Nuclear Deal and the Tragic End of an Experiment

Prakash Karat’s obduracy has finally been matched by that of Manmohan Singh. While some may claim that the latter has now matured into a politician, it is important to remember that Singh has always been a deft politician of the values that he represents- that of the neo- liberal Right. There is nothing new in this, except that he has now chosen to go break altogether with the Left, his firmest supporters for the past four years.


Irrespective of correctness or otherwise of the Left’s position on the nuclear deal, the fact is that the Left has supported the UPA’s government at the Center despite its differences with its economic policies. This has been a great shift in the Left’s position to ensure that a secular government is in place at the Center, unlike in the past when it joined hands indirectly with the BJP to ensure that the Congress remains out of power. This goes against the CPM’s political characterization of the stage of the Indian revolution- the people’s democracy according to which the communists have to be the leading political force in the government. This goes also against the CPM’s traditional anti- Congress stance. The Left has helped to prop up a basically Right wing government if one considers only the economic policies. The main reason has been its correct understanding that the BJP presents a far greater danger to the country. To some extent, despite the continued swing to the Right in economic matters, the last four years have indeed changed the atmosphere of debate- discussions have moved towards “inclusive growth” and there has been a reduction, if not an absence, of communal tensions. This has been the result of a great degree of maturity shown by both the Congress/UPA leadership as well as the Left.

Manmohan Singh’s rather opportunistic move to seek the support of Mulayam Singh/ Amar Singh led Samajwadi Party brings this experiment built over last four years to a tragic end. The Samajwadi Party traces its origins to virulent anti- Congressism of Rammanohar Lohia and the SP has consistently opposed the Congress till now. Now all of a sudden, in the backdrop of Mayawati’s coming to power on her own in Uttar Pradesh and her onslaught against the SP, we find that it sees merit in the UPA, especially the nuclear deal!

Manmohan Singh’s tendency to bend backwards in following anything that appeases corporates and neo- liberal adherents is now no longer “instinctive”- it has now become a cultivated habit to be followed no matter what the cost is. What else explains his complete lack of responsiveness to go ahead and take action against US corporations responsible for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in contrast to his single- minded obduracy on the nuclear deal?

It is not just the Left that is opposed to the deal- the BJP too is also opposed to it. The SP has just changed its mind for less than principled reasons. Mayawati now opposes it- her reasons for political expediency not being too different from that of the SP in that these are driven by local concerns and not the foreign policy or the nuclear deal per se. The Left, for all its dogmatism, is pretty much consistent in what it says- the SPs and BSPs are not- their concerns (with respect to the nuclear deal) are at best regional or local. The point is that far from there being a consensus on the deal, there is a wide variance in the response of political parties to it. The UPA’s decision to go ahead with the deal- that too with one of the most discredited presidents in the history of the United States at the expense of its most consistent supporter (that does not even, to be fair to the Left, partake of the ‘cake’ of minister ship) is a step back to the days when the Congress under Mrs Indira Gandhi was perceived as an autocratic ruler in Delhi.

If the UPA had not gone ahead with the deal, it might have suffered a temporary loss of face, and the Left would have taken the flak for its obstinacy. Ironically, it was Mrs Sonia Gandhi who used the Gandhian technique of sacrificing a position and winning a moral battle. Manmohan Singh has done exactly the reverse- he might have won a battle, but he has lost the war and put to rest the experiment to build a Centrist United Front.

The UPA, already under heat for the rising costs and an ineffective programme for the poor, is pretty now pretty much against the wall in the next general elections. All the objective conditions for the revival of the Left are there- but alas, because of he lack of its organizational spread (to say nothing of its ideological obsolescence) the break up the United Front experiment built over the last four years, paves the way for the re- emergence of the communal Right in the backdrop of a combination of fragmented/caste/personality based groupings. If one person can be identified who has stabbed this four year old reasonably successful experiment , it is Manmohan Singh. In that, he has simply followed his mentor Narasimha Rao, who set the BJP/NDA on the road to power in 1998.

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19 thoughts on “Nuclear Deal and the Tragic End of an Experiment

  1. hi,
    i for one am glad that the left has pulled out … secularism perse is not a good enough ground for a political alliance. while constitutional secularism is a cornerstone of the Indian Republic, and should be defended … support for a Government based on only one issue has led this Government not to deliver.

