By Dinesh C. Sharma
Sparks continue to fly over the Indian vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna on September 28. India's decision to go with the United States and European Union on the issue of referring Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations has been welcomed in the U.S., and predictably so.
But on the domestic front, the government has drawn severe criticism from its close allies -- the communist parties. While some criticism was expected because of the known anti-America stance of the leftist parties, holding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responsible for the action has raised eyebrows.
The left parties, on whose support Dr. Singh depends for survival, have launched scathing attacks on him for his supposedly pro-American stance.
What has added fuel to the fire are revelations in the media that India had assured the U.S. in July itself about its commitment to vote against Iran.
It was around this time that Dr. Singh was in Washington to sign the path-breaking nuclear deal with President George W. Bush. Newspaper reports, based on transcripts of the proceedings in the House International Relations Committee of the U.S. Congress, have claimed that the anti-Iran vote at IAEA was part of the “reciprocal” assurances given by India, in return for nuclear cooperation with the U.S.
Leading the tirade against Dr. Singh and his government is the leader of Marxist party, Prakash Karat. All along, he said, India had maintained that Iran should be allowed to develop nuclear technology while sticking to its international obligations and those under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, in his recent visit to Teheran, had reaffirmed this and stated that the issue should be resolved within the IAEA framework only.
So, the vote against Iran was an Indian U-turn taken under American pressure, Mr. Karat alleged.
“By voting with the U.S., India is becoming party to another infamous exercise in intimidation and coercion against a country with which it has friendly relations and vital energy stakes,” the Marxist party supremo said.
However, the Indian government has denied that the vote will have any impact on the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline and the recent deal on liquefied natural gas. The Iranian embassy's spokesperson in New Delhi has also said the pipeline and other energy deals with India will remain unaffected.
But independent observers feel that the pipeline deal may be in jeopardy because the U.S. had been opposed to it from the beginning itself. Dr. Singh himself expressed doubts about its financial viability during his visit to Washington in July. This surprised many, as it virtually put cold water on the ambitious energy plan. At that time, the statement, made on American soil, was also seen as part of the nuclear quid pro quo with the U.S.
The leftist parties have made it clear that they would like the Indian government to undo the damage caused by its vote.
They want India to state at the next board meeting of IAEA that Iran's is not a case fit for reference to the UN Security Council.
Taking the left's opposition seriously, the government has launched damage-control measures. In a note circulated among leftist parties, the government has tried to explain its position. It contends that India's support to the resolution at IAEA, despite its reservations, was to avoid a confrontation between Iran and Western countries and to buy some diplomatic space to hold negotiations in the intervening period.
But these parties maintain that India should have abstained and not voted in favor of the resolution.
It may be surprising to note that Dr. Singh is facing all the flak from his own allies, and the criticism from the main opposition party, Bhartiya Janata Party has been rather muted.
The BJP has pointed out to fringe issues like transparency. It said that the opposition was not consulted on this important issue, particularly when it involved a change in India's traditional stance of remaining non-aligned at international forums.
By asking the government to reverse its stand at the next IAEA meeting, the Marxists have made their intentions clear that they will continue to harp on this issue. Mr. Karat, secretary-general of the Marxist Communist Party, is a hardliner and capable of resorting to arm-twisting tactics.
The Singh government has had to put on hold disinvestments of state-owned companies, following sustained pressure from Mr. Karat's and other leftist parties. They are also opposed to opening up the retail sector to foreign direct investment. And this is holding back the government from going ahead with it. If Dr. Singh buckles under pressure from the left on the Iran issue, he may not be able to get the promised nuclear cooperation from the U.S.
Under the deal he signed with President Bush, reciprocity is key to steps like the lifting of sanctions against Indian defense and nuclear entities and support to join the international thermonuclear experiment, ITER.
In fact, a team from ITER is slated to visit next week to examine India's claim to join the international nuclear fusion experiment. Support of U.S. and its European allies is crucial for India to become part of ITER.
(Courtesy: Bangkok Post)