New Delhi: The four-year-old, often uneasy journey of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, and India’s Left parties appears to have reached a final fork in the road as both sides failed to agree on moving ahead with the high-stakes India-US nuclear deal.
A crucial Wednesday meeting between the Congress and the Left over approaching the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, failed to break the deadlock.
While UPA has avoided a decisive confrontation and bought time to try and put together alternative support, positions on both sides seemed to have only hardened.
Union minister T.R. Baalu, according to a person who was at the meeting, asked the Left to “compromise”, suggesting that the government may not be ready to back down as yet.
Though both sides said they will resume their discussion in “due course”, it was apparent that the only way forward on the deal for UPA, if it so chooses, would be to break entirely with the Left and perhaps reach an agreement with the Samajwadi Party, or SP, which has 39 MPs in the Lok Sabha and could prop up the government if the Left pulls its support. If the Left, which has 59 Lok Sabha seats, does pull the rug, the UPA will be left with 228 members in the Lok Sabha on its own, whereas it needs 272 to stay in power.
Senior Congress leaders were meeting on Wednesday night to evaluate options. But with no clear signal emerging from the SP, which is also under pressure from the Left parties to not support the deal, the Congress-led government doesn’t have an automatic non-Left Plan B. Allies wary of early national polls, such as Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal, while saying they support the government’s views on the nuclear deal, sought to broker a compromise with the Left.
Expectations are that each side would firm up their respective positions over the next week, when a spate of internal meetings of various political parties have been scheduled to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Left, who did not wish to be identified, claim it is ready to go to polls and has convened meetings of its main decision-making bodies to discuss the next course of action.
While the Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo will meet here on 29 June, the CPI’s national secretariat is scheduled to be held in the first week of July. The central secretariat of the All India Forward Bloc will also meet here on 3 July. According to a senior Left leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, there was also consensus among the Left parties that they could wait no later than 5 July, two days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to attend the G8 Summit in Japan, by which time the government had hoped to clinch an in-principle consensus on the deal.
The so-called third front, the United National Progressive Alliance, of which SP is the lead, is also scheduled to meet on 3 July. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party heads the other coalition, the National Democratic Alliance.
At Wednesday’s meeting, described by a person who attended it as “volatile”, the Left parties reiterated their position in a three-page document and ruled out any support for the government’s proposal to approach IAEA for approving the India-specific safeguards, which have already been negotiated by India but not formally approved by the IAEA board. The Indian government has set a deadline of 15 July.
According to a participant in the meeting, who didn’t want to be identified, UPA did not present a counter-proposal to the Left nor even discuss going to IAEA. Earlier in the day, top Left leaders met on their own and decided to reject the government’s compromise formula, which would have allowed the government to finalize the safeguards agreement at IAEA. but not go ahead with the deal.
PTI contributed to this story.