Left parties sought to forge a consensus on Wednesday over whether to end support for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government over a controversial nuclear agreement with the United States.
The issue is the main item on the agenda of the central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), which began a two-day meeting to chart its strategy over its opposition to the civilian nuclear energy deal.
The CPI(M) is the largest of four leftist parties supporting the minority government from outside—they have a total 60 of the lower chamber’s 545 seats—and their stance has triggered Singh’s worst political crisis since he came to power in 2004, threatening to topple his government and prompt early elections.
Asked if the Left parties would force elections ahead of regularly scheduled 2009 polls, senior Communist leader Biman Bose said: “That is what we are here trying to discuss.”
Other leaders said the ball was in the court of the ruling Congress party, and it was for the government to decide whether to give in to the Communists and put the nuclear deal on hold or pursue it and risk early elections.
Hours after the Communist meeting started, Singh sought Japan’s support at the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group whose unanimous approval is necessary for the deal to go through, indicating the government was keen to pursue it.
“My sincere hope is that when the matter comes forth to the Nuclear Suppliers Group we will have the support of the Japanese government,” Singh said at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New Delhi.
The Left has asked the government not to go ahead with negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) next month to conclude a key safeguards agreement until all its concerns are addressed.
It has warned the government of “serious consequences” if it went ahead.
At the CPI(M) meeting, indications were that the left would not soften their line.
“If they go ahead with the deal, they will face the consequences, whatever they are,” a senior central committee member said, on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak while the meeting was on.
The deal will allow India to buy nuclear fuel and reactors from the US—and eventually other countries—even though it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has tested nuclear weapons.
But the Left parties, as well as the opposition Hindu nationalists, say it compromises India’s sovereignty, with the left parties also saying it imposes American hegemony.
While the Left and the ruling Congress party are trying to resolve the crisis, they have made little progress, with Congress indicating it was not willing to relent.
Some CPI(M) leaders said the central committee was divided over whether it should end support and force early elections or find a face-saving way out of the confrontation.
Analysts say some Communists, particularly from their stronghold state of West Bengal, are not keen to face voters because of anger among farmers there over the state government’s move to take farmland for industries.
“We don’t want elections immediately but the ball is in the government’s court,” said a senior leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“What is more important? India’s international image or the wishes of the Indian people?” the leader asked, referring to criticism that going back on the pact would hurt New Delhi’s international standing.