Tuesday, 06 November 2007, 13:18
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 004881
EO 12958 DECL: 11/05/2017
TAGS PREL, PARM, TSPL, KNNP, ETTC, ENRG, TRGY, IN
SUBJECT: PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE, GUJARAT ELECTIONS KEY TO GOI
APPROACH ON US-INDIA NUCLEAR DEAL
REF: A. NEW DELHI 4857 B. NEW DELHI 4842 C. NEW DELHI 4835 D. NEW DELHI 4823 E. NEW DELHI 4803 F. NEW DELHI 4764 G. NEW DELHI 4763 H. MUMBAI 604 I. NEW DELHI 4720 J. NEW DELHI 4638 K. NEW DELHI 4616 L. NEW DELHI 4589
Classified By: Ted Osius for Reasons 1.4 (B and D)
1. (C) Summary: The upcoming winter session of Parliament in mid-November and Gujarat state assembly elections in mid-December will play a key role in shaping GOI actions on the US-India civil nuclear agreement. The respective positions of the Congress Party and the Left parties are likely to be fine-tuned in a series of inter-party and intra-party meetings in the days before Parliament begins debate on the agreement on or around November 19. The debate will be unpredictable but vigorous, with a great deal of high rhetoric and low tactics by all the parties. If the UPA emerges from the debate with no clear "sense of the House" against the deal, it will look for opportunities to move forward on discussions with the IAEA. Most observers believe that the Gujarat elections in mid-December will provide the true test of UPA government's approach on the agreement. If the Congress Party puts in a good performance in this BJP stronghold, it might feel politically strong enough to challenge the Left parties by moving forward with the IAEA on the safeguards agreement at the risk of (or even the desire for) early mid-term polls. However, Mrs. Gandhi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to show real leadership. While remaining publicly restrained and taking care not to be seen as interfering with domestic Indian politics, the Embassy will continue to meet with all political, business and civil society parties and interest groups to urge them to support the agreement. End Summary.
Timetable Ahead of Parliamentary Debate
2. (U) With the first few days of the session devoted to housekeeping matters, Parliament is expected to take up serious business on November 19. This date is significant for Parliamentary debate on the US-India civil nuclear initiative because it follows closely four other meetings:
-- November 11-12: Meeting of Communist Party - Marxist politburo meeting;
-- November 16: Meeting of the UPA-Left coordination committee on the US-India civil nuclear agreement, unless that meeting is postponed;
-- November 16: Meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body of the Congress Party; and
-- November 17: Meeting of the All India Congress Committee, the broadest and most representative body of the Congress Party.
Avoiding Monsoon Session Gridlock
3. (C) The discussion and decisions taken at these meetings will feed directly into the Parliamentary debate that follows. In the monsoon session in August, boisterous disruptions by the Left parties and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the nuclear initiative paralyzed Parliamentary business. The UPA government is hoping to avoid a similar scene during the winter session because the principal players appear to have recently pulled back somewhat from the confrontational approach they held in August-October.
Positive Developments: Left Parties
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4. (C) The US-India civil nuclear initiative still faces an uphill road (Ref G) but there have been developments in recent days that bode well for the government, if not for quick completion of the nuclear deal. The Left parties, while continuing to reiterate their firm opposition to the civil nuclear agreement, have gone out of their way to reject the notion of early parliamentary elections. "There is no threat to the UPA government," Communist Party Marxist General Secretary Prakash Karat told reporters on October 30. Some see this as a glimmer of hope that the Left may not force the collapse of the UPA government if the Prime Minister moves forward on the IAEA safeguards agreement. This is reassuring to UPA allies such as Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party and Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, all of whom, deathly afraid of early elections, pressured the UPA government to slow down progress on the agreement. The Left parties have also taken pains recently to be conciliatory towards the Prime Minister and his stand on the US-India agreement after having attacked him sharply during the last two months.
Positive Developments: BJP
5. (C) The BJP, while it continues to speak with many conflicting voices, appears to have softened its opposition to the agreement, in part, due to the Ambassador's meetings with BJP leaders (Ref A, D, E). A party spokesman said on October 30 that the BJP will not insist, as it did during the monsoon session, that debate on the agreement be conducted under Parliamentary rules that require a vote, something the UPA government had refused to do. The BJP spokesman also noted that his party will drop its monsoon session demand for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to examine the agreement. Perhaps the most important BJP pronouncement on the issue was made by Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani, who supported the call for a full Parliamentary debate but pointed out that the government is not constitutionally bound to accept the opinion of Parliament on this issue, rebuffing Karat's shrill insistence on an enhanced, more formal role for Parliament in Indian foreign policy formulation. .
