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The stopwatch’s ticking

For the UPA Govt, signing the N-deal is a risk worth taking, considering the atmosphere of political uncertainty that lies ahead, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: May 04, 2008, 23:22 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times

With the Parliament expected to adjourn after the Budget session this week, the focus will once again shift to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Even as the Left parties prepare to put in place their strategy to delay the signing beyond the time-frame needed to get the treaty ratified in the US, the UPA may put into action its own plans on the deal. And with the passage of the Budget, the government is better placed to go ahead with its own agenda.

As things stand, the Left and the BJP appear to be against the signing of the accord. However, by voicing his support for the treaty, Brajesh Mishra, former National Security Advisor (NSA) to the NDA government led by A.B. Vajpayee, seems to have publicly acknowledged that it is in the interest of the country and Indo-US relations that the deal should be signed.

Mishra’s views have not found support among the BJP leaders, two of whom have said that the party’s position on the matter remains unchanged. As far as Mishra is concerned, he had only expressed his opinion. But then Mishra was the NSA and was privy to many things that others may not have any clue about. Therefore, his opinion cannot be brushed aside by just saying that it was not the BJP’s.

Within the BJP, a thin line separates an individual’s opinion from the party’s view. Take, for example, LK Advani’s repeated references to Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his credentials: of late, the BJP has not stated anything that opposes the views expressed by the leader of the Opposition. It is well-known that there are many in the RSS and the Sangh parivar who don’t share Advani’s opinion on Jinnah. But in the absence of a clarification or statement from either the BJP or the RSS, it can be safely presumed that the party concurs with Advani’s opinion.

In the context of the nuclear deal, what needs to be also ascertained is whether Mishra had consulted or kept his former boss, Vajpayee, in the picture before making the comment. Mishra is certainly not the type who will act irresponsibly and air his views without being sure that he has support from higher quarters and what he was saying was in India’s interest.

In any case, his endorsement of the treaty is significant. It is known that Vajpayee took his advice on many important issues and unless the former PM distances himself from the views expressed by Mishra, it can be presumed that he does not have a contrary stand on the subject. And if Vajpayee backs Mishra on the deal, the stand taken by the two former ministers can also be viewed as their own and not that of the BJP’s since none of them is in any position to contradict the former PM. In fact, it is a tricky situation and calls for greater clarity from several others in the BJP and its allies.

The Left is clear on what it wants. Both Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan have time and again voiced their opposition to the deal and have even threatened to withdraw support from the government if it goes ahead with the treaty without addressing their concerns. However, the Left may not be in any position now to prevent the deal from materialising if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decides to take the issue to its logical conclusion. The passage of the Budget is an important endorsement from the House and confirms that the government is in full control.

Now, for the sake of the argument, if this government signs the nuclear treaty after the Budget session ends, there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. The Left may accuse the government of breach of faith but as long as the government can explain effectively to the people that the treaty was for the nation’s progress, nobody can stop it from going ahead with it.

If one goes by the technicalities, the government can only be reduced to a minority if it is established on the floor of the House. Other than that, it is a government that is in control and can be seen as one considering the budget has been cleared by Parliament. The scenario thereafter could be difficult and if the treaty is signed, the Left might withdraw support. A situation may arise when the Left may want to insist on convening a special session and ask the government to test its strength. All this would also depend on many technical issues such as whether the House was adjourned sine die or was prorogued.

In case it is determined to go ahead with the treaty and at the same time take its opponents head on, a clever government will somehow carry forward and survive on its own steam till a special session is convened or the monsoon session commences, unless the Cabinet decides to recommend dissolution and go in for general elections immediately.

All these scenarios are likely and it is not necessary that events will unfold in this sequence. But what is possible in theory in politics is often possible in practice. However, everything will only depend on how determined the PM and his allies are on this score and whether a new issue will put other issues such as rising prices on the backburner. The allies could also have their views, which if taken into consideration could alter the situation. These developments will depend on how the government sees things in totality after the Karnataka election results and how far it is prepared to go.

If the nuclear deal is abandoned, the government will possibly get a chance to complete its term in 2009. But if it goes ahead with the deal, it may lose face and support. It is indeed a tricky situation and perhaps the risk of signing the deal is worth taking, considering the atmosphere of political uncertainty that lies ahead. Between us.

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