have agreed to take a number of factors into account in their consultations so that the scope for precipitate or unilateral action is reduced.
Cessation of cooperation can be sought by the US only if it is prepared to take the extreme step of termination of the agreement. India’s right to take “corrective measures” will be maintained even after the termination of the agreement.
Now, aren’t those the two most arresting opening lines you ever saw! Which voter will not completely support Mr. Singh after reading that!
It is a sad reflection on how our democracy functions 60 years after independence, if
– Leaders think it a waste of time to explain major legislation to the voters.
– The opposition opposes everything that the government does regardless of merit or indeed their own position on it.
– A party wedded to an ideology that died decades ago can hold back progress in a country that so desperately needs change.