New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s decision to push ahead with the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal is the reason behind the party’s new-found aggression in dealing with opposition to the agreement, according to a person on the front lines of the discussion between India and the US.
A meeting between the Congress and its key ally, the Left Front, was due to have taken place on Wednesday, but was postponed due to ongoing differences. The person involved in the discussions said it was called off at Gandhi’s behest.
On Thursday, even as other constituents of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government came out in favour of the deal, the Congress and the Left Front hardened their respective positions.
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The person involved in the discussions and a Western diplomat (both of them did not wish to be identified) said that India’s renewed efforts to get the deal through have to do with the fact that there is a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late July and that the US Congress reconvenes in September.
The text of the agreement has to be cleared by IAEA formally (India and IAEA have already informally agreed on the contents) before being presented to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The person involved in the talks had earlier told Mint that Democrat nominee in the US presidential elections Barack Obama had previously articulated his opposition to the deal, making it imperative for India to complete the deal before the US elections.
On Thursday, the Congress said it would press ahead with the deal, while the Left Front— comprising four Communist parties that support the government without being part of it—said it would reconsider its support should this happen.
It now looks like the Congress will make a final decision on the deal after 25 June, when it holds what is being billed as a final round of talks with the Left Front. Government officials, who asked not to be named, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi wanted to move forward on the deal before the G-8 (Group of Eight) summit on 7 July, when Singh will meet US President George W. Bush.
The government argues that the deal, which would give India access to the worldwide civilian nuclear energy trade even though it has not signed global non-proliferation pacts, is crucial for the country’s energy security.
“Governments come and go. Nuclear power is a requirement and assets must be created for our next generation,” said Union railway minister Lalu Prasad, the leader of UPA-constituent and Congress ally the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
“The deal will happen,” said M. Veerappa Moily, chairman of the Congress party’s media cell, without responding to a query on whether the party would push ahead with the deal even if the Left Front did not change its current stance.
“If they go ahead, we will have to reconsider our support,” Left Front leader Sitaram Yechury said.
Other allies also came out in favour of the deal. Kanimozhi, who prefers to go by one name, a Rajya Sabha member and daughter of M. Karunanidhi, chief of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, said the deal must happen, but with the consent of the Left Front. And D.P. Tripathi, spokesperson for another Congress ally the Nationalist Congress Party, said his party stood “by its commitment to the UPA...”.
Sudhakar Reddy, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, said the Left parties were yet to take a decision on the matter. “We are not interested in early elections. We, in fact, want the government to complete its full term. However, if it challenges us on the issue of the nuclear deal and refuses to take steps on crucial issues like the price rise, then we will be left with no option,” he added.
“It doesn’t make sense for the Congress to commit political hara-kiri by precipitating fresh elections,” said Subrata Mukherjee, a professor at the University of Delhi’s department of political science. “Thanks to inflation, among other issues, there is no guarantee that the Congress can come back to power. So, why relinquish power? How will the Congress explain (this) it to its own workers and allies, let alone the voters?”
AFP and PTI contributed to this story.