The Indian government has completed the negotiation of the India-specific Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and it is now ready to be submitted to the Board of Governors for approval. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is to meet the Left parties Monday to apprise them about the draft safeguards pact.
Mukherjee is also due to travel to the US to participate in Indo-US Joint Commission meeting, which is co-chaired by him along with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is expected to hand over a copy of the draft safeguards agreement to her.
The Left had earlier indicated that it would not agree to the government going ahead with the safeguards agreement.
The Left allowed the government to proceed with the negotiations on the safeguards agreement with the IAEA to save the government's face on the eve of the Gujarat elections.
Their present pronouncements appear to indicate that they do not consider it necessary to come to the aid of the government. In fact allowing the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to successfully negotiate the IAEA safeguards and then veto its submission to the Board of Governors will amount to subjecting the government to far greater humiliation than the domestic loss of face it would have suffered if it had not gone to the IAEA at all.
The safeguards agreement with the IAEA is essential if India were to restrict its civil nuclear cooperation with Russia and France and not import any civil reactor or obtain any civil nuclear technology from the US.
Therefore it is not logical to connect at this stage the conclusion of the IAEA safeguards agreement with either the Hyde Act or US imperialism or any other extraneous issue. Objection to the conclusion of the safeguards agreement would mean that the Left is opposed to India obtaining reactors from Russia and France. If that is so, then they could have said so and need not have brought in the Hyde Act and US imperialism as excuses.
The strategy of the Left is now becoming clearer. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat addressing the Jan Sangarsh Rally March 13 in Lucknow called for the formation of a third alternative and appealed to secular and democratic forces to assist the party towards the fulfilment of the objective.
Therefore, the CPI-M is interested in denigrating the Congress and ensuring that the UPA does not come to power again.
The best way of denigrating the Congress is to threaten to withdraw support from the government on a major international deal after having allowed the government to commit itself deeply in it.
If the government pulls out of the deal to continue in office for a few more months then it will be humiliated internationally and such humiliation and the veto of the Left for the deal will come in handy for electoral propaganda to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The Left's calculation appeared to be that if both the UPA and the NDA fail to mobilise adequate strength to form the next government, that will open the gate for the Left to sail towards power as part of the Third Front. In the 1930s in Europe, Communist parties under Stalin's directions trained all their guns on Social Democratic parties. That did not lead to the victory of the Left but in the victory of the rightist forces.
Let us look at the interests of the UPA. The ruling coalition has announced Rs.600 billion debt relief for the farmers, given tax reductions to the middle class and is expected to release the Pay Commission report which will raise the emoluments of employees first in the central government to be followed by similar raises in the pay packets of state and local bodies employees.
If this largesse is not immediately cashed in terms of votes within the next few months, memory will fade and the ruling party will not be able to reap the benefit.
Secondly, it is clear that the industrial production of the first quarter of this year is nearly half of what it was last year. There is general expectation of US economy getting into a recession with consequences for all other economies of the world. The dollar is falling in value and the oil price is rising. Food prices are also rising all over the world. These developments indicate that the economic outlook in the next year is likely to be less favourable than it is now.
Therefore, the UPA government will have to assess whether it will be to its advantage to humiliate itself by allowing the Left to veto the further processing of the IAEA safeguards and that way get a few more months in office and then face the elections when the economic conditions are likely to be less favourable.
On the other hand, going ahead with the IAEA safeguards and the NSG waiver will demonstrate to the potential third front participants that the Left cannot call the shots and does not wield that kind of clout. Either the Left has to blink and go along with the UPA or withdraw its support and precipitate an election. All indications are that the Left is not likely to do well if the elections are to take place in the near future.
The Left has been against the deal, which will liberate India from the technology denial regime of the last three and half decades presumably because a high growth rate and an accelerated reduction in poverty are against the interests of the party.
Yet they allowed the government to go ahead with the separation plan of nuclear facilities, the enactment of Hyde legislation, the 123 agreement and the initiation of the IAEA safeguards agreement.
There is no reason why they should not allow the government to go ahead with the conclusion of IAEA safeguards agreement even while protesting all the time about US imperialism. Unfortunately most of our media and political class have not focused adequate attention on the strategy of the Left and the probability of its success.
Once the budget is passed, the moment of truth will arrive. In any case since the Left is not going to be part of any alliance and therefore will campaign on their own in the next election both against the NDA and the UPA.
Since they want a third front they will not be supporting the UPA till the Lok Sabha's term expires. They will have to part ways a little earlier to campaign against the UPA. If that is assessed as six months, then even if UPA surrenders to the Left, their parting of ways is likely to be in October. Elections this year will be more advantageous to the UPA and in all likelihood the UPA will go ahead with the nuclear deal.
Some people raise the question of the propriety of the 123 agreement being signed by a minority government. Out of 192 national governments in the world, how many are in a position to talk about a government being supported by majority. Not in two-thirds of the cases since they are not democracies - as happens to be the case with China.
In any case this parliament is about to finish four years and our MPs will need to check whether they still represent the majority public opinion or out of touch with it. If a future government finds any particular agreement entered into as unsatisfactory it will be its sovereign right to reopen it.
(K. Subrahmanyam is India's pre-eminent analyst on strategic and international affairs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)