Although the Indian communists are using an ideological cover to explain their opposition to the nuclear deal, there may be another explanation for their obdurate stand. It is the depressing realization in their ranks that they will never play a major role in Indian politics. As such, they seem to have only a limited stake in India's development.
As marginal players, all that they can hope to achieve is to try to retain their restricted political base comprising mainly the Left-wing trade unions, which are offshoots of their parties, and sections of the middle and lower middle classes. And the only way they can maintain their support is by adopting strident "revolutionary" postures directed at imaginary adversaries. At one time, these used to be the Congress government at the centre and US imperialism. Now their purported enemies are imperialism and communalism, the latter represented, in their view, by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Although these aggressive tactics have long been the cornerstone of their policies, they haven't helped the communist parties to expand beyond West Bengal and Kerala.
In a way, the current stand of the comrades against the nuclear deal is not much different from that of the other regional parties, which are also on the margins of the political arena. Among them are the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the DMK and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - all allies of the Manmohan Singh government - which have now joined the Left in asking the government to put the nuclear deal on the backburner.
It isn't only the apprehension that they may not fare well if an early election is held which has made these parties "embarrass" the prime minister by their decision, as the latter has admitted. Their vision is also restricted to their regions of influence. As such, they are seemingly unable to acquire a national perspective, let alone an international one. Being preoccupied only with Bihar, as in the RJD's case, or Tamil Nadu, which is the DMK's stronghold, and Maharashtra, where the NCP has some influence, they appear to have little interest in the country's energy security and release from the post-Pokhran sanctions on nuclear fuel and advanced technology.
Similarly, the Left is aware that their strength in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, is unlikely ever to go beyond a total of 50-60 seats. For instance, the number of seats won by the largest of the Leftist parties - the Communist Party of India (Marxist) - was 32 in 1989, 35 in 1991, 32 in 1996, 32 in 1998, 33 in 1999 and 43 - the party's highest ever - in 2004.
The performance of the Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) younger sibling, the Communist Party of India (CPI), was worse. It won 12 seats in 1989, 13 in 1991, 12 in 1996, nine in 1998, four in 1999 and 10 - a sudden improvement - in 2004. Their total percentage of votes, however, has fallen from 9.2 percent in 1989 to 8.8 percent in 1991, 8.1 percent in 1996, 6.9 percent in 1998, 6.8 percent in 1999 and 6.8 percent again in 2004, negating their claim to speak for the "masses".
Arguably, the Left's limited influence at the national level explains its indifference towards development, especially via the capitalist model. And considering that there is no realistic chance of their preferred socialist system being installed, they seem willing to adopt even the tactics of wreckers - as their attitude towards the nuclear deal shows - by indulging in their ideological whims without much thought to what debilitating impact they can have on the nation's advancement.
It isn't surprising, therefore, that they had once vehemently opposed the introduction of computers on the grounds that they would reduce the scope for employment. And, more recently, the chairman of the Left Front in West Bengal, Biman Bose, had wanted to know, "What is this IT (Information Technology)? Does one eat it or wear it on the head?"
Since then, the Left may have developed more interest in this strange industry, but only in the context of organising strikes to disrupt its 24 x 7 working process so that the trade unions could spread their "revolutionary" message to the employees of this sector.
Although the Marxist Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, has tried to isolate the IT units from the purview of strikes, he has not always been successful. Bhattacharya, of course, knows that this industry has to work round the clock to cater to its clients in the West, whose daytime working hours coincide with the nights in India.
Besides, he is aware how the militant Leftist trade unions drove the profit-hungry capitalists out of his state in the 1960s and 1970s to turn West Bengal into an industrial wasteland.
As these examples - the shunning of computers, the attempts to undermine the IT sector, the tirades against the nuclear deal - show, the Left has little interest in the country's present path of development. If economic growth clashes with its dogma, it has no hesitation in sacrificing the former.
The comrades, therefore, are unlikely to be bothered by reports of the Indian nuclear reactors running out of fuel. Nor are they unwilling to team up with motley groups of regional parties, which lost the last elections in their states, such as the Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh and the Telugu Desam of Andhra Pradesh, to form a coalition of losers to scuttle the nuclear deal.
Like the Left, these parties too are more interested in winning elections and keeping their caste- and region-based ideological flags flying than in pondering over the prospects of India's development.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)