Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) claims that the Indo-US nuclear deal threatened the sovereignty of India so much so that it was forced to withdraw support for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Manmohan Singh even if it meant joining with Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The UPA government some how survived the July 22 No Confidence Motion. Thus far, the only important casualty of all this drama  has been the expulsion of the Speaker Somnath Chatterjee from the primary membership of CPM.


The Indo-US deal has been cleared by the IAEA but is facing stubborn obstacles by some of the US allies in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); they feel that the US has made crucial concessions to India without getting anything in return. Unless the 50 amendments promised by New Zealand and some European countries are withdrawn before the next meeting on September 4, it is possible that the deal may not go forward as it is very unlikely that India will be able to accept anything except cosmetic changes to the current text. The credibility of the US as a world superpower able to deliver on its commitments is also at stake. But it is possible that the Bush Administration does not have much of a clout anymore. Besides, important pillars of the U.S. foreign policy and non-proliferation establishment have had and continue to have serious reservations about the deal.


One might speculate that whatever be the terms of the Indo-US nuclear deal, it does place some restrictions on India’s ability to supplement its nuclear arsenal. But considering the deliberations in the first meeting of the NSG, these restrictions are not so much by the US as by other members of the NSG who do not wish to see the NPT abandoned without some restrictions on nuclear trade with countries like India who have not signed the NPT and have also developed nuclear weapons. BJP is clear. It wants to make nuclear bombs and wishes no compromise on this issue. CPM’s position may or may not be the same but cannot be articulated openly. If the deal falls through in the NSG, the right-wing BJP, which voted against it for purely opportunistic reasons, will no doubt raise a big hue and cry that the UPA government was unable to project or protect India’s national interests. One can see the right wing gaining some electoral mileage if the deal falls through, but it is very difficult to envisage the Left benefiting whether the deal goes through or not.


If the implications of the Indo-US nuclear deal for India are not so obvious, why did then CPM go all the way to topple the government?  It was a major decision. The formal position that CPM’s decision was its concern for India’s sovereignty is unconvincing to say the least.


Safeguarding India’s sovereignty presupposes that India is sovereign. It remained so more than 40 years ago despite agreeing to PL480 in the 1960s when India faced an acute food and foreign exchange shortage and allowed US food imports with the provision that the money would be retained by the US for use in India. India remained sovereign when every major imperialist country as well as Soviet Union built Institutes of Technology, which more than any other institution caters to foreign needs. India survived the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty.  So why should the Indo-US nuclear deal deliver India into the lap of the US? This much even Prakash Karat knows.


It would seem that the reasons for vehement opposition to the Indo-US deal lie elsewhere. According to a recent article by Siddhartha Varadarajan in EPW (see below) CPM was opposed to the 123 deal because of its concern for Muslim sentiments. It is to the credit of Indian Muslims that they are more opposed than Hindus to the heinous crimes of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and its support for Israel’s policy against Palestinians. But this does not mean that Muslims are opposed to any deal with the US which might benefit India. Moreover what could hurt Muslim sentiments more than allying with BJP? So the Muslim card of the CPM is a fabrication.


The real reason could be CPM’s internal crisis.  Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Lalu Yadav are too smart to let focus be on Prakash Karat as long as the latter supported UPA government. CPM’s handling of the Singur-Nandigram crises have tarnished its image. It is also likely that there is a certain degree of internal dissent in the party with the economic development policies of the state governments ruled by CPM and the party is not as united as it would like to be. Given all these factors, the current CPM leadership, which lacks foresight, took the opportunity of the economic constraints faced by the present government to assert its independence. It could not do it from inside the UPA  and so opted to do it as an opposition bloc.


However, opportunism never delivers good results. Already Karat has had to knock at the door of Mayawati. Voting along with the BJP also has the consequence that CPM is vulnerable on the issue of secularism, as a basic element of party policy. Joining with Telugu Desam, who were earlier in bed with BJP, and other dubious characters in pursuit of a chimerical Third Front shows a certain air of desperation rather than a principled approach. Suddenly it is also considering alliance with the Naxalite left whom they earlier shunned from the bottom of their hearts. The problem with CPI is similar but rather simple. The General Secretary of CPI, Bardhan, is happy to let Karat do all the thinking for him. CPI is still in the cold war era mode of opposing the US no matter what. After all CPI received no formal communiqué from the Communist Party of Soviet Union that the Soviet Socialist Republic had collapsed; all the news came from the bourgeois press. 

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