The US-India nuclear cooperation deal, signed last year, is causing some serious tensions within India’s governing alliance, according to the Hindustan Times. The deal is being staunchly opposed by the Left alliance, on whom the minority cabinet of the United Progressive Alliance (Congress Party and numerous pre-electoral allies among state-specific parties) depends to remain in office. The opposition National Democratic Alliance (BJP and its own pre-electoral state allies) is asking for a parliamentary committee to examine the deal.
“This is not a family affair of the UPA and Left. It’s an issue that concerns the entire nation and, therefore, the government should put in place some parliamentary mechanism, something like a committee comprising members of both Houses, to study the agreement,” senior BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra said after an NDA meeting chaired by Leader of Opposition LK Advani.
Despite the conflict, “The Opposition, however, has no immediate plans to bring a no-confidence motion against the government.” At least for now…
Whatever the conflicts between the Left and the UPA, it is not as if the Left wants a new election anytime soon.1 Nor does it want an alliance with the NDA. In a no-confidence vote, the Left and UPA would be likely either to vote with the UPA or to abstain. Nonetheless, one might expect at some point that the NDA would want to embarrass the Left by making it choose influence in the government over stated principle on the nuclear deal. An article on newindpress.com suggests that the NDA may do just that in September, but agrees that the Left is unlikely to vote to remove the cabinet in such a case.
Will the Left side with the BJP to bring down the government by voting with the BJP-sponsored no-confidence motion? Sources rule out such a possibility, saying that the Left cannot afford to go to polls, if they side with the communal forces.2 Instead, they would prefer to abstain.
The UPA strength will then be reduced to 237 MPs, (UPA 219+BSP 18), after the 59-strong Left withdraws its crucial outside support to the government, while the NDA will have 172 MPs on its side.
The status of the government will then be reduced to a minority government, as was the case with the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, when he formed the government in 1991.
In case, the Left decides to take the extreme step of voting with the BJP, even then the general election will be held only in the beginning of 2008, by February-March, given the fact that a lead time of about 45 days is required for preparations by the Election Commission.
While I am certainly no expert on Indian politics, I just don’t see the Left alliance being willing to provoke an election over this, no matter how much it would like to show its opposition to the nuclear deal. In fact, I would even be surprised if the Left abstained. We will have a better idea next week, when meetings are expected between the Left and the main governing party, Congress.
The Congress leadership is likely to initiate talks next week with the four Left parties, notably the CPM, on the modalities of the proposed mechanism to allay their concerns on the India-specific Hyde Act of the United States. [...]
In the back-channel discussions between the CPM and the Congress, it has been broadly agreed to have representatives from both sides on the proposed mechanism for talks. The advice of scientists and diplomats will be available to them while they go through various provisions of the Hyde Act and the bearing they have on India’s sovereignty and independent foreign policy.
There is going to be some serious diplomacy, and I am not talking about between India and the US government, or any other foreign power. I mean between the highest leaders of the government and its critical support parties, which need each other in parliament.