Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Left over


NEW DELHI–It has been a week of dramatic political changes here in the Indian capital. The technocrat economist prime minister Manmohan Singh has shown he has the politician in him. He is on the verge of finalising the nuclear deal with the US as well as saving his government.

This has come at the cost of key Left Front allies withdrawing their support from the UPA government. But after winning over other partners like the UP-based Samajwadi Party (SP), the PM appears confident of having the numbers in the parliament.

Singh believes the deal will end India's nuclear isolation, put it right up there in the club of great powers, ensure fuel for India's reactors, and help address the country's burgeoning energy needs. For him, the deal represents a deepening of the India-US strategic partnership. It is for precisely the same reason that the left opposes it. It sees it as an attack on India's independent foreign policy.

For a year, the deal has been in limbo because of this stalemate. But the PM has now shown his trump card. After getting the full support of Sonia Gandhi and his own party, he has managed to wean away the SP, which has been allies of the left on several issues, with its 39 members in the Lok Sabha.

It is all a gamble for the Congress. There are countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, especially China and other non-nuclear states, who for different reasons, do not want India to be treated as an exception. The US Congress will go into a long recess after September. Domestically, the UPA government may have isolated the left but it is going to be an extremely close battle to muster up the numbers as it faces a trust vote in parliament in the next few weeks.

For the first time, a foreign policy issue has drastically affected domestic politics in India. The Left talked itself into a corner by being so rigid in its opposition. The third front has split. The government will now have to deal with unreliable political fixers like Amar Singh of SP who are guided by corporate interests. The BJP is beaming at the disarray and realignments in the 'secular' camp.

What this means for Nepal is that Delhi will have even less time to think about the political impasse in Kathmandu. In Nepal we see India behind every bush, but here there is a complete lack of political interest or even bureaucratic inclination on Nepal issues.

Sitaram Yechury did play a part leading up to the 12-point agreement and the April 2006 movement. But his influence has been exaggerated, partly because he himself has tried to keep up a public image of having been the peace-maker in Nepal for political and financial reasons.

The Indian establishment used the Indian left when it needed to reassure the Maoists but took firm control of Nepal policy soon after. The Left did play a role in balancing the hardliners, but given that the government here is itself keen on warming up to the Maoists, this role is diminished.

South Block is worried about the prolonged political vacuum in Kathmandu. "We want a government we can do business with," said a top official. Trade talks scheduled for early this month got cancelled because the Nepali side said it did not have the mandate.

GP Koirala did lobby hard for Indian support to become the president but Pranab Mukherjee decided it would be best to have a hands-off policy. Indian sources say they do not want the politics of consensus to break because it would complicate the constitution writing process.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)