India’s political crisis over its proposed nuclear deal with America appears to have gone away, at least for the time being – and with it any prospect of the deal being put into action in the foreseeable future.
This unexpected turn of events emerged this morning at a conference in Delhi where Manmohan Singh, the prime minister and primary promoter of the deal, said that “we are not a one issue government.”
He said it was an ‘honorable deal” that had widespread benefits, then added: “But we are in the realm of politics and in our coalition there are divergent points of view” – and there were economic and social policies that the government wanted to pursue before holding an election.
“We are not in favor of an early election,” Sonia Gandhi, leader of Singh’s Congress Party and of the coalition, said later at the same conference that was organized by the Hindustan Times.
“We are going to do all we can to go on to 2009,” she added – 2009 is when the next election is due. The Congress Party was “committed to the people to work for a full term” so there was a need to “work towards a consensus with the Left,” which had been opposing the deal. The government had to “take notice of their views.”
I was at the conference and the delegates – businessmen, journalists, and diplomats – were amazed, not least America’s diplomats who didn’t seem to have been warned in advance.
It remains to be seen how Washington formally responds (after the weekend), but the administration will be far from happy that a deal struck by the two governments – after being promoted by President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – is being unceremoniously shelved. American companies will also be upset that the prospect of rich nuclear and other contracts are fading into the distance.
Basically though, Singh and Gandhi have taken a sensible decision. The nuclear deal was going to split their coalition because of staunch opposition from Leftist parties and was likely to cause a general election – and for what?
On the table was a deal that could boost nuclear power generation years ahead and might ease India’s access to sensitive technologies in the future – but which, however, might not be liked much by the next American administration. From India’s point of view, it can wait – and the government can stay in power
It is not yet clear how all this will be implemented as policy. Possibly, the government will just go slow on talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency. I said three days ago in my last post, that it was not clear how long India would be prepared to go slow. Now it looks as if it could be indefinitely – maybe till there are new governments in both America and India.
So, unless there is another change of tack by the Indian government, I was wrong three days ago to forecast a general election early next year. But politics move fast – and chaotically in coalitions – so watch this space.