New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s strategy of de-linking the political process of securing support for the Indo-US nuclear deal at home, from the technical process of having the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, approve India-specific nuclear safeguards, has allowed him to move forward the deal, but put his government in a difficult situation.
The government which allowed IAEA to circulate the draft text to its board of governors on Wednesday, the very day that the Left Front withdrew suppport to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, has come under severe criticism from opposition parties.
Even as the government sought to defuse the crisis, it has begun work to shore up its numbers ahead of the trust vote that it proposes to seek in Parliament. On Thursday night Prime Minister Singh met with President Pratibha Patil and said his government would seek a vote of confidence. He said the date of this would be communicated to her by Friday evening.
The core group of the Congress party, including Singh and party chief Sonia Gandhi, met ahead of the Prime Minister’s meeting with the President and called a meeting of all UPA allies on Friday.
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While the UPA has lost the support of the Left Front’s 59 representatives in the Lok Sabha, it has found a new ally, the Samajwadi Party (SP), which has 39 representatives.
But, as reported by Mint on Wednesday, not all 39 may be willing to support the UPA. A senior member of the SP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while there were four dissidents, three were planning to defect to the Congress and would support the government.
The UPA has 228 members in the Lok Sabha. If it manages to secure the support of 38 representatives of the SP, and the three members each of two allies-in-the-making, the Janata Dal (S) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, it will end up with a count of 272, the number required to win a trust vote.
While the government’s situation on the domestic front is shaky, it seems to be on a roll on the international front.
The concluding summary of the meeting in Japan of the Group of Eight developed countries, or G-8, noted that the group would assist in taking the process (the nuclear deal) forward and help India forge nuclear cooperation relationships with other countries without violating the non-proliferation regime. The reference, a government official said on the condition of anonymity, was inserted at the behest of the US.
It is likely that the government may have moved IAEA even before the Left formally withdrew support at 12 noon Wednesday. India’s foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon declined comment on this early Thursday morning, soon after the Prime Minister’s entourage touched down from Japan. If the government had moved IAEA before 12 noon on Wednesday, it means it went ahead when it still enjoyed majority. It will likely try and prove its majority before IAEA discusses the agreement.
De-linking move: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. (AP)
A person familiar with the developments who did not wish to be identified, said that the in-principle decision to inform IAEA was taken on 8 July, the day the Left Front decided to withdraw support.
“... No government should do this, least of all a minority government,” said the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani.
Arun Shourie, a Rajya Sabha member of the BJP, said that while the Prime Minister had assured Parliament that research and development institutions would not come under IAEA’s purview, the safeguards agreement, displayed on the ministry of external affairs website, pointed to the contrary. However, Anil Kakodkar, chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, India’s apex decision-making authority on nuclear issues, maintained that safeguards applied only to civilian nuclear facilities.
The appearance of the agreement on the website itself was a surprise because the government had claimed as late as Wednesday that this was “classified”. “IAEA de-restricted the draft text, so we are at liberty to release it now,” said Veerappa Moily, head of Congress’ media cell.
Meanwhile, the Left Front, said it will “make it politically impossible for the government to go ahead with the deal”.
Jyoti Malhotra, Ashish Sharma, Jacob Koshy of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.