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A ‘dishonourable’ exit, isn’t it?

The challenge before the UPA is to change the BJP’s position or ensure that it abstains on any vote on the nuclear deal, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Oct 28, 2007 04:24 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times

Is the government trying to find a way of pursuing the Indo-US nuclear deal or is it looking for an honourable exit? The UPA-Left meeting on Monday led many to believe a small window of opportunity may have opened up. Alas, the opposite is the truth. The government is looking for a face-saver. The deal is as good as dead.

Cover is sought on two fronts simultaneously. Dismayed by criticism, the Prime Minister last Monday summoned his UPA allies and said he had been let down. I’m told Sharad Pawar explained that the situation had changed and it would not be mature to pursue the deal at the cost of the government. The Prime Minister responded testily, claiming this meant he was immature. Sensing a dangerous fault line, the allies agreed to make one further effort to persuade the Left. But they agreed without conviction. The object was to appease the Prime Minister.

The second face-saver is to help the government extricate itself from the deal without losing credibility. The solution is to get parliament to express its opposition to the deal. Once such a ‘sense of the House’ is officially known, the government can defer to it. That would not be reneging on the deal but acknowledging the dictates of democracy. This will happen when Parliament convenes, whether in special session or by bringing forward the winter session.

In fact, I’m told, Pranab Mukherjee informed the Left at Monday’s meeting that if the sense of the House was against the deal the government would be prepared to put it on hold till after the 2009 elections. When asked if he was making a personal suggestion, he replied the government has collectively decided on this strategy.

This explains Prakash Karat’s journey to Amar Singh’s house to meet the UNPA the very next day. He wasn’t pursuing a third front, as the press mistakenly concluded. He was ensuring that the UNPA would side with the Left in parliament. And that evening the UNPA passed a formal resolution calling for the deal to be discussed in parliament. Now, as things stand, the majority in parliament is against the deal. Like the Left and the UNPA, the BJP is also opposed. Or is it? This is not a rhetorical question.

At the end of August, LK Advani spoke in terms which suggested he was not against the deal but only concerned about certain aspects of the Hyde Act. At the time it was mooted that if India amends its own laws to protect itself against the deleterious clauses of the Hyde Act, Advani’s and therefore the BJP’s objections would disappear. Unfortunately, Advani backtracked. But now, in today’s circumstances, is this a wee crack the government can prize open?

Can the government find a way of getting the BJP to support the deal when it’s discussed in parliament? It’s close to impossible but if it can pull this off the sense of the House will be for the deal. Then the government could claim that the people of India through their representatives have spoken in favour. And let me add if thereafter the Government pursues the deal the Left will not pull the plug. No doubt they’ll demonstrate and protest, but they won’t withdraw support. This is because a sense of the House cuts both ways!

So the challenge before the government — and it’s a monumental one — is to change the BJP’s position or, at least, ensure it abstains on any vote. Can it be done? The only reason for hoping the answer is yes is that both Congress and the BJP want a stronger relationship with America and, ultimately, both are for the deal.

No doubt the BJP has objections but they arise out of the fact it was secured by Congress and not by itself. That’s pique and jealousy. Not conviction and principle. If you ask me, I would say this won’t happen. Perhaps Congress won’t even try. The parliamentary session will be the deal’s requiem not it’s resurrection.

First Published: Oct 28, 2007 04:12 IST