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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 108

Congress softens on nuclear deal

By Allabakash - Syndicate Features

The so-called climb down by the top leadership of the Congress on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal has been interpreted as a ploy by the leading partner in the ruling UPA coalition to prevent a premature exit of the 29-month old government in preference to unpredictable consequences that would follow polls. The future of the nuclear deal itself may look doubtful, though optimists will disagree. No matter what the speculation over the government completing its full five-year term will still not go. Of more interest now will be the guess about the prospects of the Congress if polls do take place within the next 12 months.

The statements made by Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, and the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, that the nuclear deal is on hold was apparently in deference to the wishes of the Left supporters of the government who have opposed the deal tooth and nail guided by the instinctive anti-Americanism. The BJP also opposed the deal more out of its frustration that the Congress will be taking credit for something that it thinks would not have been possible without the spade work done by the Vajpayee government. In fact, it is said the former prime minister is pleased with the efforts of his successor.

Not that the next general election will be fought on one issue—the nuclear deal. But the nuclear issue and its fallout will not fade away. Other issues that may come up in the poll campaign are all ‘standard’ fare—price rise, farmers’ suicide, terrorism etc. Undoubtedly, these issues concern the voter. Past experience suggests that there is almost always some peculiar factor or factors in each general election other than these ‘standard’ issues that work up voters’ mood. For instance, one reasons for the defeat of the BJP-led NDA government three years back was the negative impact of the ‘India Shining’ campaign. Almost all recent elections were won on catchy slogans not on bread and butter issues

Frankly, the endless debates and discussions over the nuclear deal do not appear to have educated the masses about all the pros and cons of an agreement with the US over civilian nuclear cooperation. The average person tends to see the deal either as something good for the country and hence disapproves the stand of its critics; or he or she agrees with the critics that it will mortgage India’s foreign policy to Washington and so must be given up for good. Nothing of great consequence will happen therefore from now till the next polls—whenever held—to push the nuclear deal issue into the background.

Admittedly, the champions of the nuke deal are disillusioned by the ‘climb down’ by the government. To say that there has been no ‘climb down’ but perhaps only a tactical change in the ruling party’s public stance is not going to change the opinion of these sections who feel badly let down. The Congress will find it very hard to erase this impression, especially when its opponents are bound to project it as a party that allowed itself to be blackmailed by the Comrades who were supplying oxygen to the ruling coalition.

In politics, and more so in coalition politics, the wishes of the supporters cannot be taken for granted. The dominant partner has to make some compromises. But what has happened in the UPA is that an ‘outside’ supporter who took no responsibility in governance has been freely putting obstacles at almost every step that the government took to advance its economic, political and social agenda without inviting any sort of retaliation. The government bowed before the Left each time the Comrades publicly issued warnings that they will bring down the government.

Politics being no gentlemanly game, at least not in India, the one-sided show of Left anger required some equally hard-hitting counter strategy by the government to maintain its credibility in the public eye. Bowing repeatedly to a partner adds weight to the criticism against the government and as a result its defence begins to look weak. Thanks to the foolish ways in which the perennially sulking BJP is conducting itself these past three years, the Left parties have assumed the role of the principal opposition and have been playing that role to the hilt.

There is so much ammunition to fire at the BJP. Surprisingly, the Congress strategists have not bothered to catch the saffron bull by its horns in a manner of speaking. For instance there is this moratorium the BJP led government had grandly declared in May 1998. That BJP-led government was all set to sign the CTBT is also a matter of record. Yet the BJP has the cheek to criticise restrictions on such tests under the aegis of the nuclear deal. Congress leaders can get many talking points from Jaswant Singh’s graphic account of his talks with the US on nuclear issue in his book on his foreign office stint.

The Congress should have been unsparing in unmasking the self-righteous Leftists as well. The opportunities for doing so have been there with the Left apparently divided between reformists and anti-reformists groups. The Left government in Kerala is seething with all kinds of problems, internal as well as external, and the war cries of Mamata Bannerjee in West Bengal receiving wide support from the masses.

True, that sort of confrontation could have, of course, hastened the chances of the end of the present government. But do things now look different with the Congress leaving the Left unchallenged?

- Syndicate Features -

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