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Why Advani backed the N-deal
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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August 27, 2007 14:21 IST

Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani has shot an arrow over India's supercharged political scene by stating in a newpaper interview that he wouldn't have any "any problem with the 123 Agreement" if the government brought in a counterpart legislation that would take the sting out of the infamous Hyde Act.

Advani went on to strongly defend the government's policy of forging a strategic partnership with the United States including such recent decisions as the holding of a major naval exercise in September in the Bay of Bengal.

Advani accused the Left parties of blind "anti-Americanism" rather than any high principle prompting them to oppose the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The dramatic turnaround by the Bharatiya Janata Party leader will come as a great boost for the Congress Party, which has been facing political isolation, especially as the party is gearing up for crucial make-or-break discussions with the Left parties on the issue.

Advani, being a senior leader, couldn't have made a gaffe on such a vital issue at this sensitive juncture.

This is more so as his statement brings to the fore the simmering differences within the BJP over the party's stance on the nuclear deal.

The BJP is virtually divided on the issue. A section of the party, which is ideologically closer to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has virulently opposed the deal as a capitulation of the country's sovereignty and national interests.

Equally, there is another faction within the BJP, which grudgingly finds itself in broad affinity with the United Progressive Alliance government's policy.

The 'hardliners' haven't minced words in condemning the 123 Agreement, which Advani now finds he could learn to live with provided India enacts some domestic legislation on its nuclear cooperation with the US.

The hardliners include prominent BJP stalwarts like Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.

The 'pragmatists', on the other hand, visualise that India's emergent strategic partnership with the US is the core issue and the deal forms an integral part of the embrace between the two 'natural allies'.

Reportedly, they include Jaswant Singh, Brajesh Mishra and, conceivably, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Advani has now taken the plunge and churned up the growing turbulence within the BJP.

What motivates Advani?

Evidently, Advani's statement would go down well with the public opinion in Gujarat, which is enthusiastic about close Indo-US partnership.

But this limited objective couldn't have been enough to prompt Advani into highlighting the schism within the BJP.

Advani is no doubt placing himself within mainstream liberal opinion in the country. He has been consistently striving in the recent past to shed the stigma of a 'hardliner'.

Advani's political calculation is to make himself acceptable to a broad stream of liberal opinion in the country.

Such an image could be very useful in the event of him taking the mantle of leadership of the National Democratic Alliance if the country heads for a mid-term poll.

Advani recently exhorted the party workers to prepare for a mid-term poll in the country.

Advani's move is a major gamble. It is far from clear how his turnaround on the nuclear deal will be received within his party and the RSS.

Advani can always take the plea within his party that his statement queers the pitch for the ongoing negotiations between the Congress and the Left which are at a delicate point.

A senior BJP leader explained that Advani could have estimated that his statement would prompt the Left to harden its stance, which, in turn, would pave the way for the UPA government's fall precipitating an early poll.

Of course, Advani's visceral hostility toward the Communists is legion, and he cannot be expected to lie low at the sight of the Left parties calling the shots on the country's political scene. He knows he will get the backers too.

In tangible terms, though, Advani's proposal for an Indian counterpart to the Hyde Act doesn't qualitatively change the American side's capacity to abide by their legislation.

At best an Indian legislation can guide the government in New Delhi. Obviously, it cannot be of any consequence for the US Congress which has legislated the Hyde Act and is insisting on its strict observance.

On balance, therefore, Advani's complicated motives in making such a proposal must be seen as emanating out of domestic political calculations rather than as an initiative aimed at actually chartering a course for India to proceed with the nuclear deal.

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