The latest warning to the UPA government from the Left should leave nobody in doubt. It is explicit. It will not accept the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in any form. It has given time to the Congress to reflect, to squirm and eventually to surrender. It is following sound negotiating strategy against a vacillating opponent. Analysts in the Congress and in the media perceive a softening of the Left’s stand due to rumblings within its ranks over an inconvenient timing for a mid-term poll. They are mistaken. For Prakash Karat the number of seats his party might win in a snap poll is a minor consideration. Let MPs and MLAs fret over that. Comrade Karat is pursuing a commitment of his global ideological dogma to make the world free of "US imperialism". If the Congress bites the Left’s bait and seeks to delay the deal it will have taken its first decisive step towards surrender. For the Congress therefore this is the moment of truth. What are its options?
First, the Congress could try to delay signing the deal and buy time while it attempted meanwhile to placate the Left, hoping to somehow push through the deal even as a minority government. This option would be disastrous, leading to inevitable defeat. Apart from a fatal domestic setback for the Congress it would expose India to worldwide ridicule. For the nation to falter over the deal at this late stage would inflict damage to its credibility, with far-reaching consequences.
Secondly, the Congress could forge a realignment of political forces by coalescing with the BJP. It would be unrealistic to imagine that any formula short of outright alliance and sharing of power with the BJP would work. True, the BJP has let loose its critics to tear at the nuclear deal. But Vajpayee has remained virtually silent. Advani’s opposition to the deal is qualified. If any realignment is at all possible, the initiative, however silent, must come from the Congress. In the event the nation would get a government to see through the deal, and much else of momentous import that is likely to occur in South Asia within the coming year.
If the Congress-BJP alliance is not possible there is a third option. The Congress can order a snap poll even as early as November. This option is scoffed at by media pundits and politicians alike. They consider the nuclear deal too complex for the public to comprehend. They believe it cannot be made into the central electoral issue. Of course it cannot. It is not the real issue at all. Both the media experts and politicians have failed to recognize the crisis for what it really is.
The issue before the nation is not the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. The issue is what constitutes national interest. If the government falls over the issue of the deal, the public will most certainly want to know why. And the reason for it would not be this or that clause in the deal. As senior journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea recently pointed out in a newspaper article, all critics of the deal are behaving like nitpicking lawyers oblivious of the larger picture. What is at stake are two conflicting views of the future world and India’s role in it. To the credit of Prakash Karat, he has understood this. He is upfront articulating his view. To the discredit of the Congress it appears to lack conviction. It fumbles badly while articulating its own view. If the Congress has conviction it should order a quick snap poll, clear its mind about what really is at stake, and go to the public. Let people decide what India’s national interest is.
The Left’s view of the national interest is clear enough. It is against anything that brings India closer to the US. In its view the US is an anti-people imperialist power seeking world domination. This perceived role was reinforced after America’s invasion of Iraq. To stop the US in its tracks the Left wants to promote the interests of its ideological mentor, China – even at India’s expense. The Left sees no shortcoming in China. It even justifies implicitly China’s claim to annex Arunachal Pradesh. It describes it as a negotiable dispute.
There is an opposite view of the national interest that the Congress has failed to articulate. It is true that the US invasion of Iraq was unjustified. But it is equally true that China never seriously opposed it. Why? Because the invasion of Iraq suited China. This scribe, among possible others, strongly opposed it from day one. The diversion of America’s so-called war on terrorism from Afghanistan to Iraq was a clear act of major sabotage that would have pleased only Washington’s pro-China lobby. In the past, Al Qaeda had received aid from both USA and China. China’s links with Al Qaeda endured, and became closer. The MOU signed between China and the Taliban government on 9/11, 2001, for setting up Afghanistan’s telecommunication network was no simple coincidence. From India’s viewpoint therefore the major criticism of the US relates to its links with China and Pakistan, which persuade Washington to overlook the involvement of both in nuclear proliferation, promoting insurgency and abetting terrorism. Official documents of the US Congress and security establishment unambiguously testify to such activity by China and Pakistan.
The Left accuses supporters of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal of serving the interests of the US instead of India. The supporters of the deal can, with much greater justification, claim that the Left serves the interest of China rather than of India. The foreign investment in India opposed by the Left is welcomed twenty-fold in China without a whimper of criticism against China by the Left. Naval exercises between India and China are welcomed despite China’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh, but Indo-US joint naval exercises are vehemently criticized. Not one word of criticism by the Left is heard about China’s openly arming and strengthening Pakistan and Bangladesh through defence arrangements while both these neighbors provide sanctuary to anti-Indian insurgents. India’s own intelligence agencies have pointed out how the Chinese have directly or through proxy nations helped terrorists seeking to destabilize India, how China provided arms to Pakistan’s so-called militants during the Kargil clash.
All this, and much more, can and should be debated for the public to determine which view truly reflects India’s national interest. The public recognizes national interest better than opinionated, pontificating intellectuals. The 1977 general election proved that. Today’s MPs do not represent public opinion on this issue. It never came up when they were elected. So, let the public decide what it wants.
(Puri can be reached at email@example.com)