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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

If the UPA wins the confidence vote, the Government would win huge domestic and international kudos and could go forward with banking, insurance and other reforms hitherto vetoed by the Left.

India Unshackled?

As the pivotal confidence vote looms, India glimpses a rare chance to move ahead with new alignments, much-needed reform, and a crack at finally becoming a top global player.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 14 July, 2008

This has been a tumultuous fortnight which may be long remembered as one that saw India emerge unshackled. It is not axiomatic that the Government will win the vote of confidence on the nuclear deal, but it is a fair possibility. Should the Government lose, Dr Manmohan Singh would be asked to head a caretaker administration until fresh elections can be held – probably alongside the Assembly polls scheduled for six states in November. The new political alignments taking shape may well see a triangular contest between a reconfigured UPA, the BJP and a new United National Progressive Alliance driven by the Left and Mayawati. The outcome is unlikely to yield a clear winner and there could be fresh bargaining that might well result in a modified UPA-UNPA secular coalition unless the BJP is able to break the UNPA by isolating the Left to create a new NDA.

However, the likely alternative is that the UPA will pip the post in a close contest that could see changing personal and group loyalties until the last moment. This is not unlikely as many disapprove of the manner in which the Government has been sought to be brought down. The Left’s bravado and BJP’s bluster betray a desperate anxiety that has not entirely masked their unease at being seen holding hands even as they share a secret hope that they will each savour a sweet revenge.

The Left’s game plan was to achieve a nuclear-deal denial through delay. Hence Mr Bardhan’s petulant “What’s the hurry? We have been negotiating for only four months” though few issues have been so thoroughly debated from every conceivable angle. The Centre was time and again shouted down in Parliament and confronted with an ideological wall that defied penetration. The Left would not sup with the US devil. The PM’s departure for talks with President Bush and others on the margins of the G-8 summit was denounced and the Left promptly withdrew support to the UPA. Implicitly released from any further embargo, the Government asked the IAEA to circulate the India-specific nuclear safeguards agreement to its members some hours before the Left leaders formally communicated the rupture to the President, and made the document public here.

Prakash Karat finds this sequence a “shocking betrayal” of a moral commitment? How? The Left wanted to eat its cake and have it too. Requesting circulation of the safeguards agreement is not tantamount to “negotiating” with the IAEA Board which will not meet until well after the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha? If the Government loses, further discussions will be on hold. Should it win, the IAEA Board will be formally authorized to go ahead with what is a truly novel and complex safeguards arrangement that members will have had time to study. The nuclear agreement breaks new ground and places India in a uniquely favoured category as a non-nuclear weapon state outside the ambit of the NPT. Far from being a disaster, this would truly be a triumph.

The Left willfully confuses circulation of agenda papers with decisions yet to be taken on them at a prospective meeting with Indian participation. Earlier the complaint was that the draft safeguards agreement had not been shown to the Left, although the core points had been previously summarized and circulated.

After the text was published, the Left’s complaint is that the “corrective measures” that India is entitled to take in case of disruption of fuel supplies finds mention in the preamble and not in the detailed text and therefore has little value. On the contrary, a preamble defines the overall spirit and framework of what follows, as in the case of the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. The Left’s only other argument is that old red herring, the Hyde Act, whose objectionable non-binding clauses fetter neither the US President nor India.

Mr Karat has threatened to “make it politically impossible for the government to go ahead with the agreement”. A general strike is panned. He was snubbed by Mr Somnath Chatterjee for brazenly denigrating the Speaker’s office. Some of his own Left partners worry that he has gone too far. He both protests and presumes too much.

The Left and BJP have been hasty in proclaiming the Government has been “reduced to a minority”. The Constitution demands the Government command not a majority but the confidence of the House. Even as the Left withdrew support from the UPA, the Samajwadi Party and some others stepped forward to make up the numbers. Still others might abstain.

The BJP has been as unbridled as the Left. Mr Advani has been crudely dismissive of the Prime Minister and the UPA, building his own castles in the air. However, while charging the Congress and SP with an unholy alliance, the BJP forgets that it had earlier approached the SP with an offer to support any leader as prime minister from among the UNPA “third front” if it voted against the present Government. Similar sordid deals are being mooted, including allegations that corporate and personal sweetheart deals are being traded to win or deny crucial support. The Left and BSP’s Mayawati have also played the communal card, arguing that an anti-Islamist US is inimical to Muslim Indian interests.

If the UPA gets the confidence vote, a new scenario could unfold. The Government would win huge domestic and international kudos and could be emboldened to go forward with banking, insurance and other reforms hitherto vetoed by the Left. If the IAEA, NSG and US Congress endorse the safeguarded nuclear deal, this could signal a new dynamic in the international security architecture, with US nuclear suppliers vying with Russia, France and others to secure Indian orders under built-in Indian safeguards. India would increasingly become a nodal player in global security management. Messers Karat and Advani could be embarrassed by negative reactions to their leadership while a realignment of political forces could see the BJP and Left losing electoral ground to a rejuvenated UPA under a confident and far stronger Sonia-Manmohan leadership. Long delay in moving the deal forward in India have resulted in a very fine, even chancy, international deadline to get all the necessary approvals during the life of the outgoing US Congress. But one crucial factor should be clearly understood. The deal is not just with the US, it is with the world. The US is only the keeper of the key that has confined India a denial regime for three decades. India has now been offered and almost grasped that key. The Left and BJP would throw it away. How ironic!

India’s aam admi admittedly worry about inflation, unemployment and many other deficits and privations. But what they seek most is good and decisive governance, firmness and fairness in the maintenance of law and order and strong and sustained measures to root out corruption. The issues involved in the nuclear agreement go far beyond “single-point agendas” and “one-man’s legacy” and all the other nonsense that has been regurgitated for months. It could and hopefully will signal a new resolve and a new beginning for India.

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