By Seema Mustafa
The government knows that the Left is clear cut about its opposition to the nuclear deal. Despite briefings to the contrary, the Prime Ministers Office and Congress party managers are fully aware that they will not be given a green signal to conclude the IAEA safeguards agreement as long as the US deadline has not run out.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not want to give up. There is a great reluctance to officially declare the India-US civilian nuclear energy agreement dead. So every now and again just when talk of it not happening gains ground, a well placed government functionary from the prime minister to any other, lets it be known that the nuclear deal is still very much on the cards. And that the dead line has not run out as the agreement has bipartisan support in the US Congress that will be more than willing to pass it till the 9th day.
The assertion is usually accompanied with off the record speculation about the role of the Left, and the usual 'they will eventually agree because of Russia canard that appears to make sense to some sections in government and outside. The government knows it, but plays on the peoples ignorance about the one crucial fact in understanding the current CPI(M): that the present general secretary Prakash Karat does not do back door deals, and is not known to say one thing and do another. So the best way to understand the Left is to listen to what its top leadership is saying. And when Karat says that the safeguards agreement cannot be delinked from the 123 agreement and the Hyde Act, he means it, and this will determine the course of Left action.
The government knows that the Left is clear cut about its opposition to the nuclear deal. Despite briefings to the contrary, the Prime Ministers Office and Congress party managers are fully aware that they will not be given a green signal to conclude the IAEA safeguards agreement as long as the US deadline has not run out. "After that we will see," a senior Left leader said pointing out that the objection was not to getting nuclear power, but to get this through an agreement framed to compromise Indian sovereignty. The government, thus, is well aware that if it goes ahead with the agreement it will have to face the electorate earlier than scheduled.
The current argument is that if the government falls in June-July, the process will take the mid term poll to February 2009. And since this is just a few months before the scheduled time, the UPA allies who were protesting earlier will have no objections. True, but the real problem for the Congress is not this any longer, but its ability to face the electorate as a virtually isolated entity. Regional parties like the RJD and DMK are currently swearing their loyalty not just to the Congress but to the Dynasty but these are at best fickle parties, and can change direction with the weather vane. Price rise with the nuclear deal (read pro US policy), inflation with dismal failure to implement basic promises on education,,health, minimum job guarantees, inability to address the growing problems of the tribals and the minorities - it is an endless list - are worrying the Congress that is not fully convinced about the so called popularity polls being carried out by corporate owned agencies. After all similar polls before the last general polls had pointed towards the supposedly unwavering popularity of the BJP and the NDA.
There is a certain hesitation within the party to face the forthcoming Assembly elections this year as a minority government that has lost the confidence of Parliament because of its insistence to conclude the nuclear deal with the US. And that instead of staying in power and taking measures to control inflation and the spiraling prices, it has preferred to align with the US and risk the withdrawal of support. Remember, that it will not just be the Left saying this, the BJP too has decided to campaign against the government on this issue. The 'loyal' regional parties will nottake time to desert a sinking ship, regardless of the dinners and breakfasts, being hosted for them by the Congress leadership. Z class security might silence Amar Singh but he will risk losing complete support in his party if he persuades the seemingly captive Samajwadi party chieftain Mulayam Singh Yadav to take an unpopular stand.
The Left will continue the dialogue with the Congress on the nuclear deal for as long as it takes to ensure its natural death in Washington. This could take the talks into July, depending on when the Bush administration finally throws up its hands and admits that it no longer is in position to get the deal through the US Congress. There are problems within the NSG and reports suggesting that the draft for waivers is not as Indiafriendly as envisaged by the negotiators here are now making the rounds. The safeguards agreement too does not appear to recognise India as a nuclear weapon state, and till date it is not clear whether this has been negotiated by the IAEA under the existing rules in which case there is no question of a special status, or whether a new India specific framework has been evolved. Only parts of the agreement have been shown to the Left parties that areprepared to discuss each point as the days go by. As in the Hyde Act and the 123 agreement the devil is likely to be in the undisclosed details.
The Congress has to remember, even if its supporters outside do not, that it has lost every Assembly election since it came to power. It is in trouble in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra where it is currently in power. In Uttar Pradesh its leaders are divided between Mayawati and Mulayam Singh although currently the Delhi top brass are favouring the latter. In Karnataka it is unlikely to emerge as the party in power. And even the anti incumbency factors in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is, spoken of these days with a question mark. The party came to power with the pledge to revive itself in states like UP and Bihar, but it has spent the four years riding piggy back on the regional satraps. In Bihar, the confusion was most apparent when one election was fought with the Congress seeking to isolate Lalu, and the other with him in firm alliance.
Its allies, even if they stay with the Congress, are not expected to do as well in the polls. The DMK had defeated Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, a feat it is not likely to repeat now. The Congress had trounced TDP in Andhra Pradesh, but the latter now is reset for a comeback. Lalu has not gained ground in Bihar and in UP, both Mayawati and Mulayam are at best uncertain commodities. Those convinced of a certain invincibility, it always comes with power, will do well to pause for a reality check. And inthe process realize that somehow the Congress has lost touch with the masses. Its top leaders, in all seriousness, insisted that they were winning Gujarat while those working on the ground were positive that Modi was still in command. The same leaders were equally confident of winning Tripura, with the results in fact giving them even a lower tally than the last polls. Clearly in their desire to please, Congress leaders and workers in the states have stopped even trying to make real assessments. "We will win" is the mantra that brings them temporary relief.
Even so there are some in the party who are not heard in its corridors of power, but are aware of the developments on the ground. And they point out that the clamour for the nuclear deal is heard mainly from the Congress MPs in the Rajya Sabha for whom the corridors are more significant than the streets. There can be no other explanation for the governments continuing insistence to go ahead with an agreement which has been opposed by the majority in Parliament, and is regarded with deep suspicion by the nation.