The fine damask table cloth has been laid out, the sterling silver cutlery set and the bone china crockery’s in place. All we need now is for the dinner guests to arrive. If the Left has its way, the dinner party for the Indo-US nuclear deal is off but the government still seems to be waiting for the banquet to begin. The signs favour the UPA government. First, the July deadline set by the US for the deal to be inked has been relaxed, a message conveyed by Defence Secretary Robert Gates on a recent visit to New Delhi. Well, that takes care of the Left’s bellicosity that Washington is no one to set any date for us. The one-year extension given to Indian ambassador to the US Ronen Sen and the permanent representative to the UN Nirupam Sen, both key players in the crafting of the deal, is significant. It suggests that the government wants these crucial officials in place till both countries go in for elections. The Hyde Act that so exercised the Left as an instrument that would render India a client State of the US has been put on the backburner, something that has displeased many in the US administration. All this suggests that the Bush administration, though on its last legs, is willing to go the extra mile for the deal.
Now many may argue that this is because George Bush needs one significant foreign policy triumph before he heads off to Texas. Maybe. But the fact remains that the deal comes on the very best terms that India can ever hope to get. The Left, though it has blustered about bringing down the government over the deal, seems to have no objections to the ongoing talks the government has undertaken with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The much-vaunted Third Front, the Left’s designer baby, is still to get off the drawing board, rallies notwithstanding.
The UPA seems to sense that it is now or never as far as the deal goes, and seems set to go ahead. On his visit, Mr Gates also called on opposition leader and prime ministerial candidate of the NDA, LK Advani. The veteran leader did not raise any objections to the deal, at least not publicly. This could be because, regardless of whoever is in power, a sovereign Indian government cannot be seen to go back on such a big-ticket item as the nuclear deal. So while it is too early to pop the bubbly, it wouldn’t hurt to put it in the ice bucket.