New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has turned down a request to meet Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, according to a person familiar with the development who did not wish to be identified—a move that underlines the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s ultra-cautious handling of its key ally the Left Front with which it is locked in a seeming impasse over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.
At Monday’s meeting of the UPA and the Left Front, neither side pushed hard to find a solution to the politically explosive issue. The UPA has articulated its intent to see the deal through, and the Left has said that this will mean it will withdraw support to the government. With 62 members of Parliament, the Left Front is crucial to the UPA’s survival. If the government signals to the US to take the deal to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the next stage of the process, the Left could withdraw support, thereby reducing the government to a minority.
Playing safe: External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee (right) along with CPI leader Sitaram Yechury speaking to the media after the UPA-Left Front meeting in New Delhi on Monday.
It would appear that the government has decided to postpone the moment of truth at least till the Budget is passed by Parliament.
Monday’s discussions, the seventh in the past six months between the UPA and the Left Front on the deal, lasted just over an hour. Both sides agreed to meet again in April, but no dates were announced.
UPA leaders verbally explained provisions of the draft agreement recently reached between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the nuclear deal, but did not give Left Front representatives a copy of this.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government had only presented the “outcome” of the talks with IAEA. “The members of the committee felt that further discussion was needed. It was decided to hold the next meeting in April 2008,” he added.
Leaders of the Left Front said they would study, consult experts and formulate their views. The Left Front will send a questionnaire to the UPA on the agreement reached with IAEA, and the government will respond to this before the April meeting, said a Left Front representative present at the meeting who did not wish to be identified.
Both sides would appear to be playing for time. Left leaders privately said that if it took the government “five months to arrive at this stage, then we will take five months and five days to get back with our views.” Meanwhile, the UPA is unlikely to do anything that can annoy the Left Front. Mukherjee’s statement that minority governments cannot and will not undertake major policy decisions, is part of this.
As is Gandhi’s refusal to meet Pelosi. Pelosi will have to be content meeting the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari.