Samuel Beckett’s classic two-act Waiting for Godot was once described by a critic as a play in which “nothing happens, twice”. In the case of the India-US nuclear deal, the way it is being played out in New Delhi, we could well describe it as politics on display in which nothing happens, continuously. This would have not been so unfortunate if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had not invested so much energy and importance into the historic deal. The Prime Minister’s Office insisted that Mr Singh had not talked about being “embarrassed” and “let down” during the mysterious UPA-Left committee meeting on Monday. One hopes, at least for the Prime Minister’s sake, that he is feeling embarrassed and let down.
Whether the US’s offer to bring India out of the nuclear alley and into the atomic main street is good for our national interest has never really been debated. Instead, the rumpus is about two issues: India becoming a client State of the United States (the Left position); and the deal not being worth the heartburn of mid-term elections (the ‘majority’ UPA position). The first position is an ideological strategy pretending to be a neurotic tic. The second position is the more debilitating one. It is one thing to deal with the gnashing of teeth of the usual suspects; it is quite another to hush the mutterings and grumblings in one’s own camp. (Nobody, including the BJP, quite knows on what logical reason the BJP opposes the deal.) The next UPA-Left committee meeting is slated for November 16, in which we are told, the findings of the committee will be finalised. Call us cynics, but it smacks of yet another show of ‘nothing happening’. The deal can’t be kept in limbo forever. The administration in Washington will change and is unlikely to show the same enthusiasm the present one does. More important, India as a sovereign nation that can make — and stick to — deals with other countries will take a beating. And that’s not even counting the wasted opportunity of quenching India’s growing energy requirements in keeping with its growing economy.
Mr Singh had placed his cards throughout the deal’s timeline on the table. So the Left can hardly complain about being kept in the dark. The communists’ adamant objections just before India negotiates with the IAEA is like the family suddenly crying out ‘Nahin!’ at the mandap after having had all the time in the world to turn down the daughter’s choice of a husband. As for those who want a full term in power (“the people don’t want mid-term polls” is the polite way of putting it), a deal that benefits India tremendously in the long run is hardly worth the short-term gains for them. As the PM’s sighs get longer, our fingers, still crossed, grow tired. We will be exceedingly surprised if future generations remember the Left as saving India from the ‘imperialist hegemon’ if the deal is scuttled. But then, there must be more important things in a parliamentary democracy than the good of the nation that we — and the Prime Minister — perhaps won’t know about.