CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat's statement that the Congress would need a fresh mandate from the people to build a strategic alliance with the US has virtually ruled out the possibility of the nuclear deal being implemented under the current government.
Karat gave a nearly two-hour speech at the CPM state conference in Kottayam on Monday. He said that the Congress needs to seek a people's mandate in the next Lok Sabha polls if it wanted to have strategic ties with the US, because "no government that CPM and the Left supports would be allowed" to do it. While the Left has consistently maintained that the nuclear deal would compromise India's foreign policy sovereignty, the Congress countered the argument by saying it was more about technology transfer.
On one hand, Karat's assertions could be seen as a rejoinder to US ambassador David Mulford's contention that the time to implement the deal was "now or never".
On the other, it could be interpreted as a reminder to the Congress-led UPA government that strategic ties with the US were not part of the 'national common minimum programme' (NCMP), the Congress' blueprint for governance since 2004.
Left sources explained Karat's speech in the context of what the NCMP had promised on foreign policy: "The UPA government will pursue an independent foreign policy keeping in mind its past traditions. This policy will seek to promote multi-polarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism."
"The issue of a strategic alliance with the US was not on the government's agenda during the 2004 election and the mandate it got from the people did not include a vote for US-specific ties," sources said.
Karat's statement could then essentially be decoded as a message to the Congress that if it were so keen to have bilateral ties with US, the issue would have to be part of the agenda the party draws up for the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
"Go and explain to the people about the nuclear deal and if the people vote the Congress and its allies back in larger numbers, implement the deal. The current government composition does not have the mandate for it," sources added.
The Communists seem to be working on the assumption that they would continue to be as powerful in national politics after the next election as they are now.
But would they really continue to hold the balance of power in the next dispensation and wield enough political clout to stall government policies? Or would another political power emerge to replace the Communists, for instance someone like Mayawati's BSP, as the balancing factor? The country would have to wait for the next general election to know the answer.