The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) took a big step towards defusing the crisis caused by their allies, the Left, by agreeing to set up a committee to examine their concerns on the India-US nuclear agreement and by stating that “operationalization of the deal will take into account the committee’s findings”.
“Both the Left and the UPA have stepped back from the brink,” said political affairs analyst Mahesh Rangarajan, “This mechanism gives the government some breathing space as the Left has decided not to withdraw support. The government, in turn, has agreed to take the Left concerns on board.”
The four-party Left Front, which provides critical outside support to the government, had refused to agree to a joint panel unless the government gave a firm commitment that it would not proceed further with operationalizing the deal.
Reading from a prepared text, external affairs minister and the government’s chief negotiator with the Left parties, Pranab Mukherjee, said, “The committee will look into certain aspects of the bilateral agreement; the implications of the Hyde Act on the 123 Agreement and self-reliance in the nuclear sector; the implications of the nuclear agreement on foreign policy and security cooperation.”
Mukherjee said the composition of the committee would be announced soon. Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas said the deadline for the committee would be decided after it is set up.
“This doesn’t really mean that the government will not go ahead with the nuclear deal,” said B.G. Verghese, an analyst with the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research. “The government just seems to have agreed to a face-saving device to let the Left off the hook. The Left parties had clearly overstepped in their opposition. They have already blocked reforms on pensions, insurance, labour and disinvestment. Had the government given in to a Left veto on this, it would have been tied hand and foot by the Left.”
The so-called 123 Agreement between India and the US needs the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group before it goes to the US Congress for final ratification.
Rangarajan pointed out that the larger issue raised by the Left parties was the growing partnership with the US. While the government had yielded to take the Left on board, the Left had also scaled down its opposition on the larger issue of growing Indo-US ties.
The principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rejected the proposed committee and said the nuclear deal was not a family affair between the UPA and the Left parties. “The Left and the UPA can resolve their bilateral issues within their coordination committee,” said Sushma Swaraj, a Rajya Sabha member of the BJP.
“Any committee being set up to study the implications of the nuclear deal should have members from all parties.” She clarified that leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha L.K. Advani, had not signalled a U-turn in the party’s stand by suggesting an alteration in laws to address the domestic concerns over the nuclear deal.
The BJP as well as the eight-party United National Progressive Alliance have insisted on a debate in Parliament. However, parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi indicated that the debate could get postponed till 10 or 11 September. The monsoon session ends on 14 September.