India at an impasse over civilian nuclear deal
Communists oppose the pact with the US, which would give India access to nuclear fuel and technology, threatening to bring down the government.
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Some analysts argue that time for the nuclear deal may have already run out.Skip to next paragraph
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Even before Congress approves the deal, it needs clearances by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Last month, US Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the deal was unlikely to be approved during Bush's term.
"There is no time left now," says Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. "If the prime minister wants to get the deal completed he has no time left."
Because the deal would give India access to US nuclear fuel and technology, it is widely seen as advantageous to India and brokering it is regarded as a great achievement for Singh.
The deal would also engender closer ties between New Delhi and Washington and enhance India's international prestige. Reneging on the deal, many say, will have the opposite effect.
For a government that has faced a string of setbacks in recent weeks, risking early elections has, so far, proved too much of a risk.
Food crisis compounds impasse
On Tuesday night, India's central bank unexpectedly increased interest rates for the second time in two weeks.
Last week, a key government ally, a charismatic Dalit politician known as Mayawati, withdrew her support for the government because of a concern over rising food prices.
Not only was this the party's ninth loss in the 11 state elections held since January 2007, it was also the first time the Hindu nationalist BJP – traditionally a party of the north – had won in South India.
Analysts say, however, that deferring decisive action on the nuclear deal will not make it any less painful when the time comes.
The communists are adamant they will not allow the deal to go ahead while they are supporting the government.
Either Singh must go it alone, and risk early elections, or give up what he appears to have staked his legacy on, if he hasn't done so already.
The leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, has a third option, says Professor Chellaney: "to replace Manmohan Singh with a new leader. But it doesn't have a fourth option."