It is no coincidence. On the very first working day in Parliament after the presentation of a Budget that showered gifts on various groups, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has decided to flex its muscles on an otherwise touchy issue: the civilian nuclear deal with the US. The Budget and the popularity that has come with it has perhaps given the ruling alliance political space to take on the Left on this issue.
Unlike the last time when the ruling allies clashed over the nuclear deal, there was no touch of overt confrontation. But the message to those opposing the deal was clear: the government is proceeding with its negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safeguards, ahead of closing the deal with the US.
It did so in the form of a written statement to Parliament, where the government also sought to dispel the case made by the Left parties that the UPA was kowtowing to the US and couched it as part and parcel of a larger foreign policy agenda.
The government’s urgency is understandable.
The Americans are getting impatient, especially since the Bush administration is coming to the end of its tenure and the US President is obsessed about his legacy to the world beyond the Iraq mess.
The message was reiterated by several visiting US legislators, who have also argued that in case the Democrats regain power in the White House, then the deal as it stands will be modified. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have already voiced their concerns. More recently Nicholas Burns, the outgoing deputy secretary in the US state department and a key architect of the nuclear deal, also said the deal needs to get on to a faster track. From the American point of view, it is now or never.
The UPA has now put the onus on the Left parties, especially since they have made it clear that their support depends on the government not inking the deal. The Left got its way. But the Budget changes the strategic balance on the political chessboard.
While the jury is still out in rural India, opinion surveys from the metros suggest that the Budget has gone down very well with the people. So, would it be politically prudent to bring a government down on what, to the common man, would be such an esoteric subject? Alternatively, the Left would face a credibility gap if it failed to follow through with its threat. Clearly, the Left is in a bind.
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