There is an evident lack of honesty and forthrightness in the Left's stance on the India-US nuclear deal. The Indian communists seem to be engaged in a cynical exercise to drag out the process of negotiating with the Manmohan Singh government on their objections without any genuine interest in reaching a solution.
Considering that the general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Prakash Karat, said recently that nothing would convince him of the need for the deal, it seems rather pointless for the committee set up by the government to continue to meet.
Since all the nitty-gritty has been discussed threadbare with no agreement in sight, it will appear to be more honest for the Left to call it a day and ask the government to scrap the deal. But the comrades are evidently not straightforward enough to do so. Instead, they continue attending the meetings while voicing their objections outside. These, as is known, relate not only to the terms of the agreement, including India's right to test nuclear weapons in future, but also a basic objection which has nothing to do directly with the deal since it is only about New Delhi's growing proximity to Washington.
From what the Left has been saying, even before the very first steps have been taken on the issue, it can seem that New Delhi has already become a strategic ally of the US when it is widely appreciated that India is too big a country to play such a subservient role.
But it isn't only these false insinuations that are noteworthy. What is no less devious on the Left's part is the manner of raising new points obviously with the intention of prolonging the talks with the government.
For instance, while asking the government not to start implementing the deal by beginning substantive negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Left is hinting that this process can begin only after the committee concludes its meetings.
At the same time, it also wants the government to wait till the matter is discussed in parliament, knowing fully well that the MPs could not discuss the subject during the last session because of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) disruptive tactics.
In trying to explain what can seem like time-wasting tactics, the Left is drawing attention to the fact that since the BJP could put its Hindutva agenda on hold in 1996 to satisfy its partners in the National Democratic Alliance, the Congress can also go slow on the deal in response to the Left's reservations.
A delay of this nature might have been acceptable if there was any chance of the Left finally giving its approval to the deal - or calling for it to be scrapped. But since no such definitive step seems to be in the offing, there does not seem to be any reason for an interminable holding operation.
If the comrades are unwilling for a definite break with the government, the reason is that they are as uneasy about an early general election as are some of the other allies of the government.
For one, the communists are aware of the middle class becoming even more impatient and disillusioned with them because their opposition to the n-deal has followed their stonewalling of economic reforms. For another, the fact that China and Pakistan will be pleased if the n-deal falls through is bound to undermine the Left's electoral position.
So, the commissars are continuing to hedge their bests - neither saying 'no' to the deal in unambiguous terms, nor 'yes' since the second course doesn't gel with their ideological antipathy towards the US. Hence, the dishonest exercise in a kind of filibustering.
It is not known how long the communists will play this devious game, but their reluctance to go for elections is understandable, for they are in trouble in both their strongholds - West Bengal and Kerala.
Not only has the West Bengal government's land acquisition drive to set up industries led to peasant unrest, forcing the administration to back off from at least Nandigram, there has also been an outbreak of violence recently over the diversion of food grains from ration shops to the open market. Given the tense atmosphere, the Left Front parties are in no mood to face the electorate.
In Kerala, the problems for the CPI-M stem from an inner-party tussle between Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and state party chief P. Vijayan. Because of their wrangling, which has a long history, both were expelled from the politburo, an unprecedented step against such important functionaries. But now they have been taken back, apparently because of the possibility of an early election.
If the CPI-M is not ready for the polls, neither are some of the other parties in the ruling alliance at the centre such as the DMK, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Since all of them are virtually one-state parties - the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the RJD in Bihar and the NCP in Maharashtra - their vision does not extend much beyond these provinces. They are not eager, therefore, to face the uncertainties of an electoral contest for the sake of an international treaty, which is also a fairly esoteric one since nuclear issues are not widely understood.
The Manmohan Singh government, therefore, is under pressure not only from the Left but also from these regional parties even if the latter have no animus based on dogma against the US, like the communists. Yet, if the government does not take a decision soon enough, its own credibility will suffer, affecting its electoral prospects.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org