Washington was so keen on a nuclear deal with India that its New Delhi Embassy worked to “put Sonia Gandhi in a box” by wooing the opposition BJP and breaking the coalition with the Left parties, an Embassy cable sent on May 16, 2008, (154231, confidential) has revealed.

Ambassador David C. Mulford reported on a “carefully timed” approach to BJP leader L.K. Advani that he made in early May 2008. He urged Advani to “exhibit statesmanship and either back the nuclear deal or withdraw opposition to it”.

In the cable, Mulford also scripted out a rationale that the BJP could use to present its volte-face. The “possible script” included the BJP agreeing that it was a “good” overall deal and that it was “in the larger national interest,” and the possible enactment of the BJP's own Hyde Act if and when it came to power.

A new BJP posture, Mr. Mulford knew, would put the UPA in a spot: “It would … put Sonia Gandhi in a box; if she goes ahead with the deal, her Communist allies would be livid, might pull out of the coalition and possibly not have anything to do with the Congress Party post-election. If she does not go ahead with the deal, she will be seen as having let India down when it faced a crucial choice in order to stay in power for just a few more months. If Sonia goes ahead with the deal, she can call the Communists' bluff secure in the knowledge the BJP is pro-deal.”

It appeared from the cable that Mr. Advani turned down the U.S. advances at this May 8 meeting, though Mulford was later informed by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon that Advani was “glad he came”. The Ambassador also called upon former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who informed him that “he too had met with Advani to seek a shift in the BJP leader's thinking.”

“Embassy,” an undeterred Mr. Mulford told superiors in Washington, “will keep reaching out to BJP opinion shapers to see if we can provoke a shift in the party that could bring the civil nuclear issue to a head by the end of May.”