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Has the Left overplayed its hand?
B S Raghavan
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July 07, 2008

The Left had never had it so good as when it was extending outside support to the United Progressive Alliance government. It used to good purpose its political clout acquired by virtue of its numerical strength (60) in the Lok Sabha and carried out the quadruple functions of storm-signal, sounding board, moderator and prompter of deeper reflection on serious issues impinging on teh national interest. By and large, the government as well as the nation benefited from the 'pause and reflect' button that the Left pressed from time to time.

There were, of course, sections of opinion which believed that the Left can do no right and that it was swayed by considerations antithetical to India's ultimate interest. It may well be that at one time India's Left ideologues regarded the Soviet Union and China as models for emulation. However, any person who has dispassionately studied the Left's stand on national and international issues since the mid-1960s, is bound to be impressed by its sensible approach reflective of its concern for the national interest. The strongest suit of the Left is the austere lifestyle of most of its members, in contrast to the five-star ostentation of members of the other parties.

On the nuclear deal, the Left parties have, from the very beginning, been the one political combine that had been far-seeing in alerting the UPA government about its hidden booby-traps. They have been right in their reading of the Hyde Act as a possible future source of trouble for the functional autonomy of the government in respect of its strategic atomic energy development programme and the exercise of its sovereign powers in the internal and external affairs. The government had been not only wrong but had unbecomingly continued to resort to casuistry in feeding the people with misleading hogwash, such as the Hyde Act being a US domestic legislation and having nothing to do with the 123 Agreement.

Sadly, though, the fatigue of the protracted course of the discussions between the UPA and the Left parties for more than a year seems to have left them flustered, resulting in a series of moves on their part that are not in consonance with either their own, or the country's, interest. One credited them with enough political savvy to recognise that this was precisely the time for them to show patience without seeming to tighten the screws on the government beyond endurance.

Doors slammed shut

Particularly in a situation made alarming by inflation with the added threat of sky-rocketing oil prices eating into economic gains and reversing the progress so far made, it was not wise for the Left to look like pulling the rug from under the feet of the government on an issue that was not only outlandish (as far as the people at large are concerned) but had been simmering for four years. The Left also breached the cardinal principle of the art and science of negotiations by slamming the doors shut without an escape latch for keeping parleys going.

For instance, it could have justifiably asked for full details of the India-specific safeguards worked out with the International Atomic Energy Agency and time to examine them. Or, it could have asked the government to secure an undertaking from the US that it would desist from invoking the objectionable provisions of the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement. Nobody would have faulted it if these steps put off operationalising of the deal and getting the US Congressional approval for the 123 Agreement. All the confusion, political instability and economic backsliding could have been avoided.

I reliably learn that former West Bengal chief minister and veteran Left leader Jyoti Basu has been quite unhappy over the turn of events, and he would have preferred the Left to have kept its cool and not let the political adversaries carry their war into its camp.

Ignoring his sage advice, the Left under the stewardship of the impulsive and inexperienced Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechuri and the like has overplayed its hand and needlessly thrown the nation into turmoil, besides finding itself outmanoeuvred.

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