OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

They were supposed to be a formidable duo.

His credibility and her authority, it was meant to be a dream combination come true.

He kept his side of the bargain and did what every faithful political appointee would do.

But when it came to the crunch she did not deliver on the political goods.

Now he is left picking up the pieces and coming up with excuses

A measure of how dead the Indo-US Nuclear deal is can be guaged by the reportage in the American media. The Washington Post calls it “near collapse“, while the New York Times

While we continue to split hairs on why the volte face last friday, here is a question worth pondering over.

How much political capital did Sonia Gandhi really expend on the Indo-US Nuclear deal ?

Not an awful lot if one actually pays attention to facts.

Let us start with July of 2005 when Manmohan Singh hit it off with U.S. President George Bush on the Nuclear Agreement. This BBC news story sums up the political mood in the nation at that time, not a whole lot from Sonia Gandhi in public in defense of the agreement. Then in Aug 2005 she cancels a U.S. visit and keeps her distance from being directly commited to the deal. The Hindu also reports how Manmohan Singh uses Natwar Singh to sell the deal to fellow Congressmen, highlighting the distance Sonia Gandhi maintains from the deal.

Feb 26th 2006 is the first time Sonia Gandhi utters something significant on the Nuclear Deal in public. The occassion a Congress Parliamentary Party meet. So did she go all out in support of it to rally party opinion ?

Not quite. In fact she treads a politically correct line.

Noting that Iran nuclear and Indo-US nuclear deal issues are under “intense public scrutiny”, Gandhi said “we welcome the opportunity for a debate in both the Houses of Parliament.”

Sonia Gandhi continues to be reluctant to go all out in support of the deal through President Bush’s visit and only belatedly endorses it not through a public speech or statement but in a signed statement in print in the Congress mouth piece Sandesh. This piece in The Hindu sums up the mood in 2006 very well on how little political capital the Prime Minister has to push his agenda.

July 23rd 2006 the first vocal protest by the Left in a UPA Coordination Committee meeting, again no public soundbites from Sonia Gandhi, it is left to underling Anand Sharma to defend the deal.

August 2006 the Indian Express reports that Sonia Gandhi has fully backed Manmohan Singh on the Nuclear deal, not in a public setting, but in a private meeting with Sitaram Yechury. Most of the public posturing in Parliament is by Pranab Mukherjee and Priyaranjan Dasmunshi trying to fend off a “sense of the house” resolution on the Indo-US Nuclear deal. But the more interesting public political statement comes not from Sonia Gandhi but from Lalu Yadav pledging complete support and that he will stand behind her like a rock.

As early as Nov 2006 Prakash Karat was quite clear on throwing a spoke in the UPA’s wheel on the Nuclear Deal. Even at this stage there is not much from Sonia Gandhi in selling the deal to either the allies, or to the party or the people at large. In fact when the U.S. Senate votes on the deal in Nov of 2006, the only reaction from Sonia Gandhi is laden with abundance of caution expressing more doubts than confidence.

It is interesting to note that U.S. Secretary of State Condy Rice had expended more capital than Sonia Gandhi when it comes to lobbying law makers on the deal in their respective countries. In fact this piece in the TOI analyzing the year that was for Sonia Gandhi makes for some amusing reading where it talks about Sonia Gandhi’s behind the scenes influence and Manmohan Singh’s expending of political capital.

So all of 2006 there was barely any political capital Sonia Gandhi expended on the Nuclear Deal, she may have nudged things in the backroom but she hardly rallied the party, allies or public in support of the deal.

2007 begins with some silly remarks by Sonia Gandhi on nuclear weapons being a compulsion. She pontificates on Nuclear Disarmament but says nothing to rally support for the Nuclear Deal. In fact all of 2007 one hardly sees her come out openly making the political case or shaping public opinion for the deal. The most she does is yet another signed letter in the Congress Sandesh complimenting Manmohan Singh and his team for negotiating a good deal in Sept of 2007.

The first time Sonia Gandhi makes a forceful political argument in support of the deal in a public rally is on October 9th in Jhajjhar in Haryana only to water down her remarks in less than 24 hours and to finally clarify and qualify her remarks a week later with the now infamous climbdown at the Hindustan Times Summit. This piece by Varghese George in the Indian Express says it all on how little support she rallied.

The latest spin is that the deal has only been paused and that a new timeline it will be worked out with the Americans. Its another story that the deal got the momentum it did because it was a second term Bush Presidency with little in the domestic agenda in its favor and a lot of negatives internationally had the focus and attention to see the deal through. 18 months from now that will not be the case and India will figure at the bottom in the list of priorities of a new administration looking to make a clean break from the past and Bush fatigue.

How deluded we can get with our spin at times ?

With just 2 signed letters and one forceful public speech that was watered down in less than 24 hours Sonia Gandhi has not really expended any political capital in support of the Nuclear Deal contrary to popular perception. She did not stake her credibility on it which explains why she was able to pull back so easily .

Offstumped Bottomline: The division of labor between the Congress President and the Prime Minister required that he deliver a good a deal and she deliver the political goods to see it through. He kept his side of the bargain while she came woefully short on hers. If the Prime Minister is feeling let down today he knows quite well where the blame lies. He has been reduced to a lameduck with his authority in tatters while she gets away not having lost much at all.


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