Neither side blinked in the staring contest between the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and the Left Front that supports it, over the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.
Even as the government continued to defend the so-called 123 Agreement, the four-party Left Front issued a statement on Monday rejecting the “setting up of a committee or any other mechanism which can go into the objections regarding the agreement...” until the government decides against “taking the next step of negotiations for the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”
The UPA had suggested the creation of a panel to address the concerns of the Left parties at a meeting on Sunday.
Abani Roy, leader of Left Front constituent Revolutionary Socialist Party in the Rajya Sabha, said, “the UPA’s days are coming.”
India’s Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar is scheduled to attend the 51st annual general conference of the IAEA in Vienna next month.
“The bedrock of this government has been the relationship between the Congress and the Left parties. But now there is a qualitative shift,” said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. “The UPA is in danger of becoming an ineffective government, worrying only about its survival. The countdown has begun,” he added.
Despite sustained pressure from the Left parties, however, the government did not back off. Speaking at a public event, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that “nuclear energy and solar energy can play an important role addressing our energy security needs. Our government is committed to the development of nuclear energy.”
Minister for science and technology Kapil Sibal said the government was ready for a debate in Parliament on 27 August. “We are very sure the concerns of the Left parties can be addressed. They don’t want us to go ahead with operationalizing the agreement. It won’t be operationalized in any case until the US Congress approves it. And that can happen only after the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) endorses it. So we are probably talking about late 2008.”
Foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon said the government would discuss civil nuclear cooperation, among other issues, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will be in India on a three-day visit from Tuesday afternoon.
In the Rajya Sabha, chairman Hamid Ansari, the vice-president of India, rejected the Bharatiya Janata Party’s demand for a discussion on the nuclear pact under Rule 168, which entails voting, saying parliamentary approval is not necessary for an international treaty.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and the eight-party United National Progressive Alliance separately demanded the constitution of a parliamentary panel to study the nuclear pact. “This is not a family affair of the UPA and the Left,” said V.K. Malhotra, the BJP’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha. “It’s an issue that concerns the entire nation.”