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Why the UPA wants to delay the monsoon session
M K Bhadrakumar
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August 06, 2008
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi couldn't possibly have meant that the United Progressive Alliance government was deferring the monsoon session of Parliament since it didn't want to be 'distracted' from its resolve to remain focused on Jammu and Kashmir [Images].

The honourable minister belongs to a rare, near-extinct breed of Congressmen with strong democratic credentials in grassroots politics. His own well-honed political instincts as a mass leader would have, arguably, militated against making even a remote suggestion that anything could be more important in governance than the business of the Indian Parliament.

Yet he made such a statement. That is why his statement hopelessly stretches credulity.

The widespread temptation is to interpret the government decision as borne out of an understandable shyness to face Parliament soon after the so-called 'cash-for-votes-scandal'. But, then, are we to assume that the shyness will dissipate by the second week of September?

Also, why the second week of September? Why not the first week of September or the last week of August? Conceivably, the deferment of the Parliament session to beyond the second week of September has more to do with the nuclear deal with the United States than the alienation of Kashmiris or the wheeling and dealing by the UPA and its allies.

Look at the calendar. All indications are that the US administration is piloting the nuclear deal through the Nuclear Supply Group with great fastidiousness.

US Ambassador to India David Mulford has said Washington is 'very heavily engaged' in the matter and a 'major diplomatic offensive at all levels' is under way. He further revealed that US President George W Bush [Images] and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] have taken a hands-on approach by personally spearheading the US diplomatic efforts.

Indeed, it is an extraordinary spectacle that a superpower would go to such great lengths.

Anyone familiar with world politics and the functioning of the international system would know that there is indeed a lot of weight when Bush and Rice would stake their fame and personally step into the ring. Its resonance will be felt far and wide.

However, once again, a lot of spin is being given by the Indian establishment and its mouthpieces in the media to dissimulate in front of the Indian public that the deal is still a touch-and-go affair. To add insult to injury, an impression is being created that the government is working hard and the process is far from on an 'auto-pilot'; that the government is resisting US pressures and is far from a 'junior partner'; and that nothing short of a 'clean and unconditional' NSG waiver will satisfy the government.

On the face of it, the government wants to appear that it is hell-bent to uphold India's enlightened national interests. It almost seems as if the government would rather let the deal fall by the wayside than compromise on a 'clean and unconditional' waiver from the NSG under US pressure.

Baloney. No matter the elaborate charade, the fact of the matter is that the successful voyage of the nuclear deal is a foregone conclusion. It is fairly well-known in the New Delhi [Images] grapevine that the administrations both in the US and India have already begun sorting out the downstream business of the nuclear deal.

In other words, powerful corporate houses in both countries have already waded substantially into the 'operationalisation' of the deal, discussing the nitty-gritty of the business contracts over the nuclear reactors and affiliated activities. Pork-barrel politics has also been in full display.

According to the media reports from Washington, the US administration has already drawn up a tight calendar to push for a vote on the nuclear deal in the US Congress on or around September 8.

The date has been carefully chosen on the basis of the certainty that the NSG, where Washington's willpower invariably prevails, is bound to accord its clearance for the deal at its forthcoming session in Vienna [Images] on August 21 -- though our spin doctors would have us sit nervously on the chair's edge, biting our nails in animated suspense about the NSG's choler and mood on that fateful day.

The US administration seems to have factored that by the time the Congress meets in early September, the dust would have settled on the Republican and Democratic Party conventions.

But there is still an imponderable. How would the US lawmakers react if by September 8, it transpires that the Indian government has been reduced to a minority status?

Clearly, there is a risk element here. If the Indian Parliament meets at this point and if it happens that in the highly charged political climate today, the government is seen as not having majority support on any of the highly divisive issues on its legislative calendar, then, the US administration will find itself on a spot.

To be sure, there is a probability that the US lawmakers may revolt against voting on the deal if the UPA government is seen as unable to command majority support in Parliament.

Middle-level American officials might say Washington cares two hoots if the government in New Delhi becomes a minority government or a caretaker government. But that isn't necessarily how responsible, cautious lawmakers on the Capitol Hill would view the paradigm.

All in all, an element of suspense bordering on uncertainty is bound to creep into the nuclear deal saga if the Indian parliament meets anytime during the month of August. Such an eventuality is to be avoided. Prudence demands that the Parliament session is convened sometime beyond September 8 or thereabout after the US Congress voting on the nuclear deal has already taken place.

The UPA leadership has done some smart thinking by deciding not to convene the monsoon session before the second week of September. The J&K situation provides a timely pretext.

In fact, sound democratic practice demands that Parliament could and should have been the appropriate forum to discuss the massive crisis unfolding in J&K. But the UPA government's political priorities are never in doubt.

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