We have had good governments and bad governments since independence. This is the first time we are having a government suspended in midair, unable to go up to heaven or come down to earth. In modernistic terms, it is comparable to the weightlessness astronauts experience inside space shuttles, a sort of floating, drifting existence.
Is democracy punishing us for playing tricks with it? We pretend, and tell the world, that the Manmohan Singh Government is in power in our country. But it is the Sonia Gandhi Government that is really in power and – here comes another trick – Sonia Gandhi is neither accessible nor accountable. The result is confusion about where, what, which is the Government.
According to insiders, the Government is made up of advisers. And they come in different shapes with different ideas. One version is that Sonia Gandhi heeded the advice of her trusted A.K.Antony and took a stand against reforms like FDI. So the Manmohan Singh Government took a stand against reforms. Then a new Minister took over the Finance portfolio. Now Sonia Gandhi heeded the advice of her trusted P. Chidambaram and took a stand in favour of reforms like FDI. So the Manmohan Singh Government took a stand in favour of reforms. Half of India cheered, the other half took to the streets.
Now one ally has left the Government in a huff. In normal circumstances, this should have been a relief to the Government because Mamata Banerji is not meant to be a democrat, let alone an ally. She is a banyan tree under which nothing else can grow. But these are not normal times, so politicians are out with their calculators to play addition and subtraction games.
This is the tragedy of our lives. After 65 years of adult franchise, politics has been reduced to a game of calculators, of pluses and minuses. Sonia minus Mamata plus Mulayam plus Mayawati minus Patnaik plus three gas cylinders minus Walmart equals democracy. The tragedy becomes farce when we realise that one set of permutations is as cynical as another set of combinations. Mayawati against whom charges are pending, becomes the saviour of the Union Government. What charges will matter in such a situation? What justice will prevail?
The BJP cries hoarse about the omissions and commissions of the UPA Government. Quite right. But what about its own omissions and commissions when it was in power? Today it calls for a nation-wide hartal against FDI in retail. What was its position on FDI when it was leading the NDA Government? Do the country's interests change depending on which party is in power? Democracy fails when there is no real choice before voters.
One advantage of the Government suddenly becoming reformist – FDI in retail is to be followed by FDI in pharmaceuticals, which is another can of worms – is that headline writers have forgotten the so-called Coalgate. This confirms ruling politicians' view that the fuss about corruption will go away if you ignore it long enough. The economy is slowing? The desperate are turning to crime on the one hand and communalism on the other? The borders are restless? Ignore them all, they’ll go away.
The attention of all the players is now elsewhere. The BJP's focus is on whether a no-confidence motion would be more effective than a vote on the FDI bill in Parliament. Mamata Banerji's sole focus is how to keep the Communists away in West Bengal whatever happens to the country. Mayawati's focus is on avoiding an election until the euphoria over Mulayam's victory in UP passes off. Mulayam Singh’s focus is on having a general election immediately.
In the midst of this merrygoround, prices of everyday necessities rise to record levels in direct response to petroleum price increases. Voters and taxpayers are caught in a pincer movement – between self-serving politicians and the unalterable laws of economics. When privations mix with frustrations of this kind, explosive situations develop in normal societies. Are we a normal society?