The Congress party, the dominant constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, and its partners in the coalition will, when they meet on Wednesday, try to broker a compromise with the Left Front that involves taking the contentious Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement to the International Atomic Energy Agency for “formal approval”, although the Left is unlikely to budge from its present position.
The Congress wants to go ahead with the deal, its partners in the government do so, too, but not at the risk of offending the Leftists, and the Left Front—four Communist parties that support the government without being part of it—are opposed to the deal.
A leader of the Left Front, who did not wish to be identified, said it would withdraw support should the government take the agreement to IAEA. The leader added that the Front would partner with anyone, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, to block the deal.
Left leaders Prakash Karat and D. Raja with Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi (Photo by: R. Senthi Kumar/PTI
The deal doesn’t require to be approved by Parliament, but should the UPA decide to go ahead with it, the Left Front will withdraw support and the government will likely have to prove its majority on the floor in a vote.
The UPA has 228 members in the Lok Sabha on its own and 287 counting the support of the Left Front. It needs 272 to stay in power.
The Left Front leader said its rigid stance rose from the fact that last year Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had assured the CPM, or the Communist Party of India (Marxist), chief Prakash Karat that if the Front allowed the government to carry out negotiations with IAEA and arrive at an “agreed” text, then the government would quietly shelve the deal.
It is this text that the government now wants to take back to IAEA for a formal approval that’s necessary before taking the deal to the next phase: an approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Taking the deal to IAEA for a formal approval, and then not going forward, is central to a compromise formula being worked out by Sharad Pawar, agriculture minister and leader of the Nationalist Congress Party. An NCP leader who did not wish to be identified said Pawar has offered to have this formula guaranteed by other leaders of the UPA constituents, such as M. Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Lalu Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
However, little is expected to come from Wednesday’s meeting and political analysts see things remaining in a state of flux for the next 10 days.
The United National Progressive Alliance, or UNPA, of which the Left and the Samajwadi Party are members, has scheduled a meeting on 3 July to discuss the deal. The CPM politburo, the party’s highest decision making authority, is scheduled to meet on 29 June.
It isn’t known if the Left Front will consider accepting another “guarantee”.
While some people familiar with the situation said that Gandhi had been meeting with leaders of other UPA constituents such as the RJD and DMK to get their support for a “written guarantee”, Left Front leaders, who did not wish to be identified, questioned the intent of going to IAEA at all if the government is looking to honour any commitment it now makes with the Left Front.
On Tuesday, some UPA constituents were still optimistic about bringing the Left around. Lok Janashakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who is also minister for chemicals, said: “We will convince them because everything can be resolved through discussions. They are our allies for the past four years.”
However, a senior Congress leader said it was unlikely the deal would proceed. “The deal is dead. We should have done this (tried to push hard for it) a year ago,” added this leader who did not wish to be identified. Meanwhile, an expert said that if the UPA and the Left Front decide on a compromise that involves going to the IAEA and no further, it would be a strategic loss for India.
“...even if the government goes only up to Vienna (IAEA headquarters) and does not proceed with the deal, it would be a useful strategic exercise since at least one step would be cleared in case we decide to renegotiate the deal in future.
However, politically, it just shows the vulnerability of India’s coalition government and makes India’s image questionable internationally...,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, security expert and former director of the Indian Defence Studies and Analyses.
On Tuesday, Mulayam Singh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party, which has 39 members in Parliament, arrived in the Capital. He said, “Everything will be decided after the meet on 3 July.”
PTI contributed to this story.