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It’s now or never

The Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement is once again facing stiff opposition from the Left parties, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Jun 23, 2008 15:52 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement is once again facing stiff opposition from the Left parties. The latter appear to be determined to bring down this government if the UPA goes ahead with the negotiations in the IAEA. The UPA and the Congress are engaged in an exercise to somehow break the deadlock and are giving an opportunity to the Left to once again revise its stand.

In fact, the Congress has its options running out. If it succumbs to the Left pressure and abandons the deal that it construes to be in the overall interest of the country, it will be seen as a party that compromised on its beliefs just to remain in power for a few more months. Sonia Gandhi's sacrifice of shunning power when it was offered to her on a platter after the 2004 verdict will go in vain and the Congress shall be seen as party of power-hungry individuals who did not care for the principles and for the future of this country.

It is true that by postponing the decision to go along with the deal, the threat to the government may go but the political consequences of not signing the deal will be far greater than those of going ahead with it. The Left is a temporary ally since the 2004 elections were contested on an anti-communal plank. But the past record of the Left, particularly the CPI(M) shows that it has explained its flirtations with the BJP (Jana Sangh) in 1967, 1977 and 1989 in terms convenient to it.

Ideology had little to do with its decision to oppose Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 when it joined hands with the BJP to support the VP Singh government. It has been in the forefront of an exercise to launch a third alternative at the center despite having the best of both the worlds while supporting the UPA since 2004. Its leaders are heading important parliamentary committees and are busy appropriating political space once occupied by the Congress asthe voice of the weaker sections and poor in this country.

It is a common sight to see Left leaders like AB Bardhan using the strongest language on the TV while ridiculing or criticising the government given that the CPI has a handful of MPs in Parliament. The CPI(M), too, has been sometimes looking most unreasonable when somebody as articulate as Prakash Karat launches an attack on the ruling combination for some of the problems that cannot be addressed by coalition governments. The Congress and the UPA have shown a lot of patience in keeping quiet about what appears to be unfair criticism at times aimed at giving the Left parties undue political dividends.

There has to be a stop somewhere.

The Left parties seem to be viewing this deal differently because of political reasons. Ideologically, some elements in these parties feel that a tie up with the United States would hurt their beliefs while excursions into Indian territories in Sikkim, Ladakh or Arunachal by the Chinese do not evoke the same kind of resentment as the proposed deal with the US is invoking.

The Congress has so far been indulging them because it was bent upon making this coalition a success. And since it wanted to keep out the communal forces headed by the BJP with whom the CPI(M) is once again threatening to vote in Parliament. But how far will this go on? Will the Congress and the UPA continue to be politically blackmailed by around 60 MPs whose number may come down drastically in the next parliamentary polls?

Many in the Congress feel that some leaders like Pranab Mukheree who are dependent on the Left to get elected from Bengal are giving them more importance than they deserve. This is unfair criticism since Mukherjee is first a Congressman and than anything else.

But the question that has arisen is that in the face of this continuous pressure from the Left, what will the Congress finally choose? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is believed to have expressed his desire to quit if the deal does not go through. In fact, he should if it does not go through as he will have no face to show any body.

The ramifications of the deal falling through will be also very acute on Sonia Gandhi, who is making every attempt to send a message to many of her ambitious colleagues in the UPA that she has been fully behind the PM so that they should not nurse any plans during this period of crisis.

Many of her colleagues are trying to scare her by raising a false alarm that going ahead with the deal will alienate the minorities. She is being told that the Muslims in India hate George Bush (whose term will be over in January) and this could have an adverse impact on the party's chances. The implicit message is that Muslims in India care more about Muslims in West Asia and less about the concerns for energy and the interests of this country. This insinuation is false as Muslims are as patriotic as any other India. So why should they oppose the deal?

If the Left withdraws, so be it. It will also give the Congress an opportunity to test the Samajwadi Party with whom it is proposing to have an alliance in UP for the next round. If the SP does not support the UPA on the deal, how can the Congress trust it in future? The Congress will be better off in knowing who its friends and foes are.

For the sake of the country's credibility, the government should go ahead with the deal. Between us.