    The differnces between the Left and the Congress have been too many. Supporting the Government from the outside, left the Communists with all the power and non of the accountability. And, that is a dangerous precedent for any Government.

    The Left is seriously morally compromised after Nandigram and Taslima . It is secular when it suits it. It is feminist when it suits it . It talks of human rights, when it suits it… but, pretty much it runs rough shod on anyone that takes a divergent point of view.

    The deal is between the Republic of India and the United States of America … not between George Bush & Manmohan Singh … In the long run it is beneficial to India.

    For the Congress to hold on to power because Prakash Karat has a bee in his bonnet about the US – would be an even greater moral compromise than to shake hands with the SP or the PDP (which has supported the deal). I think that at the end of the day the Left gave no room for negotiations. It was ‘our way or the highway’. and the Congress knows that if it goes to the polls now it has a great chance of losing power … the fact that it hasn’t backed down in the face of losing power, possibly shows moral courage….it is refreshing to see the Congress Party finally taking a stand.

    they began this government with renunciation based on national interest. they are probably ending this government the same way . a full circle……

  2. You are entitled to your opinion, Harini. I take it for granted that the biggest threat to India comes from communal fascism of the BJP as well as neo- liberalism. While BJP = fascism + neo- liberalism the Congress/UPA = neo- liberalism, and with Left support a softer version of it. I prefer the latter.

    You will probably disagree with the above equations, but then that’s a rather different debate and depends on one’s ideological standpoint. It is best for all if the Congress and the Left work together. Historically it is the CPM which has been at fault with its blind anti- Congressism. This time, it is certainly the Congress under Manmohan Singh that is committing the blunder. The question is not about the nuclear deal, it is about how to manage coalitions.

    With this decision, the Congress has committed harakiri, and my intent was just to rant and write a formal obituary.

  3. i don’t support the BJP – never have. and the reason i oppose it is Hindutva. But, as a private citizen i have the luxury of opposing a political party on a single issue. I am not sure that the one issue would be good enough to run an alliance.

    to run a government with the only binding factor only being secularism is next to impossible. it’s a bit like getting married for only love with nothing else in common – like value systems or driving principles. and, to be very honest, this particular marriage has been in trouble from day 1.

    committment to secularism in the absence of anything else in common has been disastrous. neither has the left got its way, nor has the rest of the UPA — and it reflects in the way the policy making has been achieved in the last 4 years.

    my problem is not with secularism or communism or socialism or any other ‘ism’. my issue is that a one point agenda to come together will lead to break up sooner or later !! it is the nature of relationships.

    and the left has been behaving very, very, badly. i was so happy when they had won 59 seats — one thought that a bit of compassion would enter policy making. however, they have been a terrible let down . be it on minority issues, or on developmental issues or even in terms of public conduct — – one expects such bad behavior from the BJP, it is par for the course…. but, the left …one expected some grace…

    i wonder what whould have happened if harkishen surjeet had still been around or if Basu was the leader instead of Karat ?

  4. Pingback: The Left has Left…. | POV

  5. This is Jyoti Basu’s statement today:

    “I want our comrades to protest against the deal and the way the Congress is pushing for it, but I don’t want them to vote the government out of power,” he told reporters.

    “That will help the Hindu fundamentalist forces to gain hugely,” he said.

    By far, he is much saner than Prakash Karat, though it took him decades to come to this understanding.

  6. There may have been a commitment with US and there was perhaps a support among Urban middle class for it, but how could the deal be SO important! This baffles me.

  7. No doubt that the communal forces are the biggest threat to the nation. But, this nuclear deal is a part of a yet greater agenda of surrendering to the US hegemony. This will only help India to get alienated and more prone to the threat of terrorists, embassy bombing being just a mild start.

    Yes, I think, the left, after a long time, had taken a commendable step by coming out of this treacherous deal of imperialists and neo-liberal national pimps.

  8. Like it or not, the deed is done. Yet, it is important to continue to support the UPA govt and the Left can take a lead to bring that about without anyone losing face, though it is not the Left that is to be blamed for this rather unsavory situation. Jyoti Basu is correct in his assessment. It is bad enough for the Congress to be in SP’s arms, for the Left to land up, practically, with the BJP is worse.

