Leading the Indian delegation to the United Nations Mr. LK Advani addressed the august assembly. Appointing an opposition leader as head of the delegation was a departure from tradition. Normally the Foreign Minister of the day leads such delegations. Once earlier, late Narasimha Rao had appointed opposition leader Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee as head of such a delegation. As former Foreign Minister Mr. Vajpayee’s appointment could be rationalized.
Nevertheless Mr. Advani’s appointment was welcome and he made an exemplary speech reflecting India’s bipartisan approach to foreign policy. He spoke about legitimate concerns related to international corruption. However he also spoke about the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). With understandable pride Mr. Advani highlighted for his international audience the achievement of organizing the world’s largest cash for work program catering to 53 million village households including half the beneficiaries who consisted of women. Mr. Advani said: that the scheme had “helped break down social inequalities, empower rural people, build up rural infrastructure and revive economic growth”. This praise would have cheered the Congress, particularly Mrs. Sonia Gandhi who vigorously pushed for the scheme.
However such praise has puzzled ordinary citizens. During the last general election the BJP in its election manifesto had stated that MGNREGS “has turned out to be as much of a flop as all other government schemes”. This contradiction was explained by the BJP spokesperson Mr. Prakash Jawadekar: “We don’t carry our domestic differences to international forums… Advani as a senior statesman is representing India at the UNGA.”
Very true and very laudable! As a delegation leader abroad Mr. Advani had a role to fulfill. He had to praise national achievement. As the opposition leader at home he had another role to fulfill. He had to criticize the government. But that begs the question. What does Mr. Advani really believe in? Is MGNREGS good or bad? Do politicians speak merely to enact roles or can they also speak the truth from the heart to serve the public? Surely the public has a right to know? The argument that the contradiction revealed by Mr. Advani was unavoidable because he was representing India abroad does not really hold. He could have declined to head the delegation. Indian leaders should recognize that in thepresent critical times it is all the more important that they refrain from posturing to sincerely address problems.
Even as the Prime Minister deplores negativity while struggling to revive a critically failing economy, the speculation about a mid-term poll mounts. Miss Mamata Banerjee, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr. Sharad Pawar and Miss Mayawati have all predicted a mid-term poll. Normally an election to clarify a confused political situation is welcome. But is there any guarantee that a mid-term poll in the prevailing circumstances will not further confuse the situation instead of clarifying it? Is there sufficient clarity about alignments and agendas to offer promise of cohesion after the election? Clearly there is not. It would therefore be desirable if the government could restore cohesion and sense of direction before its term of office expires. Question is, how? There is only one obvious way which had been advocated earlier in these columns.
On March 9, 2012 I had pointed out:
“There is no serious division between the Congress and BJP regards foreign or economic policies. The combined strength of both parties in parliament would make the emergent government stable and impervious to pressure by its current regional allies. At the present critical time facing the nation the government could function more decisively till it completes its term in 2014.”
After Mr. Advani uncharacteristically apologized to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi for his party colleagues accusing her of holding a foreign bank account it was iterated in these columns that the process should be taken to its logical end by creating a Congress-BJP alliance to govern the country till the next election. On August 9, 2012 it was written:
“A Congress-BJP alliance is the only quick-fix option to restore stability and a semblance of governance. Neither party could be held hostage to blackmail by smaller regional parties. But to achieve this difficult goal adverse opinion in both parties would have to be overcome. That is what it seems Mr. Advani and Mrs. Gandhi might have been attempting. The ice must be broken for a substantive dialogue. Mr. Advani’s earlier written apology to Mrs. Gandhi over her alleged foreign bank account did not deliver results. A Congress-BJP alliance makes political sense.”
Well, Mr. Advani’s high praise for MGNREGS at the UN is the third half step taken towards cooperation. Is it not time to bite the bullet? A Congress Bharatiya Alliance would be welcomed by the public. It would be good for national politics.