The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Politics is one field of human activity where there can be setbacks without any victors. The peculiar impasse following the Indo-US nuclear deal is an example of this generalization. The Left can claim that the aftermath of the impasse is a reversal for the non-Left parties — the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — which had been advocating a pro-America foreign policy. More specifically, the Left could argue that Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani, the two champions of a pro-Washington tilt in their respective parties, have no other option now save licking their wounds. Without going into the validity of these points, it needs to be said that the Left, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist), cannot trumpet itself as the winner in the brush that it has had with the Congress and the prime minister.

The rapprochement arrived at between the Left and the Congress to prevent the immediate downfall of the United Progressive Alliance government can be very conveniently interpreted by supporters of the Left as a setback for Mr Singh. The latter’s lobby might argue that the prime minister has actually emerged stronger out of the crisis, since once he was beleaguered by the CPI(M), the entire Congress party rallied behind him. What is even more important is that nowhere in the compromise formula is there an undertaking that the government would back down from the Indo-US nuclear deal. The critical question of “operationalizing” the deal remains something of a grey area, open to contesting interpretations. The Congress could well argue that the fact that the Left could not win this point is by itself a setback for Prakash Karat and his ilk. Mr Advani, on the other hand, has been singularly unfortunate. His attempt to bring his party back to its original pro-US position has been rejected. This is not the first time in recent memory that Mr Advani finds himself isolated within the sangh parivar.

The compromise formula has provided the Left with an opportunity to scramble out of a corner into which it had put itself. Having threatened Mr Singh’s government, Mr Karat realized the consequences for his party if the government actually fell and elections became imminent. On the grand dream of an international anti-US movement fell the shadow of a domestic electoral disaster. It was obvious that in both West Bengal and Kerala — the two states in which the Left has some political clout — the performance of the left parties would be poorer than what it was in the last general elections. In West Bengal, there was the added danger of the entire project of industrialization being stalled, if not stopped. Hence, the eagerness of the Left to find a solution. This can hardly be called a victory. It is at best a face-saver.

What is evident is that the truce is temporary. Mr Singh would do well not to wait till the next skirmish. The writing on the wall is clear even though the sentence is yet to be completed.

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