  9. I am very sad to see some “middle class” type comments in here. More H1b visas, more toilet cleaning opportunites, more taxi drivers in America, more Kal ho Na Ho’s are what is desirable to whole lot in India, especially the ones who languish in the internet. Left has its own problems, but i liked their obstinancy agains this deal. They were against it, right from the beginning and they kept their word.
    I am blindly against the deal, there is no shame in admitting it. But as many say that it is because as a leftist, you are subservient to China, i would say that is the biggest bollox i have ever heard. It is not the subservience to China but the sheer derision towards US, that is forcing me. For me, this is not a simple 123-deal as it may sound, it has a larger perspective to it, it is strategic deal. It is a deal to counter balance the power in Asia and US badly needs it at this point of time. With this we are inviting terror to our attic, Taliban/ISI has already delivered the appetizer in kabul. We will witness more and more of this, and inturn more and more overt co-operations with US to curb the terror also. And these days terror = mulism, no wonder US was one of the first to condemn the Jaipur blasts.

  10. Dear Clash, why oppose the nuclear deal just for the sake of opposing the US? If India turns anti-US, will the terrorists in Kashmir stop in their tracks? During the cold war, when India was almost anti-US, did we receive anything other than token support from a few Islamic countries in the OIC? Every country is entitled to, nay, is expected to, act in its own interest. India needs to be energy self-sufficient. We do not have oil, coal is too dirty, the technology for harnessing wind energy and solar energy are decades away. That leaves us with nuclear energy. If the US is willing to give us the technology for nuclear power, why should we not accept it?

  11. If the US is willing to give us the technology for nuclear power, why should we not accept it?
    Are you sure that US is going to give you only nuclear technology? Isnt there any strategic ambitions behind it? And if at all we are really concerened about Nuclear Energy, why are we sucking up to US, as everyone knows , there are nations on earth with much better nuclear technology than US, experts says that we are subscribing to their 20yr old technologies. (For heaven’ sake i am not speaking about China!)

    Every country is entitled to, nay, is expected to, act in its own interest.
    As a responsible citizen of this country, i am expressing myself. I have serious apprehensions about any liasions with US, they dont have a histroy which takes me to confidence. Taking a cue from their history, they have only left back a trail of destruction in any countries they meddled with. And while we try to assert our interests, there were serious talks going on Delhi circles about US being unhappy with Mani Iyer as our petroleum minister, he was booted from the post. I dont think any national interest worked there. It was just political manouvering done by US.
    Terror came with bang in our attic in the last 2 decades and i suppose, there is whole lot of global influences but it became very stark after the Babri demolition, no one can deny that.

    And the question is not about anti- US or anti-china. The question is about posturing yourself and not subscribing to a unipolar world order, in which US uses us a counterweight to China in this continent. The iran piple line in reality could be a worse option, as some in blogdom claims “piple line through mullah heartlands”?? But, still there are options, but that is where lack our moral courage. We are not ready to risk ourselves, u know, the usual way.
    We in Manmohan hass found a good realtor, who could set up an easy and short sighted solution – suckin up to US. I would says, that is more of a Indian Mentality and that is why, this farce of deal is gathering so much of support.

    While i rant on, i would like to remind you, this man Manmohan singh was against Pokhran and was skeptical about the Nuclear Technology development when he was the FM. Now, where did he have this sudden jolt of national interest?
    Is he getting any tips?
    What is he trying to do? trying to do business with a sinking dollar?
    Or is he expecting “aid money” flowing in to rescue our fallen markets? so, if it is about the “aid money” where is our self esteem mate?

  12. Bhupinder, read the post a while back. Not sure whether to call it balanced or unique, I’m stuck there. You show a perspective which often doesn’t emerge in reporting journalism or the cacophony of commentary. Just great!

    I’m not sure about the deal, if the deal goes through and the Congress wins a political mandate in 2009, Manmohan will be my man.

    But if the GOP goes into another winter of irrelavance and our CNN-IBNs are filled with Ashok Singhals and the Hindu Parishads for another five years, I would call it immense foolishness which only Sonia Gandhi is capable of.

