The American non‐proliferation lobby opposes the nuclear deal, but George W. Bush has pressed forward with it nonetheless. President Bush has urged India to hasten on the next three steps of the deal so that it can be concluded during his term.
In India, the nuclear deal is opposed by the Left Front — four Marxist parties — whose support in Parliament is crucial for the ruling minority coalition, led by the Congress Party. The Left Front believes the deal will make India a junior partner in an American imperial endeavor, and will withdraw its support if the government goes ahead.
Three more steps are needed to conclude the deal. First, India must sign a nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Second, the U.S. must persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group — the six countries that control the global trade in nuclear goods — to waive existing sanctions against India. And third, the U.S. Congress must approve the already‐negotiated agreement, after which the Indian and American governments can sign it. The Bush Administration wants this to happen by July, after which the U.S. presidential campaign will make further discussions impossible.
The Indian government has worked out the text of a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, but worries that signing it would precipitate its ouster by the Left Front. Influential factions within the ruling Congress Party have ffavored signing the agreement anyway, risking an ouster, and going for an election in late 2008.
Under India’s Constitution, an ousted government would continue as a caretaker government until the next election. And U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said last month that the U.S. was prepared to sign a deal with any constituted government, including a caretaker. In other words, the nuclear deal could be completed even if the Left Front toppled the government.
The next general election is set for May 2009, but the budget crafted in February was intended to give Congress President Sonia Gandhi the option to hold it earlier. The highlight of the budget was the waiving of $15 billion worth of bank loans to perhaps 40 million farmers. Almost 60% of Indians earn their living from agriculture, so this populist gesture targeted the biggest vote bloc.