Like a jug of milk left outside for far too long, the India-US civilian nuclear deal is souring. Whether the latest comments by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee are able to make a quick curd-based dessert dish out of the languishing deal is something that we will have to see. On the face of it, Mr Mukherjee is the right man to make a last-ditch pitch. He is the man that the heels-digging Left leaders at least listen, if not listen to. Of course, that hardly means that the Left will change its stand overnight and will heed Mr Mukherjee’s advice to “appreciate” the changes in post-Cold War geopolitics.
Responding to the Left’s strong opposition to India conducting joint military operations with the US, Mr Mukherjee has been clever enough in picking up this strand and running with it. He pointed out that if by conducting military exercises with China and Russia have not led to India being a Chinese or Russian vassal, it stands to reason that New Delhi will be able to stave off US ‘hegemonic designs’ if there were indeed any. In other words, Mr Mukherjee has focused on the Left’s ideologically driven US-phobia. Speaking to the other side of the naysaying bench, he responded to the BJP’s insistence that the government take a call on the deal — “mend or end” the 123 agreement. One is as unsure as the BJP itself as to what ‘mend’ means. But Mr Mukherjee has deftly played hopscotch by stating that there was no question of either mending or ending the deal now as the government is still “in the dialogue stage”.
It is this eternal talk of dialogue on agreeing over IAEA safeguards and letting the government go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Johannesburg in May that sounds like a stuck record. But in matters like this, who is not doing the talking is as important as who is doing the talking. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has kept his lips sealed ever since the Left pounced on his statement about his ‘disappointment’ to the opposition to the deal. Mr Mukherjee may be
as sincere in his desire to see the deal through. But he doesn’t carry Mr Singh’s ‘kiss of death’. The fact that it is he who is now seeking the Left to change its views on the deal suggests that there is a genuine attempt to change the deadening status quo from the UPA’s side. But desperate intentions may not be good enough. Unless that old chestnut of a bluff from the Left is called by Mr Mukherjee’s bosses