Left and BJP Left High and Dry Over Nuclear Deal

After the Nuclear Suppliers Group's approval of the nuclear deal, its opponents in India such as the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been at a loose end. Having fruitlessly expended so much energy on blocking the deal, they now seem to have run out of ideas about their next step.

The Left's threat to cancel the deal if it acquired a position of power after the next general election is clearly as much of an empty boast as the BJP's declared intention of renegotiating the measure all over again.

Apart from such meaningless rhetoric, what is evident is that they have been left high and dry because they never really expected the Manmohan Singh government to sail through the trust vote in parliament and acquire an issue which is highly popular with the middle class, India Inc. and the mainstream media.

Clearly, where these three segments are concerned, the Congress has a kind of electoral advantage which it didn't expect before July 22, the day of the trust vote.

The Left's current position is seemingly even more pathetic than the BJP's. At the national level, its hasty attempts to form an anti-Congress, anti-BJP Third Front to camouflage its setback in the trust vote have run into trouble. Two of its constituents - Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Brindaban Goswami of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) - appear to be more interested in a tie-up with the BJP than on remaining in the front.

That has left only the mercurial Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the undependable H.D.Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) in the front along with the Telugu Desam's Chandrababu Naidu and, of course, the communists. But it is not a combination which can fire the imagination of the voters, as Prakash Karat of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) thinks.

Besides, it is worth remembering that all three - Mayawati, Deve Gowda and Naidu - have been allies of the BJP in the past and may be in the future if the situation so demands.

The Left's problems have been compounded by the deadlock in Singur in its own stronghold of West Bengal, where opposition leader Mamata Banerjee has very nearly won her battle to force the Tatas to close their small car factory and leave. Therefore, Nano, the famed car priced at a mere Rs.100,000, is unlikely to roll out from Singur, as was once expected.

It is a huge setback for the state's Left Front government for it will mark the beginning of the end of its plans for an industrial revival by undoing the damage the comrades themselves caused in the sixties via their militant trade unionism. The flight of capital from West Bengal, which started then, can be said to be still continuing with the non-communist Mamata Banerjee leading the charge this time against the investors.

The weakening of the Left in Kerala because of the unending squabbling between the CPI-M's rival factions led by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and party chief Pinarayi Vijayan as well as in West Bengal may make the communists a marginal force in Indian politics after the elections. At present, it commands a mere 8.3 percent of the national vote.

For many, the Left's setback will seem to be well deserved because of the negative role it played in the matter of economic reforms and the nuclear deal. But the problem is that the space created by the Left's decline is likely to be partly filled by the BJP, the very party which the commissars profess to oppose because of its anti-minority policies.

However, it is worth remembering that the BJP itself is not in the pink of health. Its difficulties arise from fears that the party may have alienated a section of its middle class constituency by opposing the nuclear deal. It was driven to do this by two of its members, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, neither of whom has a genuine saffron background. Sinha came into the BJP from one of the Janata outfits while Shourie was a media personality.

If they have got away with their posturing, it is because the party's prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, did not seem to be able to gather either the willpower or the intellectual conviction to take charge of the debate. As a result, he drifted along with the others with their endless carping about the denial of the right to test and loss of sovereignty which seem as hackneyed as the Left's charge of surrendering to American imperialism.

For a time, the land dispute relating to the Amarnath shrine diverted attention from the nuclear deal and revived the BJP's morale since the party could focus on the pro-Pakistani demonstrations by Muslim separatists in the Kashmir valley. Advani and others became so enthused about being able to play the nationalist card that they thought of organising a rath yatra from Amarnath in the north and linking it up with another rath yatra on the Ram setu issue from the south. The setu is the mythical bridge said to have been built by the Hindu god in the Palk Strait separating India and Sri Lanka.

The two emotive issues were expected to sweep the BJP to power in the next general election. But there was an unexpected blow to Advani's hopes when the organisers of the agitation in Jammu, who were influenced by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, frowned on the BJP trying to make political capital of the issue and even warned party chief Rajnath Singn and Advani to stay away from Jammu.

The VHP and the Bajrang Dal have been sore with the BJP and particularly Advani for failing to construct the Ram temple, their favourite project, when the party was in power at the centre. It is this internal rift in the saffron brotherhood which may be as big a cause of worry to the BJP as the lack of an emotive issue before the elections.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)


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