UPA-Left divide makes prospect imminent

Though no one really wants mid-term polls, the spectre of the whip coming down on MPs appears real, report Vinod Sharma and Saroj Nagi.
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Updated on Aug 21, 2007 02:38 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByVinod Sharma and Saroj Nagi, New Delhi

No one really wants mid-term polls. Not even the Left parties which are threatening to withdraw support to the UPA government if it persists in negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement goes to US Congress for ratification.

In a casual discussion on the emerging scenario, Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, a veteran of many electoral battles, said the mere mention of early polls was like a whiplash for elected members. "Unko chunav ka jikr hunter ki maar jaise lagta hai," he said.

But to an increasing number of MPs and political parties, the spectre of the whip coming down on them appears real. The UPA-Left hiatus on the nuclear deal could make elections imminent as the 14th Lok Sabha lacks the capacity to throw up a viable alternative arrangement minus the Congress and the BJP.

"Elections look unavoidable," remarked a top UPA leader from Maharashtra. In response to suggestions of a change of leadership at the level of the party and the prime minister, he countered: “Tell me how is it possible without the Congress or the BJP, the parties that stand to lose the most in the event of early elections?”

The exchange happened a couple of hours before the four Left parties jointly linked the workability of the CPM-proposed mechanism for talks on the US’s Hyde Act to their demand that the government abandon dialogue at the level of the IAEA and the NSG.

The government has consistently maintained that the 123 agreement with the United States is a reality and the talks cannot be discontinued as diplomacy is a continuous process.

This divergence in position makes September a crucial month for the UPA regime, given that the meetings of the board of governors and the general conference of the IAEA are slated for this month. What might add fuel to fire are the protests the Left has planned against India’s joint naval exercises in early September with Australia, Japan, Singapore and the US in the Bay of Bengal. In their view, the exercises constitute the kernel for an Asian version of the US-led strategic alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

In terms of parliamentary strategy, the BJP-led NDA and United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) — which includes the Samajwadi Party, TDP and AIADMK — have separately sought a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to scrutinise the Hyde Act. But it does not seem to be a precursor to any new permutation or combination because the UNPA is deriding the nuclear deal as an alliance with the “anti-Muslim satanic power”. It cannot take forward its campaign to woo the minorities while keeping overt company with the BJP.

The UNPA’s political line is at once, therefore, a line that will come in the way of a BJP-supported regime. Even if all the 89 non-NDA, non-Left and non-UPA parties line up with the saffron led alliance, their tally would stand at 261, a clear 11 short of the magic 272.

They can get the remaining numbers from among the UPA allies but the chances of that happening are slim, what with the cost of aligning with the BJP and being part of an inherently disparate power-sharing arrangement that isn’t sustainable.

In politics, promises are like pie crusts, made to be broken. But the resolution the UPA passed on Sunday as an expression of unity and support for the PM seals for the present the one-ness of the ruling combine that went to polls together in 2004.

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