    If Manmohan takes up a top job in World Bank during that time, I can connect the dots the way I like and call him whatever I want.

    Again, nicely done!

  13. Clash, to be sure the US will want something in return. But is that going to ruin us? Japan and Korea were in the US orbit and have lived to tell the tale. They live well too. The countries which are sticklers for self-esteen and pride and which want to ‘stand-up’ to the great powers, generally bring suffering to their people. The ones which swallow their pride a little bit and sway with the wind generally get a good deal for their people.

  14. The countries which are sticklers for self-esteen and pride and which want to ‘stand-up’ to the great powers, generally bring suffering to their people.

    the question is how do they bring suffering to people? It is either through sanctions or through blatant agression.

    Now, at this junctre before signing the deal, i beleive India has a chance to assert its supremacy and the so called emerging economic might to levearge a better deal than this. For that we need time, and for us, it seems there is no time at all. All these brouhaha about the deal not getting sanctioned by the next govt is all bull crap. As long as we are ready to suck up and be a chicken counter weight to China in Asia, US will be ready to accept a deal. Japan took a 7 freaking long years in deciding their deal.

    When you take in to account Korea and japan, yes they got a better deal. But what happened in South America? You mean self esteem is something that you brag all about but need not be the case when you want to suck up to someone?

  15. @ Vinod Joseph,

    “If India turns anti-US, will the terrorists in Kashmir stop in their tracks?”
    – Yes Vinod! I dont know how you reached till there. But the Mujahideen press statement yesterday has clearly stated that they will stop all terrorist activities in Indian soil and surrender all non-nuclear weapons given by uh uh USA. Pakistan has offered to reunite too!

    “During the cold war, when India was almost anti-US, did we receive anything other than token support from a few Islamic countries in the OIC?”

    Are we beggars? receive huh? have you heard of millions of Indians working in Saudi, UAE, Oman, Qatar? do many Indians work in any Buddhist or Xian countries?

    in 1998 when we exploded the bomb, Iran was one country which stood by us. And your Manmohan voted against them for no benefit to India but sucking upto you know who. What right has India which has not joined the Non-Proliferation regime to vote against Iran. If Iran says we are betrayers, does you or your bearded friend have any answers?

    And why so much Islamophobia?

    @ Clash, Please dont try to derail the deal man! I want this Power Cut in Kerala lifted!

  16. Vinod: That “ha ha” may have to stretch pretty long when you compare the Left’s stance with the SPs and JMMs. Also, South Korea is not a very good example even from your point of view- remember the South Korean crisis about a decade back?
    I guess my point was about how to manage coalitions irrespective of the Congress/Left divide on the nuclear deal. In the last one week, it has become clear that the opinion within the Left is divided on support to the UPA. Even within the CPM, it is the party secretary Karat who is vocal in his opposition to the UPA govt. Yechury is relatively quiet, and Somnath Chaterjee does not want to quit as Speaker (which is a correct stand IMHO)

  17. Here is Tanika Sarkar in this week’s issue of Tehelka, coming to similar conclusions as this post did, though I think she is too harsh on the CPM (after all, the UPA govt never shared the document with its partner even as everyone in the world could read it over at the IAEA site!)

    Right through its opposition, the Left did not problematise the deal enough; at no point did it spell out all aspects of the deal that make it suspect. Their opposition was almost entirely centred on the question of nuclear autonomy, which is a little dubious in itself. Equally disturbing is the fact that though the media virtually ran a campaign for the Left — featuring its views and statements every day — the Left itself did not go beyond that and did not try to build a popular movement against it

    We are all in a cleft stick situation now, along with the Left, partly because of the Left’s handling of the issue. On the one hand, the deal is probably going through. On the other hand, if the Left-UPA divisions continue into the next elections, the BJP will certainly gain the most. On the one hand, one doesn’t have much to say for the Congress, but on the other, a resurgent BJP at the Centre is an absolute no. Not only would we move closer to the US and Israel under them, this would be a BJP powered by Narendra Modi: a terrifying spectacle. It would be Chhattisgarh – with its draconian laws and anti-people regime – writ large all over India.

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