The suspense over the future of the India-United States nuclear agreement continues. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears hopeful that the hurdles will be cleared, a consensus reached and that the deal will go through, not many share his optimism. They are of the view that for the government to survive, the deal must be put in cold storage, at least for the time being.
There are many giving the impression that it’s up to the PM alone to save his government by avoiding further confrontation with the Left. On his part, Singh has shown ample restraint, telling mediapersons travelling with him from Johannesburg to New Delhi that he did not wish to predict the end result, as the “consultation process is still on”.
Yet, at the same time, other UPA partners already seem to be distancing themselves from what was a collective decision. Leaders like Sharad Pawar, M. Karunanidhi and Lalu Prasad Yadav were part of the process to decide whether the UPA should go ahead with the nuclear deal. But now, they are trying to convey the impression that they sympathise with the Left’s position and had nothing to do with the decision. In fact, they seem to be supporting the Left more than the government they are part of.
If it weren’t a case of political expediency, they too would have been working at saving the government by persuading the Left to see the positive side of the deal, which they had earlier endorsed in a UPA resolution as being “in the supreme interest of the country”. The PM, who is obviously feeling let down, has now stated, “I don’t know what you say about the UPA going back on it. They were a part and parcel of the cabinet process.”
The logical inference of the recent developments is that a section within the UPA wants to avoid elections at all costs, since they are uncertain about how polls will impact their parties. What they forget is that their credibility will suffer if they try to back off from their earlier commitment to the deal. But then, Pawar, Lalu and Karunanidhi have often changed partners to remain in power.
What this means is that the PM is going to have to bear the brunt of what was a collective decision. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is perhaps the only one seen to be endorsing Manmohan Singh’s stand, even though the Congress itself has been on the backfoot these last 10 days.
The political parties concerned must realise that the credibility of India as a nation is at stake. Even if it means sacrificing the government, the Congress and the UPA should pursue what they initiated so that nuclear energy is available for the country’s development. A deal like this, it once falls through, may not come again for a long time, and will continue to keep India isolated where nuclear energy is concerned.
The Left parties, too, need to understand the urgency of going ahead with the deal and must accommodate the UPA’s position. Their opposition is only benefiting parties like the BJP, whom the Left, along with other UPA allies, had accused of pursuing a communal agenda during the last parliamentary polls. If the Left withdraws support to the UPA, it will not only bring down this government, but will also indirectly help strengthen the communal forces. The Left must, thus, choose between these two options.
The same is the case with Pawar, Lalu and Karunanidhi. True, Pawar has unrealised political ambitions, which received a further setback with a Maharashtrian becoming the President of the country. It is also true that in 1978, Pawar, along with his mentor Y.B. Chavan, had joined hands with the erstwhile Jan Sangh leaders to topple the Vasantdada Patil government. But a senior leader like him should use his immense experience to push the deal through under the changed circumstances.
Karunanidhi has been in an alliance with the BJP in the past, but this is his litmus test. He has to abandon his narrow agenda and look at the big picture. He has the stature to do so.
Lalu Yadav has often been accused of things exaggerated beyond reality. Given the situation in his home state, where Nitish Kumar has emerged as a very successful chief minister, his long-term interests too would be served in cementing his ties with the Congress.
The one-upmanship between the Left and the UPA has to end, as it is in their combined interest. The Left must realise that the spectre of a mid-term poll will hurt it the most. It could also lead to some differences between politicians who have excelled in theoretical chessboard games and those who have to go out and face the electorate every five years. It is true that sometimes, it is difficult to make a choice between ideological beliefs and realpolitik, but certain decisions have to be taken with pragmatism.
As far as the PM is concerned, the head that wears the crown does appear to be uneasy with what is going on. He needs endorsement from his party and the UPA, and possibly from the Left. Being part of coalition politics does not mean that anyone can get up and say anything uncharitable. His party did not come out in his defence in an aggressive manner, even while the BJP has launched a personal attack on him. Maybe some of them are busy trying to accommodate suspended or erstwhile BJP MLAs in their fold. The issue here is what is in the country’s best interests. In this, the PM needs support. Between us.