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It would appear from the public statements of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi that for the time being the Congress Party has caved on the nuclear deal with the United States due to threats from the Left. The deal is not likely to be pursued vigorously until the election slated for early 2009. The pursuit can be resumed only if the Left is marginalized at the next election. Prakash Karat, the Congress Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader, has left his mark on history despite having essentially no popular support. He managed to catch Congress at a delicate moment and has deprived India of what could have been a major boost in its currently low international privileges.

The Congress Party has not been known for its political courage. It has sacrificed millions of jobs by caving in to the Left on labor law reform, so they can be criticized for timidity at the moment. At the same time, if the CPI-M and BJP could coordinate on a vote of no confidence against the government, and the Left parties were to retain their pivotal position after the elections, it would be very bad news for the nuclear deal and for economic development.

The Left leadership has said it is against the United States, but more than that, it seems to be against India. A poor, weak, and fearful India is the only one in which it is intellectually prepared to operate. The Left has not felt the need to develop a plausible development model. It has certainly scored great achievements in social welfare in Kerala. But these were accomplished several decades ago. The state has been highly dependent on remittances from the Gulf since the 1970s. What the Left is left with is a series of criticisms and objections rooted in ideology.

Editorials in the CPI-M newspaper continue to pay homage to “Comrade Stalin.”

In West Bengal, the CPI-M has been ruling for 30 years and is clearly the best party to rule the state. The West Bengal state unit is far less ideological than the national leadership. However, the Marxist Lok Sabha MPs from the state are more ideological than the state government.

The Left critique of the deal is that it makes India a “subordinate ally” of America. This is a profound deception. At present, India is the target of a near universal blockade of nuclear materials and technologies. Even Russia has joined the blockade. If the deal materializes as agreed, this blockade will end. The United States retains the right to withhold its own nuclear cooperation in the future, but it cannot reimpose the worldwide blockade. America is consciously depriving itself of that capacity. The nuclear deal permits an orderly transformation of international nuclear agreements in India’s favor. That is what the Left is delaying.

Congress has judged it better to wait for the next election, but such a plan will not necessarily succeed. At present, the Indian economy is growing at close to ten percent per year. The construction industry is growing faster and employing ten million new workers annually. These workers are coming out of agricultural labor, from the poorest stratum of labor, and doubling their incomes. In addition, tax revenues are rising at 25 percent per year, faster than ever before.

Congress is translating this into job-rich infrastructure projects and large new anti-poverty programs.

If Congress can delay the election until 2009, it has a better chance of building a majority without the Left. Congress can also look for new coalition partners. The rise of Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh means she could command the same weight in the next Lok Sabha as the Left. Mayawati did cooperate with Congress in the election of the President, and thus may be open to a coalition. A seat adjustment in the next Lok Sabha elections between Congress and BSP in West Bengal could serve both parties well.

There is a danger that even if the Left is marginalized in the next election, the opportunity in America and the world for the nuclear deal will have passed. Yet the forces and realizations that led the Bush administration and large majorities in the U.S. Congress to the nuclear deal will not disappear. American power peaked after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and has declined since. The war in Iraq has hastened that decline but is not the main cause. The rise of other powers has caused the decline of the U.S.’s power. In that setting, America still needs India.

The movement toward increased cooperation between India and the United States need not be halted by the delay in the nuclear deal. The delay can be recognized as due to narrow and specific forces in India. Further cooperative agreements can be negotiated. The nuclear deal was conceived in Washington and Delhi as a step toward a world order more congenial to both, but not harmful to others. China, for example, is moving swiftly to build a large nuclear power industry with wide international cooperation. The long-term goal remains the construction of a multipolar world order with agreements that create incentives for cooperative behavior among all major powers and indeed all states.

Sanjoy Banerjee teaches International Relations at San Francisco State University.

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