Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mysterious goings on in New Delhi

What is happening with the Indo-US nuclear deal ? The prime minister and Sonia Gandhi’s statements on Friday have set the cat among the pigeons. Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit , the PM said: “If the deal does not come through, it will be a disappointment. But sometimes in life you have to live with them. It is not the end of life.” Sonia Gandhi, too said that the Congress would try to address the concerns of its allies and the party “The dharma of coalition is to work together, try and understand and accommodate each other’s view.”
In our view, this seeming flip-flop of the Congress party and the government can be understood if you believe, as I do, that there is now a deal within a deal. In other words, the Congress and the Left have struck a deal to back off from their confrontation and arrive at a workable compromise that will see the deal move on to its logical culmination, perhaps on a slightly delayed time line. This is no doubt the achievement of Pranab Mukherji, Lalu Yadav, Sitaram Yechury and Sharad Pawar. So the process will involve formal agreement in the Left-UPA committee that is supposed to look into the deal. You need to read between the lines to get the Left's true reaction. Note, Mr. Karat has not said anything.

There are several straws in the wind to suggest that. First, a CPI(M) politburo meeting scheduled for October 18 has been postponed. Second, speaking at an Indian Express function, Kapil Sibal says that the Left has accepted the primacy of the 123 Agreement over the Hyde Act. “The Left has now agreed to the position that where there is a conflict between the Hyde Act and the 123 agreement, the 123 agreement prevails. That position has been agreed to.”

Till now the Left has been arguing that they are not against the deal per se, but the Hyde Act that allegedly commits India to follow the US foreign policy agenda. That this was factually untrue mattered little because most of us believed that the Left’s positions were motivated by blind anti-Americanism rather than reason. Once reason comes into play, and there are grounds to believe that it has, the Left’s loses its sharp edge.

My guess-- and this is a guess-- is that we will now have a compromise formula, where the Left will endorse this point, and in return the government may go along with a Parliament statement or resolution that purports to defang the toothless Hyde Act.

In the meantime, behind the scenes negotiations are going on with the International Atomic Energy Agency for the India-specific safeguards which Dr. Mohammed El Baradei keeps on saying are not that much of a problem."We are ready. I don't think we would take very long. It would be weeks, not more than weeks." My own belief is that some behind-the-scenes negotiations have already taken place based on what diplomats cutely term "non-papers"-- working drafts which are not attributable to any government or institutions. So, there would be a show of formal consultation, but the agreement would be done in a matter of a week or so after India gives its go-ahead. As for the NSG, that as per agreement, is America’s baby, though we will have to put in effort as well, but behind the scenes.

It is too early to say that all's well that ends well. But there should be no doubts that relations between Prakash Karat, the CPI(M) General Secretary who forced the confrontation and the Prime Minister are irreparably damaged because of the note of bitterness that they brought into the issue. Usually in politics these things don't matter, but both are ideologues in their own way, and it does tend to matter.

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