Days after unveiling a Budget filled with loan waivers and tax breaks for voters, India’s ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) said it is not giving up on a troubled India-US nuclear deal that has faced stiff opposition from Left parties which are key to the government’s very survival.
“We are currently engaged in negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to arrive at an agreed text of an India-specific safeguards agreement,” external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha. “The conclusion of such an agreement will enable the Nuclear Suppliers Group to amend its guidelines for civil nuclear commerce in favour of India. This will open the door to civil nuclear cooperation with various countries, including Russia, USA, France, UK, with many of whom the necessary enabling bilateral agreements for such trade have been discussed and are in various stages of finalization.”
As per a commitment given to the Left parties, which provide a critical outside support to the ruling alliance, the government needs to return to a 15-member panel on the nuclear deal after it reaches an agreement with IAEA over an India-specific safeguards agreement.
Though Mukherjee said the government would continue to seek “broad political consensus within the country,” couched in the pitch for multilateral cooperation was an unmistakable message that the Congress was determined to follow its own timetable.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, responded swiftly, saying in a statement: “There is no political consensus and hence it should not proceed further with the agreement.”
But, “if you consider Pranab Mukherjee’s statement in conjunction with the populist Budget presented by this government, it is clear that the government is reconciled to fighting elections after signing the nuclear deal, and that the elections are round the corner,” predicted Bidyut Chakrabarty, who heads the department of political science at Delhi University.
Sitaram Yechury, a Rajya Sabha member of the CPM, said the Left parties stood by their stated position that the government should not proceed with operationalizing the agreement.
As a flurry of US officials have been reminding the government over the past weeks, though, India has time only till the middle of the year to conclude the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group before getting it ratified by the US Congress.
(Pragya Singh contributed to this story.)