Dashed hopes

Published : Oct 10, 2008 00:00 IST

The Delhi serial blasts thwart Congress and BJP attempts to make political capital out of the NSG waiver issue.

in New Delhi

THE extended meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), held at the Parliament Annexe in New Delhi, was rated as the first broad-based preparatory meeting of the party for the next general elections. Apart from regular members, a number of party functionaries including Congress Chief Ministers, leaders of legislature parties, and presidents, secretaries and coordinators of State units were invited to attend it in order to ensure wide-ranging representation. The party leadership was in a fairly upbeat mood, especially on account of the waiver India had obtained at the meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Vienna.

According to a senior Congress leader, the planning for the extended CWC had made it clear that the party leadership would present the NSG waiver as a historic diplomatic victory achieved against great odds. Congress president Sonia Gandhis address at the meeting re-emphasised this assessment. Sonia Gandhi began by congratulating Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the historic achievement on the nuclear deal and went on to emphasise that the party had to overcome many obstacles to make this gain.

There was considerable strength in this emphasis because sections of the Congress leadership had been apprehensive about the NSG granting a waiver of its guidelines for member-states to do civilian nuclear commerce with India. The other factor was that the triumph in the July 22 trust vote and the NSG waiver were the only two victories the Congress and the UPA had had since the beginning of this year.

All that it had to show until then was a series of election defeats, uncontrolled rise in prices and runaway inflation. Even when the NSG success was being shaped, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was found wanting in handling national problems such as the floods in Bihar, the attacks on Christians in Orissa, and the Amarnath shrine board issue in Jammu and Kashmir. So, the NSG waiver, in a sense, brightened up an otherwise uncertain political context.

In this background, the CWC decided to embark on a celebratory campaign on the NSG victory. The meeting drew up plans for a series of rallies across the country to highlight both the historic international relations victory and emotive local issues. According to the senior leader, local issues were included on the consideration that people in general may not understand in its real spirit the importance of the nuclear deal or the NSG waiver.

For instance, at the rally in New Delhi, originally scheduled for September 17, an important event was to be the distribution of provisional regularisation certificates to residents of a number of colonies hitherto deemed unauthorised. Regularisation of their residences has been a demand of thousands of people living in these colonies, and the Delhi government wants to project the acceptance of this demand as an important achievement under the leadership of Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.

Similarly, the rally at Dadri near Ghaziabad in western Uttar Pradesh would address the plight of farmers who have demanded adequate compensation for their land taken over for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project. Four persons of this region were killed on August 13 in police firing on farmers agitating for higher compensation.

But by the time the extended CWC meet ended on the evening of September 13, all these carefully laid-out plans were put on hold as the serial bomb blasts shook the national capital. The Congress leadership announced the indefinite postponement of the rallies, well realising that focussing on the NSG victory or local issues might not be politically productive in the prevailing circumstances. Evidently, internal security had come up as a major issue and the party leadership had to be seen as addressing that first before launching celebratory rallies.

While the Congress thus went on the back foot vis--vis the campaign on the NSG waiver, the National Executive of the principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was meeting in Bangalore, decided to step up its campaign on the internal security failures of the UPA government.

In a sense, the Delhi serial blasts also changed the BJPs approach to its political campaign.

In the days immediately following the announcement of the NSG waiver, the BJP was on the back foot as many of its supporters, including Brajesh Mishra, who was National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, congratulated Manmohan Singh on the victory in Vienna. Mishra was particularly aggressive in opposing the BJPs official position on the India-United States nuclear deal, which was that the deal prevented India from carrying out further nuclear tests.

In spite of the BJP leaderships best efforts, the impression had gained ground that the partys think tank was deeply divided on the nuclear deal, especially after the NSG waiver.

The Delhi blasts moved the political focus away from such divisive issues and helped the party launch campaigns on some of its time-tested slogans.

The confusion within the Congress and the UPA on how to go about the issue of tackling terrorism also worked to the BJPs advantage. Still, sections of the party leadership admitted that this could, at best, be a temporary reprieve and issues such as the NSG waiver and nuclear deal could take centre stage again and expose the divisions within the BJP think tank.

In the final analysis, the two mainstream political forces seemed to be caught between exultation and despair, both sharing the characteristics more or less in equal measure.

The third formation comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left parties and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), too, reflected this jumbled-up political situation. Gauged in terms of explicit political gains or losses, it was clear that the Congress and the UPA had upstaged the Left-BSP-TDP-JD(S) combine during the July 22 vote of confidence in the Manmohan Singh government.

During the NSG meet and after, it the parties tried to highlight their view that the UPA had succumbed to many conditionalities and had compromised the national interest and an independent foreign policy in securing the NSG waiver.

In a statement issued immediately after the NSG meet, the CPI(M) Polit Bureau pointed out that the NSG waiver opening the door to nuclear trade for India is neither clean nor unconditional and reflects the continuous concessions that India has made on this issue. It said: Starting from the joint statement of July 18, 2005, India has given in steadily to U.S. pressure, starting with the 123 Agreement, the IAEA safeguard and now finally the NSG.

The statement pointed out that the text of the waiver has converted the voluntary moratorium on testing into a multilateral commitment. It said: India has agreed that any fuel supply agreement will be subject to periodic NSG review and subject to Indias moratorium on testing.

The CPI(M) also highlighted the fact that while India does not have fuel supply assurances as claimed by the government, the safeguards on Indias nuclear facilities will be in perpetuity.

The statement further pointed out that the Hyde Act conditions would continue to bind India and its civilian nuclear programme:

The full implications of the 123 Agreement, which the Indian government had hidden from the people, are now public after the State Department statement to the U.S. Congress became public. With the Foreign Ministers statement of September 5, India has now committed itself to aligning with international efforts to limit the spread of ENR (enrichment and reprocessing) equipment or technologies to states who do not have them, an obvious reference to Iran and committing India to join the U.S. efforts to deny Iran the fuel cycle. Joining U.S. efforts on Iran is one of the conditions of the Hyde Act. With the September 5 statement, India is now fully a party to the non-proliferation regime, which it has always held to be discriminatory and therefore unstable.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP president Mayawati also issued a statement on similar lines.

Undoubtedly, the parties had stated their positions on the nuclear deal strongly, but were not able to build up an effective campaign on this. Part of the reason was that there were teething problems in the development of the anti-Congress, anti-BJP front, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) was an associate in this front during the vote of confidence. However, after the trust vote the BSP and the RLD drifted apart, apparently unable to come to an understanding on seat-sharing in the State.

Obviously, the political atmosphere after the NSG waiver is marked by a sense of uncertainty and expectation. All the formations know the importance of gearing up for the next general elections, but none of them seems to have a clear-cut plan of action.

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