India's Congress-led coalition government and its political
opponents are wooing support ahead of a crucial confidence vote to be
held next week. As Anjana Pasricha reports, the vote was triggered by
deep political divisions over a controversial civilian nuclear deal
with the United States.
When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh decided, earlier this month, to move forward with a civilian
nuclear pact signed with the United States, he had to put the survival
of his government at stake. If concluded, the pact will give India
access to global nuclear commerce from which it has been shut out for
decades, because it has not signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
strong political opposition to the pact has reduced Mr. Singh's
government to a minority, prompting him to seek a confidence vote in a
two-day session of parliament, starting Monday.
front-line of those opposing the pact are Communist parties, who have
pulled back support to the Congress-led coalition. They are vowing to
do all they can to ensure the government will be defeated and forced to
shelve the nuclear deal.
Analysts say that, for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the nuclear pact is important enough to risk his government.
political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says the prime minister sees the
deal as the showpiece achievement of his tenure, putting India in a
select group of nations that have a nuclear weapons program, and access
to nuclear commerce.
"He sees it as important, in terms of
bringing India into that international comity of nations, that trade in
nuclear materials and technology," he said. "India is not been part of
that trade. Further, and this is significant, Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, sees a strategic partnership with the U.S. as essential to India
[long term interest]."
But Communist parties accuse the prime
minister of putting Washington's interests before that of his own
people and say the pact will give the United States too much leverage
on India's foreign and nuclear policy.
The head of the
Communist Party of India (Marxist), Prakash Karat, says the government
is spending all its energy on sealing the nuclear deal, at a time when
its priority should be to fight runaway inflation and poverty.
says his party will never agree to become a "junior partner of the
United States". He says the government is devising policies to promote
American interests in India.
As the vote looms ahead, unlikely
political alliances are being lined up in New Delhi, because the
outcome of the vote will hinge on small political groups who have not
yet decided which side to support.
The Communists and the main
opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are usually on
opposite sides of the political spectrum. However, this time, both are
trying to influence undecided members of parliament to vote against the
The Congress Party, on its part, has lined up a new
ally, a former rival called the Samajwadi Party, to make-up for the
loss of the Communists. But the Samajwadi Party, alone, cannot take
the government past the half-way mark in the 545 member lower house of
parliament. The leadership is in talks with small groups to enlist
Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says political deals are likely to be made with the small parties, ahead of the vote.
government is on tenterhooks," he said. "So, incidentally, are the
opponents of the government. There are political agreements to be
struck. Some of the smaller parties do have rather important platforms
of their own. One for them, for instance, wants a smaller state.
Another believes ethanol ought to be subsidized."
opponents of the Congress Party are accusing the it of bending
backwards to accommodate demands from smaller groups - accusations
Congress strongly denies.
The Congress Party says it is
confident of winning the vote, but appears prepared for the unexpected.
Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi says the nuclear deal is
an "exceptional deal" for the country.
"When you are convinced
that something is in the interest of the country, numbers don't
matter," he said. "We are going to win the vote, but, even if we don't,
it does not matter, because the decision [deal] is in the interests of
A victory for the government will mean it can
seek approvals from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the
Nuclear Suppliers Group so that the deal can then go the U.S. Congress
for approval. A defeat will mean early elections for India and a period
of political uncertainty.