Nuke Time-Out

A compromise formula on the Indo-US nuclear deal standoff between the UPA and the Left was always on the cards given the latter’s far fetched threat to pull down the Manmohan Singh government. So for now at least the government is safe. But then, the big question is for how long this compromise can be carried on. For the UPA government, it will have to seriously weigh the possibility of going in for a mid-term poll and more so if it remains committed to take the nuclear deal to its logical conclusion. Despite the thaw in relationship as expressed in the decision to set up a committee to look at the Left’s objection to the 123 agreement, it appears that there is still the fundamental difference which exists. And for all intents and purposes, both sides appear to be only playing for time. A mid-term election after the 2008 Budget Session is therefore now a distinct possibility.

In all this melodrama, it is becoming quite obvious that between the Left and the Congress, the former is clearly the one uncertain about its own political future. The Congress and in this case, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has done commendably well to take a clear cut position on the deal without the usual dilly dallying, a trait that Congressmen are known for. This is also indicative that at least on the nuclear deal, the Prime Minister remains firmly in control. For the Left, this has become somewhat embarrassing because while it cannot be now seen as going slow in its opposition to the deal and at the same time it can ill afford to pull down the UPA government. The Left should prepare to accept the reality of the Indo-US nuclear deal or face further discredit.

As far as the main Opposition Party, the BJP goes, while it has taken delight at the Left-UPA rift over the nuclear deal, it failed to give anything substantial to back its own misgiving about the deal—which in fact is the outcome of the Strobe Talbott-Jaswant Singh strategic dialogue. Rather the party’s wavering position on the nuclear deal is only proving that it was more interested in provoking the Left to ‘bite’ and pull down the government. While both the Left and the Right are in agreement that the Hyde Act vis-à-vis the 123 agreement must be debated and its future implication on the country’s sovereignty carefully deliberated, it is also a known fact that the Left had opposed the Pokhran nuclear testing, while the BJP Prime Minister at that time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had publicly offered to convert India’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests into a “binding commitment”. 

The stand that both the Left and the Right have taken on the Indo-US nuclear deal is therefore not fully convincing. It is clear that the opposition to the nuclear deal is more to do with the ideological posturing (anti-Americanism) of the Left parties and the political prejudice of the Right—which cannot live knowing that a Left of Centre government (and not the nationalist BJP) is able to arrive at such a strategic deal. All talks of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and national interest are therefore merely rhetoric. It will therefore be only natural for the UPA government to now take the nuclear deal through a thorough debate in Parliament and if this process fails the only other option would be to either stall the deal altogether or go to the people.