New Delhi: A day after setting the stage for a parting of ways over the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Left both sought to win over Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), which could hold the key to the survival of the four-year-old coalition government.
Yadav, who is currently in the Capital, but could not be reached for comment, has made it clear that the party would take a decision on which political formation it would back only after a meeting of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) on 3 July.
The SP is the leader of the UNPA, the so-called third front, and is seemingly inclined towards an alliance with the Congress.
PM Manmohan Singh had set a deadline of 15 July to get approval for India-specific safeguards from IAEA (Photo by: Aijaz Rahi/AP)
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set a deadline of 15 July to finalize an India-specific nuclear safeguards treaty with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
There is another deadline looming too: the Group of Eight (G-8) extended dialogue on 7-8 July, when Singh would be meeting US President George W. Bush as well as several other world leaders on the sidelines.
Government sources said the Prime Minister was clear that a decision on the deal with IAEA would have to be taken “one way or another”, before he travels to Tokyo to participate in some meetings of the G-8, to which developing nations such as India, Brazil, China, South Africa and Mexico have also been invited.
“Naturally”, a government source said, “they will ask him about the status of the nuclear deal. He wants to give them an answer,” the source added.The source said the Prime Minister would definitely attend the G-8 dialogue.
As the impasse dragged on, Congress leaders, including several cabinet ministers in the UPA government, went into a huddle Thursday night to review the situation.
Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, leader Sitaram Yechury met external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and is understood to have discussed whether a way out of the logjam could be still be found. However, he refused to speak to reporters about his discussions with Mukherjee.
The Left had made it clear at the Left-UPA coordination committee meeting on Wednesday that it would withdraw support if the government proceeded with the next step on the nuclear deal by taking it to IAEA.
While the government is seeking to forge an alliance with the SP to survive, the Left is approaching the SP as part of a potentially larger alliance to explore an alternative political configuration that could take shape ahead of the next general elections.
If the UPA, which has 228 members in the Lok Sabha, manages to get the backing of the SP, with 39 members in the Lok Sabha, it can still survive in office even if the Left pulls out and yet abstains from voting on any no-confidence motion. The Left parties have 59 seats in the lower house of the Parliament.
An alliance with the SP could also help the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. “An alliance with the SP will definitely boost the Congress’ fortunes as well as SP’s in Uttar Pradesh,” says Rita Bahuguna Joshi, president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee.
State chief minister Mayawati (leader of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP) might support the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, after the next Lok Sabha polls, she said.
“The general mood among the Congress is not against an alliance with the SP, because no one wants L.K. Advani (BJP’s prime ministerial candidate) to be the prime minister,” Bahuguna added.
The inclusion of SP, either as a constituent or as an outside supporter, is likely to alter internal political dynamics of the UPA since it will displace Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, which has 24 Lok Sabha seats, as the largest grouping other then Congress.
Among other key constituents, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has 16 MPs and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has 11 seats.
According to Chennai-based political analyst and columnist V. Krishna Ananth, the inclusion of the SP in the UPA right now “will unsettle a few settled equations in the coalition”.
“But in a larger context, the question is whether the SP would want to align with the Congress at a time when the latter is on a weak wicket because of issues like inflation and is not even a force in Uttar Pradesh,” he added.
In the backdrop of political uncertainty, the BJP kicked off its preparations for the next Lok Sabha elections by releasing a list of six candidates. The preliminary list includes Advani (to contest from Gandhinagar), Navjyot Singh Sidhu (Amritsar), Vinod Khanna (Gurdaspur), Shripad Y. Naik (Panaji), Anurag Thakur (Hamirpur) and T.P.S. Rawat (Pauri).
The impasse has put in the shade the nuclear deal that is at the heart of the uncertainty.
Western diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “time was running out for India” to take a political call on the deal.
“Its not as if the world will wait for India to decide, whether the Congress party should go with the Left parties or break with them,” one western diplomat said.
According to the current scenario, if India goes ahead with the next step, it can present its IAEA-negotiated text to the IAEA board of governors at the end of July. Once that goes through, and the text is on the IAEA website, India will ask the US to take the agreement to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for a waiver.
Government sources said they hoped a waiver could be obtained by the 45-member NSG in August, so that by the time the US Congress returned from its recess in September, it could be sent there for deliberation.
Meanwhile, the Congress seems to be waiting for the return of NCP’s Pawar from London so that talks can take place again within the UPA.
A politburo meeting of the CPM is also going to take place on Sunday, where general secretary Prakash Karat’s line on withdrawal of support from the Congress-led UPA, if the deal is taken to the next stage, is expected to be confirmed.
Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu and PTI contributed to this story.