New Delhi: Both the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left on Thursday demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government quit, stepping up their offensive over revelations that the US would reserve the right to stop nuclear commerce with India if the latter tests an atomic device after a landmark bilateral deal takes effect.
The calls came as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) met in Vienna to discuss the civilian nuclear accord that would ensure India’s entry into the restricted market for atomic fuel and technology, denied to the country over its previous nuclear tests.
“The Manmohan Singh government has no business to continue in office and should leave immediately,” BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said.
He said the Prime Minister had breached the privilege of both houses of Parliament by misleading them over the nuclear deal and demanded that the legislature be convened “within the shortest possible time” to enable the BJP to press a privilege motion against Singh.
Singh had told the Parliament on 17 August 2007 that the Indo-US civilian nuclear accord would not in any way impinge on India’s right to conduct future nuclear tests, should they be necessary.
United we stand: (L to R) A file photo of Revolutionary Socialist Party president T.J. Chandrachoodan, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan and Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas after a meeting with President Prathiba Patil in New Delhi on 9 July. Karat said on Thursday that the Left and other parties, who were together on the nuke deal issue, would meet Patil to seek an immediate session of Parliament to pull up the UPA. Arvind Yadav / Hindustan Times
The Parliament is scheduled to begin a month-long session on 17 October.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the US has the right to immediately stop nuclear commerce with India if the latter conducts an atomic test after the bilateral deal comes into effect.
The newspaper quoted a letter written on 16 January by the state department to Tom Lantos, the then head of the US Congress House Committee on Foreign Affairs, that was leaked to the Post by his successor Howard L. Berman. Lantos has since died.
“As usual, we have to get information about the real facts of the Indo-US nuclear deal from the United States,” said Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM. “Our government has been lying to Parliament and the people about the contents of the deal. The only option now left for the government is to resign and the Prime Minister should quit.”
Karat said the Left and other parties that were together on the issue would meet President Pratibha Patil soon, perhaps as early as Saturday, to seek an immediate session of the Parliament. “The monsoon session should be called immediately and then the regular winter session should be held,” Karat added.
The Left withdrew support to the Congress party-led ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in July over the government’s resolve to push ahead with the nuclear deal.
As the opposition stepped up its attacks, the UPA maintained a posture of unity.
“I don’t see the possibilities of cracks in the alliance, especially just ahead of the elections,” said a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which is a member of the ruling alliance.
The NCP leader spoke on condition that he not be named.
Elections are to be held in six states, including Jammu and Kashmir, by this year-end before parliamentary polls take place by May 2009.
“This is unlikely to hurt the alliance,” said another leader of a UPA ally, also on condition of anonymity.
Some leaders of the Congress party admitted that the disclosure may mar the image of the Prime Minister, given his assurances to the Parliament that the deal with the US wouldn’t affect the country’s right to conduct nuclear weapons tests.
“It is clear that the BJP and the Left will now target the Prime Minister for what they called misleading the Indian Parliament and the nation,” said a Congress leader, asking not to be named. “It will definitely damage his image.”
D. Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India, said an individual’s integrity was not an issue.
“What is the Prime Minister’s image? It is about the government’s image,” he said. “And this government has completely misrepresented facts and has misled the entire nation.”
Political analyst Prem Shankar Jha said the leak of the letter, on the eve of the crucial NSG meeting, appeared designed to provoke India into withdrawing from the nuclear agreement.
“All our active and potential enemies will be delighted at it,” said Jha. “The difference between the Prime Minister and those who attacked him is that his statement was based on the assumption that India will honour its international commitment of non-proliferation, except in circumstances that we cannot foresee at present.”
Jha added: “His (Singh’s) opponents hope that India will have to resume testing at some point. The right to test is irrespective of whether we are signing the deal. We would have to face exactly the same sanctions even if we do not test (nuclear weapons).”
Congress party leaders downplayed the Post’s report. “It is an internal communication among the US congressmen. We are not going to be bound by that. The Indian government does not have anything to do with that,” B.K. Hariprasad, a senior Congress leader, said. “The government will stand by its commitments given to Parliament.”
But a Congress minister, who did not want to be named, said the Prime Minister had never claimed that the US had accepted India’s right to conduct a nuclear test. “It is known to everyone that NSG countries would stop nuke trade if such a development takes place,” this minister said.
NSG, which consists of countries with nuclear fuel and technology, has to decide whether to ratify the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Its approval will allow India’s re-entry into international nuclear commerce.
Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu also contributed to this story.