Manmohan's moment of glory

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might now sleep easy unless the excitement of a win in Vienna keeps him up. Friday night had been long, tense and restless as Singh retired late after the meeting of the NSG broke up without deciding on India’s waiver.Given his reticent nature, the PM was not overly exuberant when he met a cabinet colleague on Saturday afternoon after news came in that the resistance within the NSG had finally given away. “I hardly slept last night” was his quiet comment, an understatement indicating relief and satisfaction in equal measure. The cost of failure would have been high, and the PM was acutely aware of it. A cautious player, he had taken a gamble where he did not hold all the cards being critically dependent on the US to swing the NSG. A no-show at Vienna would have made Singh deeply vulnerable at home—a crash and burn scenario his detractors were eagerly anticipating.Sources close to the PM say that on his part, Singh covered all bases, personally speaking to the leaders of the NSG’s “hold out” nations over the past two days. There were reviews with senior officials like NSA M K Narayanan as India came under immense pressure to reconsider red lines it had drawn over issues like testing and curbs on tech transfers. Senior PMO aides monitoring the NSG debate switched off their office lights around 2.30 am on Saturday and the PM turned in wondering whether the decision to firmly signal that India would not bend on linking testing to cessation of nuclear trade would work. There really had been no choice, sources pointed out, after the embarrassing leak of the Bush administration’s letter to the US Congress.With a storm being whipped up over the unambiguous manner in which the US had made it clear that fuel guarantees will be inoperative in case India tests a nuclear device, there was no room for any concessions. Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement on Friday conveyed the message that a renewed nonproliferation pledge was all that NSG members could hope for from India. India’s positioning paid off along with a determined US, said MoS in PMO Prithviraj Chavan. “The deal is a big win for India and the PM. It is an acknowledgement of India’s impeccable non-proliferation record and our growing economic and strategic importance,” he said. He pointed out that the PM had simply never given up on the deal, convinced the opportunity must not be missed.Few would dispute the assertion about the centrality of Singh’s role. While the personal capital invested by US President George Bush was critical, it was the PM’s dogged pursuit that kept the deal alive. It was Singh alone in the Congress establishment who kept in discreet touch with Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh. Fortuitously for the PM, the SP lost the UP polls last May convincingly to Mayawati and Singh’s urgings sounded appealing to the SP leadership. While many Congressmen looked askance at the alliance given the history of animosity, Singh carried the day because of support for the nuclear deal from Rahul Gandhi. Congress’s heir apparent stoutly backed the proposal to jettison the Left, even stating that the deal was worth sacrificing the government.

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