It’s beginning to look like a tired script: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is again pushing for the Indo-US nuclear agreement; and the Left parties, led by the CPI(M) and its General Secretary Prakash Karat, are once again standing in the way of this landmark deal going forward. The arguments put forth by both sides are also old hat. As the government careens precipitously on the brink, neither side is budging from its stand. At the time of going to press, the Left parties had roped in senior UPA leader and DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi to try and find a way out of this muddle.
It’s a depressing scenario, and none of the players has quite covered itself with glory. Singh, who can be justifiably proud of his legacy as Finance Minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government for having ushered in economic reforms, now finds himself caught between the devil and the deep sea. He obviously lacks the political capital to push through what will, if it comes to pass, be the crowning achievement of his reign as Prime Minister. If, on the other hand, he gives in to the demand from his allies—as well as some elements in his own party and government—to sacrifice the deal, he will go down in history as the Prime Minister who lacked the courage to back his conviction.Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi will have to take the final call on the matter, and though she has publicly backed Singh, her personal inclinations remain a matter of conjecture. While her survival instincts—and the probability of coming to a post-poll understanding with the Left parties in the event of a fractured mandate in the next elections—may prompt her to play for safety, the reported decision of the Prime Minister to resign if the deal falls through seriously limits her options. The smaller constituents of the UPA, too, have publicly backed the Prime Minister, but they are understandably jittery at the prospects of an early election.
None of them has strong views either for or against the deal and their stands are driven entirely by considerations of political survival. But the time for dithering is over. If the current window of opportunity closes, future US administrations may not be willing to grant India such a generous deal.
That’s why Business Today feels the government should call the Left’s bluff and go ahead with the deal. At worst, it will mean advancing elections by about six months. That’s a small price to pay for securing the country’s energy—and, if one accepts the Left’s interpretation—strategic future.