The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM lays bare coalition cuffs
- Jab at Left and unreliable allies
Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Nov. 5: Can coalitions provide the unity of purpose that nation-states need, Manmohan Singh asked today.

The Prime Minister answered the question himself: “Sometimes… narrow political considerations, based on regional or sectional loyalties and ideologies, can distort the national vision and sense of collective purpose.”

His sharpest criticism yet of a model where “parties with varying national reach and many with a very limited sub-national reach form a coalition” came before a world audience. Singh was inaugurating an international conference on federalism.

Although the Prime Minister, who heads a multi-party coalition, did not raise specific issues, the backdrop was stark. He has made known his disappointment with UPA allies — the DMK, RJD and the NCP — for opposing the nuclear deal in public after endorsing it in the Union cabinet.

Singh’s reference to “parties with varying national reach” could be interpreted to mean the Left, which has often drawn charges of wielding power disproportionate to its limited presence in the country.

The nuclear deal is not the only sticking point in the Congress’s equations with regional allies. The DMK’s open declaration of solidarity with the LTTE — after its political cell chief Thamilselvan was killed recently — has caused the Congress discomfiture. The militant group is blamed for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

The running feud between health minister Anbumani Ramadoss of the PMK and the AIIMS director has also embarrassed the Prime Minister.

If Singh’s criticism took in its sweep his UPA and Left allies, it did not spare the BJP either. The Opposition party has thwarted the formulation of a cohesive view on the deal after initially giving the impression of support.

Without naming the BJP, he asked: “Does a single party have any advantages in managing Centre-state relations smoothly… or is a multi-party model, with national parties dominating the political scene, superior where one can hope that all of them will take a national view on policy issues and help to reinforce the unity of the federation.”

While in theory this model should work smoothly, it was not so in India, he said.

Congress sources said his comments would resurrect the debate on coalitions versus single-party rule that often dominated party meetings till Sonia Gandhi ruled in favour of alliances before the 2004 elections. The All India Congress Committee is due to meet on November 17.

In a tangential answer to the Left’s allegation that the nuclear deal would “compromise” India’s sovereignty, Singh said that in a world getting increasingly globalised, he wondered “whether the day is not far away when the concept of absolute sovereignty may itself come into question”.

The context was not the deal but economic development.

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