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Boatman, Do Not Tarry

Karat has had his answers. The UPA should now revivify its reform agenda.

Boatman, Do Not Tarry
R. Prasad
Boatman, Do Not Tarry
Everything said, the Left blinked after some close electoral accounting that suggested it would be held responsible for disrupting government and governance in concert with the BJP. Forcing an early poll will probably cut the Left to size and jeopardise its administrations in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The BJP is in disarray and will suffer erosion too.

The moral is that the UPA should now press its stalled reform agenda vigorously across the board. Though the Left will huff and puff, there is no reason to fear an early election despite its threat of "serious consequences". The people want good governance rather than impotent survival or indecision from a government that seeks a permanent seat in the UN Security Council!

The Left demands a "pause" on "operationalising" the Treaty until all issues have been duly "evaluated". Shorn of niceties, this is an invitation to the prime minister to commit suicide first and leave it to his ghost to step forward gracefully to complete the negotiations. Along with the BJP, still suffering from sour grapes and trying to work up a jingoistic-cum-revivalist electoral platform, it has arraigned the government for lack of transparency (after preventing the prime minister from speaking) and undue haste (only two years down the road in India's 5,000-year history).

When does the Indo-US agreement become operational? Only after negotiations with the IAEA and the NSG, a process culminating in final approval by the US Congress and, no less, the Government of India about five to eight months from now. And why dread the Hyde Act, which is the outcome of internal American procedures? Yes, subsequent presidents might flinch and treaty interpretations will be determined by prevailing international relationships. But any nuclear test by India and US exercise of a "right of return" of nuclear materials and equipment supplied is unlikely, if ever, to occur before eight to ten years from now at the earliest. By then global equations will have changed in India's favour and there are enough safeguards in the agreement to ensure that its interests are protected.

That the international non-proliferation framework, designed in 1967, spurred indigenous R&D and production capability is undoubtedly true—but at a high cost in time, money and the multiplier effect. That regime is now being changed exclusively and solely for India, representing a huge diplomatic triumph and potential accelerator in many directions.

The deal operationalised, one should not assume business as usual but a new dynamic favouring India and going beyond Indo-US relations and energy. Nor need it imply any setback in India's relations with other nations or its independent posture. Indeed, with greater stakes in India in terms of trade, investments, manpower potential and a multitude of exchanges, the world and the US will be more and not less respectful of it. Given a resultant $100 bn Indo-US trade and investment flow by 2020, US corporations will lobby for India and Jekylls will prevail over Hydes. Remember too that nuclear commerce with Russia, France and others and exploiting uranium reserves within India and countries like Niger are outside the ambit of the Hyde Act.

Prakash Karat's questions have been fully answered. Nevertheless, it would be useful to set up a "mechanism" to respond to lurking doubts without hindrance to the remaining post-123 processes. However, no mechanism can remove innate prejudices and ideological bogeys. The notion that the problem lies in prime ministerial ego is misplaced. Until his Telegraph interview, Manmohan Singh was being ridiculed as 'weak' and lacking in authority. The moment he cracked the whip, is he to be accused of excessive 'ego'? More fools they who so argue.

There is a lesson in coalition dharma that the UPA must learn. The Left wants not just to support but to rule, exercise power without responsibility. Other UPA partners too have variously dictated terms to the detriment of coalition politics. The Left has vetoed many necessary measures on pensions, provident fund, insurance, disinvestment and labour while UPA allies have dictated terms regarding preferred portfolios, and pursued narrow regional interests. All policies and programmes cannot be reduced to electoral gamesmanship, even allowing for coalitional sensitivities.

Hopefully therefore, we shall now not see a lame-duck government but one able and willing to fulfil its mandate with elan. It must stop shooting itself in the foot and giving in to some of its own politically decrepit warlords. If the Left or anybody else wishes to pull the rug from under the UPA, so be it. This will not be a calamity. Much is spoken about the 'cost' of a mid-term poll. Paralysis of government costs the nation far more. Not to "operationalise" the UPA's CMP and its logical extensions is not to operationalise the Constitution and make good long overdue promises. It has been said that "If the trumpet giveth an uncertain sound, then who shall prepare for battle"? Who indeed?
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