UPA looks to save deal, government

UPA looks to save deal, government
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First Published: Mon, Jun 23 2008. 12 24 AM IST

Sonia Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi
Updated: Mon, Jun 23 2008. 12 24 AM IST
New Delhi: The ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, on Sunday seemed to firm up its intent to go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal and may even request the US administration to waive the 90-day requirement normally needed to debate any piece of legislation before it can be presented to the US Congress for an “up-down” vote.
Sonia Gandhi
Political circles were also abuzz with talk of “compromise deals” being worked out independently by Sharad Pawar, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party and India’s agriculture minister, and M. Karunanidhi, leader of UPA-constituent Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. On Sunday, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, general secretary Prakash Karat and Communist Party of India leader D. Raja met Karunanidhi in Chennai. After the meeting Karat said he had asked Karunanidhi to “intervene since the government is adamant about going ahead with the nuclear deal”.
“I have asked the Left not to take any decision which will disrupt the Congress-Left alliance because it will only help the communal forces,” said Karunanidhi.
The Congress and the CPM-led Left Front also independently held discussions with various political parties in an effort to build common cause for a campaign should the UPA decide to go ahead with the deal — an event that will likely result in the Left Front withdrawing support to the government.
Analysts say that even if the UPA manages to cobble together enough support to stay in power if this happens, it will be a weaker and unstable force. This could, they add, have significant economic repercussions and affect the UPA’s ability to tackle inflation.
“The (economic) reforms are dead. Nothing has happened in the past two years. And in such a situation, nothing will happen till the elections... The UPA will be under even greater pressure to avoid reforms and stick to populist measures,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
UPA constituents other than the Congress that, until Saturday, were not particularly happy at the prospect of early elections which seemed likely if the Left Front pulled the support of its 59 members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, were in better spirits on Sunday after the Samajwadi Party, or SP, which has 39 members in the Lok Sabha, indicated that it was ready to back the UPA on the deal.
“We should go with the Congress and support the nuclear deal, just to keep the communal forces out,” said S. Bangarappa, SP leader and former Karnataka chief minister.
With support from the SP, the UPA will likely be able to remain a minority government if the Left Front withdraws support.
“We completely support the government on the issue of the nuke deal... If SP has indicated that it will extend its support to the government if the need arises, we welcome its decision,” said Ram Deo Bhandari, secretary general, Rashtriya Janata Dal.
The Congress was upbeat, too, despite the Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP, which has 17 Lok Sabha members, withdrawing support to the UPA on Saturday. “Our position on the deal has not changed. We want it, irrespective of what other parties think and are doing,” said Kapil Sibal, a Congress leader and the country’s science minister.
The UPA needs the support of 272 members of Parliament to stay in power. It has 287 including the support of the Left Front and excluding that of the BSP. On its own, the UPA has 228 members of Parliament.
Going ahead with the deal, however, will still not be easy, said Mehta.
According to Mehta, the two main hurdles in the way of the nuke deal will be securing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s, or IAEA’s, approval on the safeguards agreement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG) consensus, apart from time constraints given the US political cycle. “We do not know the character of IAEA special safeguards agreement and whether the board of governors will clear it. Next comes NSG, which works on consensus.
However, Australia and Scandinavian countries are reluctant to be on board till India signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” he said, adding that the deal would then have to go the US Congress for ratification. “These problems are not insurmountable but this, by no means, is a done deal,” Mehta said.
Diplomats involved in the discussions between India and the US said that the earliest the deal can be presented to the US Senate after its possible clearance by the IAEA board and by NSG is by September. However, with US elections due in November, the 123 Agreement (the name of the Indo-US nuclear deal) would have missed Congress’ 90-day deadline. These diplomats, who did not wish to be identified, added that the Indian government would make a formal request to the US after a final “political” call on going ahead with the deal is taken.
Both the Left Front and the BSP, meanwhile, said they were not averse to forging a relationship, following the SP’s tilt towards the Congress.
Analysts say everything depends on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
A major fallout of the deal (which is now perceived as being associated with the US) for the Congress and its allies, especially the SP, is a potential loss in the Muslim vote base. This is likely to alter political calculations, especially in Left Front strongholds such as Kerala where securing the Muslim vote is crucial to winning polls.
Panakkad Shihab Thangal, the Kerala chief of the Indian Union Muslim League, a powerful Congress ally, told a regional TV channel on Sunday that his party would “pull out” its representative in the Union government (minister of state for external affairs E. Ahamed) if the government went ahead with the deal.
The current political impasse will likely delay the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act’s target of eliminating the revenue deficit by 2009, disinvestment in the public sector, and key banking and insurance sector reforms. And should the SP ally with the UPA, the women’s reservation Bill and the unorganized sector workers’ social security Bill, which the party is against, will likely be put on the back burner.
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First Published: Mon, Jun 23 2008. 12 24 AM IST