Cashing on Coalitions: India PM Singh's Latest Challenge

As a result of the release of a recent WikiLeaks report and the Japanese earthquake, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is forced to revisit the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement.

In 2008, the Indian parliament put Singh under a vote of no confidence. The reason? He signed the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, which a large part of the ruling coalition in India did not support. Now here’s the thing about Indian politics; when we say ‘coalition,‘ we don’t mean a relatively simple and stable union, but rather a fairly volatile marriage of convenience. In 2008, the leading coalition in India, the United Progressive Alliance I (UPA-I), was made up of eighteen different political parties.

The UPA-I was created after the 2004 general elections in India. In 2009, the UPA was re-elected, but the structure of the coalition was reorganized into UPA-II. While the leading party in the UPA has always been Singh’s Congress party, ‘The Left‘ or various Communist parties in India occupied a large chunk of UPA-I. When PM Singh signed the agreement with President Bush, he did this with the support of the coalition, but with strong opposition from the Left.

Today, three years late,r the legitimacy of the agreement is once again in question, as a result of two key events. The first is the release of a set of diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks, which stated that the UPA-I had resorted to buying votes from various members of parliament. This was done to pass the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in the lok sabha (the lower house in the parliament) for the hefty price tag of approximately $ 2.5 million each. When the parliament met last week, the cash-for-votes scandal caused the leading opposition party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to demand the PM’s resignation. This incident was highly reminiscent of the 2008 vote of no confidence. The Congress has proceeded to deny having ever given any bribes, but India is skeptical.

If the WikiLeaks cables weren’t enough, the recent nuclear disaster in Fukushima, triggered by the massive earthquake in Japan, has added fuel to the fire. This second event revived issues about the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, leading many to question the policies of using nuclear energy, rather than non-renewable sources, to power India’s growth and constructing nuclear power plants in and around seismic zones.

This proves to be a true test for India’s PM, who is famously referred to as the ‘leader whom other leaders love.' It appears to be a time where the country is in need of true leadership and while PM Singh might be the right man to do it, he must rise to the occasion quickly. Perhaps, if India’s coalitions weren’t so unstable, the Congress would not have to waste as much time justifying actions in parliament and could focus on achieving results. While it is unlikely that the PM’s position is under immediate threat, it will be interesting to see how issues such as this one will impact him, the Congress, and the UPA-II in the future.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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Keya Madhvani

Keya recently graduated from Oxford where she got her MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy at St Antony’s College. Prior to that she completed her BA in Economics from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Her interests include South Asian politics, economics, power and security issues with a special focus on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. While she enjoys traveling to other countries and learning about other cultures, she loves living in Mumbai, her home and favorite city.

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