The last week has once again witnessed political sparring between the ruling Congress Party in India and its main coalition partner the Leftists Parties who provide the mainstay for the continuance in power of Sonia Gandhi's Congress. The provocation once again has been the differing stands of the two political parties on the finalization of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal which has been hanging on the fire for nearly a year now.
The immediate provocation at the moment has been provided by the Congress Party which once again went into an over-drive with strong assertive statements that it would proceed ahead with the finalization of the Nuclear Deal and that no Parliamentary approval was required.
A new spin is sought to being given that the Deal amounts to a trade agreement and no approvals are required for trade agreements. This new aggressiveness of the Congress Party seems to stem from confidence that having given a popular Budget it could dare the Leftist Parties to withdraw support leading to early General Elections in which the Congress could do well. The General Elections in normal course would be due in early2009.
Expectedly, the Leftist Parties gave an ultimatum to the ruling Congress that they would be forced to withdraw support to the Government and also gave notice that a joint meeting be held before March 15 at which the Congress Government should make its stand on the Nuclear Deal clear and stick to its earlier commitment that the finalized text with the IAEA under negotiations presently would be cleared with the Left before any further moves with USA on the Nuclear Deal.
The Congress Government has been under intense pressure from the United States lately that May 2008 would be the final deadline if the Indian Government wanted to finalize the Deal. A flurry of visits by US Administration officials and Senators was in evidence and all stressing the final deadline. The Leftists maintain that the United States was coercing the Congress Government and that the Congress Government was buckling under this pressure totally oblivious to the fact that the Indo-US Nuclear Deal did not enjoy bi-partisan support within the Parliament or with public opinion.
Seeing the strong reaction from the Leftists and other political parties a statement emanated from a senior Minister yesterday that the stability of the Government was more important than the finalization of the Nuclear Deal. But it is in this game of Congress-Leftists political brinkmanship that dangers lie of political miscalculation by either side. More importantly both the Congress and the Leftists are likely to be losers should the Government fall or be reduced to a minority status.
The United States would not like to finalize the Indo-US Nuclear Deal with a minority government in power in India and nor should it finalize it with the Congress Government which for all practical purposes is on the way out with its term ending and with no visible indicators that it would return to power after the General Elections.
Going by the results of the various States Assembly Elections that were held last year the Congress Party fared poorly and it was the BJP that captured power. Therefore the political indicators for a good showing in the General Elections by the Congress Party are not all that inspiring. The reaction to the last Budget in favor of the Congress Government cannot be taken as a strong indicator of public support as the reactions to the Budget are all from India's urban classes who hardly go out to vote. The economic benefits are hardly likely to translate into vote-gathering initiatives in India's rural areas by the time early General Elections are held.
Similarly, the Leftists also should be recognizing the political realities that in the next General Elections they may not be able to get the sixty seats that they currently hold in Parliament and after the next General Elections they may no longer be the king-makers. The Leftists are already in the process of cobbling a political Third Front with the aim of keeping both the Congress and the BJP out of Government formation. But the past record shows that Third Fronts suffer from a lack of political cohesiveness and fall soon under their inherent political contradictions.
Finally, if both the Congress Party and the Leftists Parties adhere rigidly to their respective agendas and the Congress Government falls then it would be the first time in India that a Government would have fallen over a foreign policy issue.
In a way this bodes well for India because successive Indian Governments and the Congress Government in particular have run India's foreign policies for far too long as a personalized domain without seeking broad bi-partisan political support.