Positive Developments: Congress
6. (C) Since the October 12 reversal by Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister on the US-India agreement (Ref L), the Congress Party appears to be stiffening its back a little. The Prime Minister and the party have acknowledged a "delay in operationalizing" the agreement but have repeatedly reiterated their commitment to finalizing the deal. The Prime Minister made this observation after his October 30 meeting with German Chancellor Merkel. He assured Treasury Secretary Paulson on October 29 that the government was fully
SIPDIS committed to the agreement (Ref B) and were exploring various ways of getting it through the domestic obstacles. Speaking at a November 5 conference, he called critics of the nuclear initiative "myopic."
7. (C) It is difficult to foretell how the Parliamentary debate over the agreement will turn out. The Left has been assiduously courting regional parties in recent days and several of these parties have expressed solidarity with the Left's position. Yet, the regional parties do not have strong ideological or policy positions on the agreement. What concerns them most is whether or not the deal leads to early elections. The BJP's confused stance has become even more muddled now with some leaders softening their positions but others not getting the memo. The BJP will sit down before the winter session to iron out its party line and make sure its Parliamentarians stick with it.
8. (C) Given that the Left parties are unlikely to relent from their opposition to the agreement, the best outcome for the UPA (and the deal) will be if the Left parties are isolated in the debate while the BJP expresses criticism, but remains uncommitted -- similar to the position taken by the Left in previous nuclear debates. The worst outcome would be
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if the Left, BJP and the regional parties corner the UPA and the "sense of the House" is clearly against the agreement. The most likely scenario is somewhere in the middle with a vigorous debate but both sides claiming victory. If this happens, the UPA government might plausibly take steps to move forward on the deal, if it can find the courage to do so.
Gujarat Elections Holds the Key
9. (C) Embassy agrees with many observers who believe that if the Parliamentary debate is a draw, the Gujarat election result in December are crucial to whether Congress Party moves forward with the nuclear agreement. Gujarat is a large state, with 26 seats in Parliament. It is a prosperous state which is leading the Indian economic resurgence. It is also one of the most "saffron" states in the country. The BJP has won the last five state assembly elections. It crushed the Congress in 2002 in a lop-sided win in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. By most accounts, Narendra Modi, the poster boy of anti-Muslim Hindu nationalist ideology, has an edge to retain his Chief Minister position for a third straight time (Ref C and H). The state unit of the Congress Party is weak and poorly organized.
10. (C) If the Congress Party can put in a healthy performance to make a dent in this BJP bastion, observers believe the Congress Party will feel politically strong to risk (or even call) a mid-term national poll. In this case, the Prime Minister and the Congress Party would challenge the Left parties by moving forward with the IAEA on the safeguards agreement. It is because of the importance the Congress Party attaches to Gujarat that it is bringing in its top leaders to campaign in the state. Sonia Gandhi launched the campaign over the weekend in Anand, Gujarat. Rahul Gandhi is expected to campaign in the state. If, on the other hand, the Congress Party is trampled again in Gujarat and fails to improve on its 48 seats (out of 182 total seats in the assembly), it will feel vulnerable and will not be tempted to risk early elections. It will then require extraordinary political courage for the UPA to carry out the IAEA talks, which place its full term in office in jeopardy.
Comment: Golda Meir Would be Disgusted
11. (C) The Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi, has proven especially cautious and nervous in the face of recent extortionist tactics by Prakash Karat. With two huge confrontations in its future -- Parliament and Gujarat -- it will remain true to its cautious form by seeking first to gauge its levels of support before finally being forced -- if absolutely needed -- to take action. With the future of Indian foreign credibility hanging in balance, Sonia Gandhi has been unable to show principled leadership even when it might benefit her party at the polls and reveal Prakash Karat to be the extortionist he is. Mrs. Gandhi never misses and opportunity to miss an opportunity. While remaining publicly restrained and taking care not to be seen as interfering with domestic Indian politics, the Embassy will continue to meet with all political, business and civil society organizations to urge them to support the agreement. We will continue to press the UPA government on the need for early completion of the safeguards agreement with the IAEA. And, we will continue our efforts to remind the BJP that the US-India civil nuclear agreement is their deal, too. WHITE
(Originally published by www.guardian.co.uk)