When the Left parties objected to the civilian nuclear agreement that India has negotiated with the United States, they had no intention to pull down the United Progressive Alliance government and force a general election. The fact is that no political party wants an election now. A possible exception is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which, having secured an absolute majority in the State Assembly in the recent poll, can hope to improve its position in the event of immediate parliamentary elections. However, the relationship between the Congress, which heads the UPA, and the Left having deteriorated, it may not be possible to put off a general election for too long.
The general election of 2004 had thrown up a hung Lok Sabha. The Bharatiya Janata Party miserably failed in its bid to secure another five years of power for the National Democratic Alliance with the “India shining” slogan. The Congress snatched back the honour of being the largest single party. It was the Left parties’ decision to support the government from outside, with a view to preventing the BJP’s return to power, that enabled the UPA, with only 218 seats in the 545-member house, to chalk up a majority and win the right to form the government.
Although the UPA and the Left hammered out a common minimum programme, there are sharp differences between them over policies and programmes. The relationship between the UPA government, which is going ahead with globalization, and the Left, which is opposed to globalization, was never smooth. Under Left pressure, the government had to delay or modify some programmes but it did not have to abandon globalization. In the circumstances, the government presumed the Left’s opposition to the nuclear deal might not create any major problem. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s public statement that they could withdraw their support annoyed the Left parties. They responded with a public declaration that keeping the government in power was not their responsibility.
India had decided quite early to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It also declared it would not go in for nuclear weapons. But the nuclear test at Pokhran, conducted during Indira Gandhi’s time, part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons capability. The BJP had been demanding since long that India should build nuclear arms. As soon as it came to power, a second test was held. Arguing that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty put the nuclear weapons states and the rest on different on different levels, India had refused to sign it all along. Following the nuclear tests, the USA and several other countries had imposed sanctions against India. These put in jeopardy even the civilian nuclear programmes. It was to extricate itself from this situation that the country entered into negotiations with the USA for nuclear agreement.
It was the BJP-led government that initiated negotiations. Yet the BJP has also now come out against the deal. When the terms of the draft agreement became known, there were howls of protest. Both the BJP and the Left alleged that it contained terms repugnant to India’s sovereignty. Nuclear scientists had reservations about some provisions. The US regime sprung a surprise when it suddenly decided to accommodate some of India’s wishes. Nuclear scientists expressed satisfaction with the final draft.
In the USA, too, the agreement has many critics. Their main complaint is that it contains many clauses favourable to India. The strongest foreign critics are Pakistan and China. Pakistan’s initial response to the deal was to demand that the USA must enter into a similar agreement with it, too, since it had also demonstrated nuclear weapons capability. Quite obviously Pakistan’s objections stem from the realization that the USA is not treating it on the same footing as India. The basis of China’s objections is evident from the comments made by People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper. It says the US aim is to make India its strategic partner and turn the balance of power in Asia in India’s favour. India’s aim, it avers, is to gain Big Power status. India has always had Big Power ambitions and is trying to realize its goal with US help, it adds.
According to experts, India is set to overtake China in the next decade or two and emerge as the world’s most populous nation. India and China are two countries whose economies are growing at a fast pace under the globalized system. In the circumstances, it is quite natural for these countries to gain Big Power status. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and as a nuclear weapons state, in effect, China enjoys Big Power status already. People’s Daily’s comments make it clear that the Communist Party of China does not want any other Asian state to gain that status. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the CPI must clarify whether they also share this view.
India’s deal with the US covers only the civilian nuclear programme. It ensures uninterrupted supply of materials for the civilian nuclear programme and leaves the country free to go ahead with its military programmes. It is possible to raise questions like whether India must make nuclear weapons and whether India must expand its nuclear energy programme. Instead of raising such questions, the Left parties are questioning the deal in the name of anti-imperialism.
The CPI (M), which leads the Left, is trapped in a policy framework that emerged in the context of the situation obtaining half a century ago. It is the realization that that world has disappeared which prompted China to come to terms with the globalization process even as it continues to swear by Communism. Both in West Bengal and Kerala, the party has leaders who appreciate the need for changes in tune with the prevailing conditions. Unfortunately they are often seen as agents of a wrong kind of change.
The Congress, which backs the nuclear deal, and the BJP and the Left parties, who oppose it, are all speaking in the name of the people of India. The Congress had secured just 26% of the votes in the last parliamentary elections. The BJP got 21% and the Left parties seven percent. It is not desirable that seven percent should prevail over 26%. The Left, which sustains the government from outside, is seeking to exercise power without assuming responsibility. As a former British Prime Minister said, power without responsibility is the privilege of the courtesan. In the prevailing circumstances, a general election is to be welcomed. It may not throw up a more representative government but it may persuade the major political parties to become more realistic.