New Delhi: The surge in inflation has stymied new plans by the ruling Congress party to push through the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal despite opposition from the Left parties who, once again, reiterated their threat of withdrawing support over the issue.
In a day of hectic political activity, the mood in the Congress party, struggling to address the political fallout of the sustained rise in inflation, was less upbeat as compared to Thursday when some leaders were talking tough.
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Significantly, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi didn’t go near the issue as she launched the party’s poll campaign in Madhya Pradesh on Friday.
Meanwhile, some of the United Progressive Alliance constituents have again become uneasy about a potential late-2008 elections rather than the scheduled early 2009 one. Sharad Pawar, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party which is a key ally of the Congress-led UPA government, met Prakash Karat, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary, and later made a case for moderation arguing that the “concerns” of various allies should be addressed in deciding the nuclear deal timetable.
Similarly, Ram Deo Bhandari, secretary general of Rashtriya Janata Dal said his party hopes that the government and Left would reach some understanding. “We want elections to be held on time. Talks with the Left are on and everyone has their own strategy. In politics, talking always leads to some understanding.” A Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam member said his party “will be with the UPA, but things will be clear only in a day or two”.
For now, the Left isn’t backing down. In fact, Karat, after warning the government against proceeding with the deal in the morning at a public function, reiterated his stand at a late evening meeting with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. Mukherjee also held talks with CPI National secretary D Raja, and said: “These is no improvement or deterioration in the situation.”
With chances of the deal surviving ebbing as more time goes by, the risks are rising, especially for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has doggedly pushed for the deal.
The Congress is still striving for some compromise to avoid a confrontation, saying it will proceed with the deal only with the Left’s consent. “Every step of the nuclear deal has happened only with the consent of the Left. That is why we have a meeting on 25 June. We will try our best to convince the Left and then proceed,” said Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed.
His stance was distinctly more moderate compared to Thursday when Congress party media cell chairman Veerappa Moily bravely predicted: “The deal will happen.”
Not upbeat: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (AP)
The Left parties attacked the government for what it believed to be misplaced priorities. “Instead of controlling inflation, the UPA government is giving priority to the Indo-US nuclear civilian deal. This is totally wrong as the Centre is ignoring the issues and problems of the people,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said.
Not willing to be left behind, the BJP, on its part, dared the Left to withdraw support on the nuke deal. “We do not expect Left to withdraw support from the government on the nuclear-deal,” BJP president Rajnath Singh said, adding, “They have tasted power for the last four years and it is difficult for them to abandon it on an issue.”
A Congress leader close to the discussions said the government had used a “back-channel,” in the form of old trusted friends in the Left Front, CPM leader Jyoti Basu and West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, to send Karat a message in the hope that he would relent and “allow a compromise.”
The outlines of the bargain allowed the Centre to go ahead to the IAEA Board of Governors for clearing the deal (a meeting of the IAEA Board is taking place in end-July), as well as to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. After this, the government would be ready to come back and get a “sense of the House”, which included the Left parties, on whether or not to take the deal to its third and final stage, that is to the US Congress. “We had hoped through the back-channel that something would happen before the June 18 meeting between the UPA and Left, but this was a false hope,” the Congress leader said.
Mint’s Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu and Jyoti Malhotra, and PTI contributed to the story.