Another "Bipartisan" Victory for Bush-Singh Deal
by J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Very few found the victory of India's government in a confidence vote in the country's parliament on Tuesday evening anything like startling news. The margin of victory, however, turned out to be much wider than many had expected. This created a tailor-made situation for conspiracy theories, with the media going to town with two of them.
Almost no one has talked of a collaboration theory, though that is more connected with the catalyst of the parliamentary debate - the US-India nuclear deal.
The first of the conspiracy theories, of the more familiar kind on such occasions, was advanced with all the force at the command of the main opposition, the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), soon after three of its members of parliament (MPs) flaunted in the House fat wads of currency allegedly paid for their promised votes. The drama has proven a damp squib for the BJP. It has raised questions about how the filthy lucre found its way into the House, the holy of parliamentary holies, while there is no proof of the origin of the tainted funds.
Even as the country awaits the findings of an inquiry into the whole affair, the second conspiracy theory has struck a heavy blow at the BJP and its credibility. According to this theory, the BJP did not really try to topple Manmohan Singh's government because the run-up to the vote had produced a rival to party leader Lal Krishna Advani, projected as the next prime minister. Mayawati Kumari Naina, the woman chief minister of India's most populous State of Uttar Pradesh, the theory presumes quite plausibly, was all the more unacceptable to the BJP for being a leader of Dalits, a socially long-oppressed section of people called Untouchables until recently.
The left rushed to build bridges with Mayawati, after burning those with Singh's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over the nuclear deal. Other parties opposed to the BJP, too, did the same, in the wake of the major political crisis created by the left's withdrawal of outside support for the minority government. Many observers have been mystified by the sudden launch of an orchestrated campaign over the past couple of weeks, presenting Mayawati as a prime minister in the making.
She would have certainly gained in stature if Singh had lost the vote. In a post-vote statement, she has said that the BJP and the Congress could not digest the idea of a Dalit prime minister. Even those who do not see her as a principled politician or a paragon of such virtues as probity may find themselves agreeing with her, especially about the far right.
Neither of these theories, however, would appear to explain the BJP's strangely halfhearted battle against the government's motion in the House, in striking contrast to the party's earlier rhetoric about its resolve to vote Singh out. The collaboration theory would seem to offer a more convincing explanation than the conspiracy theories, all the more because of its direct link to the US-India deal and the way its authors have peddled it in both countries concerned.
It is known that, soon after his deal with Singh in Washington on July 18, 2005, President George W. Bush and his administration set out to build "bipartisan support" for it in the US and achieved this once apparently unattainable objective. It is less recognized that the administration pursued the same objective in India as well. Can it be, can it just be, that the objective has been achieved here in its own way with the BJP losing the parliamentary battle?
I have quoted in these columns before US Under Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nicholas R. Burns on the subject, but it bears repetition in the current context. In an essay on "America's Strategic Opportunity with India" in the November to December 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, Burns wrote: "That this new US-India partnership is supported by a bipartisan consensus in both countries considerably strengthens the prospects for its success."
He added: "In India, both the ruling Indian National Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have worked for over a decade to elevate India's ties with the United States." He recalled that, after India's nuclear-weapon tests of 1998 under a BJP-headed government, "then Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott engaged India's then-Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in 14 rounds of talks over two and a half years." The seeds of the US-India "strategic partnership," which the deal is intended to promote, were sown in those days. The process has continued ever since, especially evident in the bid for bipartisan support for the deal in India. American participants in the campaign on Indian soil have included, besides Ambassador David C. Mulford, high-profile dignitaries like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (who met top BJP leaders) and a delegation of the Bush-blessed US-India Political Action Committee or the Usinpac (whom Singh asked to carry a message of consen sus to the BJP.)
The bipartisan consensus on the issue, in fact, does not need to be built. The BJP has not even bothered to conceal it, repeatedly placing on record its support for a US-India "strategic partnership." The party has stated, repeatedly again, that it will not hinder the deal if India enacts "its own Hyde Act" to assert the country's right to conduct nuclear-weapon tests again. The prime minister, for his part, has conceded this demand in parliament, saying: "We are willing to look at possible amendments to our Atomic Energy Act to reinforce our solemn commitment that our strategic autonomy will never be compromised."
Some, in fact, saw in the crude drama during the debate only an attempt to cover up the bipartisan consensus on the deal. A perceptive analyst, Yogendra Yadav of New Delhi's Center for Developing Studies, says: "I was expecting mudslinging, but this exceeded all previous known limits.... In fact, there is very little that separates the Congress and the BJP in terms of their fundamental foreign policy orientations - on nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, the alliance with the US - and that's why the marketing has to be so aggressive."
The government and gleeful nuclear hawks in India see Singh's victory as a green signal for speedily moving forward on the deal. In Washington, even before the vote, the administration was reported to be "moving full steam ahead on all fronts to operationalize the deal." The administration, said a report quoting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher, was preparing to "consummate the nuclear partnership with India even under a caretaker government in New Delhi" in case Singh lost the vote. Presumably, all stops will now be pulled out.
For the left and the peace movement in India, the lesson of the vote should be loud and clear. The dangers that the deal poses, after its dubious political legitimization in particular, cannot ever be fought in the company of the BJP, a proactive party to the "bipartisan consensus."