The UPA leadership considers the nuclear deal in the national interest, elections on schedule next year in everybody’s interest and a working relationship with the Left a vested coalition interest.
Given the conflicting nature of these objectives, the Congress-led formation could end up paying compound interest – politically -- if it persists with the deal and the Communists withdraw support and pull down the government.
Elections in that eventuality could come months before the May 2009 deadline for a new regime to be in place. The pre-poll interregnum on offer might then be shorter than the lifespan of inflationary pressures that have sent prices rocketing through the roof.
And who knows whether non-proliferation diehards in the Nuclear Suppliers Group would be inclined to deal with a dispensation lacking legislative numbers on its home turf? Such anxieties have begun finding expression in the UPA camp amidst a hectic efforts to save the deal and pre-empt early elections. As a key interlocutor said, the crisis is “serious with no light, not yet, at the end of the tunnel”.
The impasse could result in a nuked UPA without the patina of power and political credibility. Worse, the Election Commission might dovetail the Lok Sabha elections to imminent polls in Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
The BJP then might emerge as the prime gainer, with anti-incumbency in states where it’s in power getting directed at the Congress and its allies in reaction to the price rise and the failed nuclear enterprise. Life after elections may not be easy for the Congress even if the NDA fumbles and the UPA survives in one piece as the single largest entity.
The post-poll churnings could throw up a third conglomeration including the Left and some constituents of the UNPA and UPA. It will be hard for the Congress to deny them outside support in the name of fighting communalism.
If UPA stakeholders like Lalu Yadav are already rehearsing their election speeches with a “bread and butter” spin to the nuclear deal, Prakash Karat has transfixed it into the “emerging Washington-Tel Aviv-New Delhi axis”.
The CPI(M) leader’s seemingly anti-imperialistic formulation could well be imparted a communal twist by parties battling the Congress for Muslim support.
One such adversary is the BSP’s Mayawati, who has just withdrawn support to the UPA, citing rising prices and the Centre’s “step-motherly” treatment of Uttar Pradesh.