Offstumped stumbled on this Press Information Bureau release from the President’s Secretariat today:

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, called on the President, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil at Rashtrapati Bhavan today. The meeting lasted for about 30 minutes. They discussed issues of national importance and the ongoing Budget Session of Parliament

Unless the Prime Minister was giving a “blow by blow” commentary on the pow-wow in Parliament or Pratibha “dubious ethics” Patil was lobbying for an all girls IIT in her pocket borough it is hard to imagine what “issues of national importance” had the Prime Minister trotting over to Raisina Hill.

It must also be noted that the Americans made it clear today that they are willing to bat for the Deal even if it is a Minority Government that is inking the parchment.

“Our basic government position is that we can sign an agreement with a duly-constituted government, whatever its political status,” US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said in an interview to ‘Outlook’ magazine.

In yet another indicator of forward movement on the deal you had Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar saying this

There has been considerable progress in India’s talks with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for India-specific safeguards agreement and it is in country’s interest that Indo-US civil nuclear deal goes through

How does all of this square with Pranab Mukherjee’s balancing act earlier in the month when he said the government would not be sacrificed ?

One must go back to the last time we went into a Nucle-yaawn to get the hidden meaning in Pranab’s words.

Remember the flip-flop drama playing out then in October-November had these hidden motives

The Left needs the public pretense of the deal being on hold
The Prime Minister needs the public pretense of consensus being explored
The Congress President needs the public pretense of the Left’s support
The UPA Allies need the public pretense of polls not being imminent

While the intentions of the Congress and the Left have not changed the nature of the public pretense has definitely changed. The Congress needs the public pretense that it was “wronged” and that it is the “victim” of Left’s cynical and anti-national politics. The Left on the other hand needs the public pretense that it has “bravely thwarted” the “imperialist designs” of the Americans. Meanwhile the UPA allies needed the public pretense of generous populism to their favorite constituencies which by and large has been served by the feel good budget.

The BJP will likely sit out of this one despite the belated Manmohan appeal to Vajpayee as the bhishm pitamah of Indian Politics. Two views emerged over last weekend on the Manmohan appeal with Swapan Dasgupta urging one not to be suspicious of the Prime Minister while another from Sudheendra Kulkarni urging Karat to hold his ground and stall the deal. Reading between the lines here correctly one would have to concur with Mr. Kulkarni’s analysis that this has less to do with a sudden burst of bi-partisanship and more to do with going for the jugular as far as the Left is concerned while scoring a cheap political shot at Mr. Advani knowing fully well Mr. Vajpayee would defer to his successor on this one.

There are no votes in the Nuclear Deal for either the Congress or the BJP. It is pretty much down to keeping International commitments and a reserving a place in the history books. If the deal falls through it would not be on account of the BJP and if the deal is signed it would be a non-event that the Congress would rather not make an election issue. So rather than take a U-turn at this stage the BJP is best served sticking to its position while letting the Left and Congress slug it out.

Offstumped Bottomline: So what you will likely have playing out in the next few months are not moves to convince the Congress or the Left out of their respective positions. Instead the moves you will see will be about setting and managing public perceptions – the Congress portraying itself as the victim “wronged and betrayed” while the Communists portraying themselves as the “brave warriors” who thwarted “American Imperialism”. The tipping point will be Prakash Karat’s motivation to play the bad guy. Last time he found it in him to be the bad guy the allies stepped in. The same cannot be said of Sharad Pawar and Lalu Yadav this time around.

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