INDIA’S RULING coalition came perilously close to losing a July 22 confidence motion in parliament as the result of a proposed U.S.-India nuclear treaty.
The crisis began as a result of a falling out between the ruling coalition, the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on the one hand, and its supporters in the Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), on the other.
At issue was a proposal known as the 123 Agreement. Under this U.S.-backed deal, India would be granted an exemption under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to allow it to openly procure nuclear technology, fuel, know-how and infrastructure from the countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group to pursue its civilian energy needs. This would then bring the Indian civilian nuclear program under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations and safeguards.
For several months, the left had put up a vigorous parliamentary opposition to the 123 Agreement. While the UPA insisted that signing the 123 Agreement was necessary to address India’s energy needs, the left correctly pointed out that nuclear technology cannot make more than a dent in India’s energy requirements for the foreseeable future. They also argued, rightly again, that the deal is simply the latest step in a series of measures designed to create a U.S.-India strategic partnership.
Following this, the left might have argued that such a strategic alliance will only destabilize the region further, increase geopolitical tensions in this already-troubled region of the world and likely trigger an arms race that none of the peoples in this region can afford. It could have used the debate on the nuclear deal to educate the public about working-class internationalism in the face of the Indian state’s alliance with the U.S. Instead, however, the left argued that such a strategic alliance would “undermine India’s sovereignty.”
Ideologically, this was a weak populist argument that held little weight.