PM defends deal, Left still opposes

PM defends deal, Left still opposes

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 29-minute stout defence of the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement in the Lok Sabha on Monday was drowned out by persistent slogan-shouting by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA).

Staking the government’s claims to a legacy, Singh said, “When future generations look back, they will come to acknowledge the significance of this historic deal."

Singh sought to assure Parliament that the deal would not compromise India’s sovereign foreign policy, strategic programme or the right to conduct a nuclear test. “I will let history judge... In days to come, it will be seen that it is not just the United States, but nations across the world that wish to arrive at a new equilibrium in their relations with India."

Just as he was about to conclude, amid the din, the Left parties, which support the government?from?outside?but?have vowed to “oppose the deal tooth and nail, in Parliament and outside", staged a walkout.

In the Rajya Sabha, Singh just tabled his statement when the Left parties, along with the National Democratic Alliance and the UNPA walked out just as he began. “The Left parties may not withdraw outside support to the government even now, as the PM had dared them to, but this is surely the turning point," said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.

He said the Congress-Left relationship is the fulcrum of this government and by walking out on the PM, who has staked his “personal prestige" on this deal, the Left has made its intentions very clear that it might “eventually settle for issue-based support to the government."

While the CPM said it would discuss Singh’s statement in detail at its next politburo meeting, Basudeb Acharia, its leader in Lok Sabha, said the statement was disappointing as it did not reflect the assurances given by Singh in Parliament earlier.

Yashwant Sinha, a BJP vice-president, was harsher as he said the statement was full of “half-truths, untruths and pure white lies". Sinha, as well as Arun Shourie, a BJP Rajya Sabha member, said Singh’s statement had spoken about the so-called 123 agreement in isolation, without referring to the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Hyde Act of 2006, with which the Indo-US nuclear agreement must comply.

Shourie challenged the PM’s claim that India would be guaranteed full civil nuclear cooperation and uninterrupted fuel supply, besides waiver from an annual certification by US President George Bush.

Both the BJP and the Left parties said the PM’s statement that the agreement could not be renegotiated rendered the debate in Parliament irrelevant. CPM member Nilotpal Basu said, “The PM must realize that if the Constitution does not provide for Parliamentary ratification of all international agreements, it is simply because the framers of Constitution could not foresee a situation where a Prime Minister would not be able to articulate the majority opinion of the country."

BJP’s deputy leader in Lok Sabha, V.K. Malhotra, said while 219 members supported the deal, nearly 320 opposed it. “The walkout in Rajya Sabha proved what we wanted to convey through voting on the deal. The government is in a minority," said Shourie.