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Call the Left’s bluff Mr. Prime Minister, its all bark no bite

The PTI reports that

The Government’s efforts to evolve a consensus on the nuclear deal with the US ran into rough weather with allies Left today rejecting the 123 Agreement and asking it not to operationalise the deal. But the Government said it will talk to Left parties on the issue. After a 90-minute meeting of the four parties, CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat announced that they were “unable to accept the agreement” as it “binds us and locks in India into the US global strategic designs”. “The Left calls upon the Government not to proceed further with operationalising of the agreement,” Karat said addressing a joint conference with CPI’s A B Bardhan and D Raja, RSP’s Abani Roy and Forward Bloc’s G Devarajan.

The politics around the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement just got very interesting. The BJP has already rejected the 123 agreement with the US and has sought Parliament committee going into it besides Parliament’s approval for the deal. The 3rd front parties comprising the UNPA have also rejected the as did former PM VP Singh.

Prakash Karat ducked questions on how far the Left was prepared to go on this issue by refusing to answer if the CPM would withdraw support if the Govt went ahead with the deal. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in an op-ed piece titled Trick or Treat in Indian Express had some mature words to say on the subject

Fundamentally our future will depend on how we strategise; this agreement alone will neither make it nor break it. But it does require us to be prepared for hard-headed negotiations and contracts and not look for assurances or threats in parchment texts.

But the politics over 123 is hardly about maturity or strategy. The politics is about this cold reality.

There are no votes in concluding a successful agreement with the United States. The average Indian Voter is neutral on this issue.

On the other hand there are some votes in opposing a succesful agreement with the United States as it panders to a fringe minority on both the Left as well as the Right. The fringe left, still stuck with an anti-imperialist mindset, derives satisfaction by taking anti-US positions every so often. The fringe Right on the other hand still stuck with a xenophonic mindset is typically suspicious of anything American.

There are an awful lot of votes in successfuly oppposing an agreement with the United States and killing it by making it out to be a sell-out of national interests, sensitivity to Muslims (Iran issue) etc.. The minority vote bank can get energized at the drop of a hat on an Anti-American platform. Sections of the middle class too can get carried away by jingoistic rhetoric in the wake of a dead deal.

The BJP’s opposition to 123 is not really about the votes here for the fringe Right makes very little difference electorally nor is the middle class what it used to be to get carried away by Anti-American Jingoistic rhetoric. The BJP’s opposition stems from the calculation that this a potential wedge issue. So far the BJP’s calculation seems to be working.

The Left’s opposition to 123 is really about getting its fringe wing of the party off its back. After the Singur, Nandigram shame the CPM has had to face more heat from its own hard left ranks than the opposition. Hence the CPM’s hard left activism in Andhra and elsewhere to compensate for the centrist path it is trying to force on West Bengal. By invoking the American bogey, Prakash Karat is buying himself two things here. America, the big Satan, can be a reliable rallying point for all factions of the Left, so this is one way to cover up the fault lines within the left. Karat is also buying insurance for 2009 so there is no guilt by association in case the deal implodes.

The question as in Khammam however is how far is Karat prepared to go ?

Is the fear of the BJP overwhelming enough to motivate Karat and Co. to oppose the deal while not forcing a showdown in Parliament ?


Is the fringe Left going to drive hard bargain from Karat and Co. to kill the deal in parliament in exchange for a compromise on Bengal ?

The BJP is sitting in a pretty position here by not actually standing in the way of the deal being killed but at the same time opposing it enough to drive a wedge between the Congress and the Left.

Offstumped Bottomline: Ultimately the fate of 123 will be decided not by National Interest but by the cold calculations of electoral realpolitik. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looks to salvage the little political consensus he had to negotiate the deal he must be well aware of this reality. With his legacy at stake the Prime Minister should call the Left’s Bluff and dig his heels in on the deal moving forward. The Left can ill-afford to face mid-term polls with the party at loggerheads with its Government Kerala and the wounds of Singur and Nandigram still fresh in Bengal.

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