With partners in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) hesitant to face an early general election, the Congress appears to be under pressure to rethink its plans to push ahead with the India-US nuclear deal, in defiance of the Left’s opposition.
The Left garnered more support from UPA allies on Sunday as DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi offered to play mediator between the Left and the Congress after his meeting with CPM’s Prakash Karat and CPI’s D. Raja, in Chennai.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad have already said the Left’s concerns should be addressed while pursuing the deal and an early election should be avoided. Pressure from allies had halted plans last year also, to move ahead with the deal.
Meanwhile, the Indian Union Muslims League (IUML), a partner of the UPA, said it did not want the deal. “We are against the deal with the US. Once the government takes its decision we will react accordingly,” IUML supremo Panakkad Muhammadali Shihab Thangal said. Though the party has one member in Lok Sabha — Union minister E. Ahmad — the statement adds to skepticism in the Congress on the deal’s popularity, particularly among Muslims, a crucial segment of the party’s support base.
PM Manmohan Singh is standing his ground that the Congress must take a definite stand on the deal rather than prolonging a decision through endless meetings of the UPA-Left coordination committee.
More divergence within the Congress is surfacing on the desirability of facing an early election, that too in the midst of untamed inflation that has touched a 13-year high. "There are leaders who support the deal as ministers and oppose it as Congressmen," a party source said. "There isn't as much a crisis to the survival of the government as is talked about in the media," another leader said. Congress can mop up the numbers to survive even if the Left withdraws, with support from Samajwadi Party and smaller groups. The SP will firm up its position after general secretary Amar Singh, who is in touch with both sides, returns to India on June 29.
However, this hostile parting of ways with the Left is not palatable to allies and sections in the Congress.
With Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury — main interlocutors from the opposing sides — away, there wasn't much tangible development within the ruling establishment on Sunday. The PM met HRD Minister Arjun Singh. He also attended to essential work, recuperating from an illness.
The Left is impressing upon UPA allies that if the Congress insists on taking the next step in concluding the nuclear deal, elections are inevitable. "We want to avoid early elections, so we have been meeting UPA allies and explaining our position on the deal, which remains unchanged. It is the government that has changed its position," Raja said.
Karunanidhi told Karat and Raja that he would try and impress upon the Congress that communal forces should not be allowed to take advantage of the current situation. The Left leaders told Karunanidhi that the UPA-Left committee on the deal, scheduled to meet on June 25, should be the final authority on the matter, as was promised by the government when the committee was formed last year.
"Karunanidhi is the senior most leader of the UPA. We have requested him to intervene and find a solution. We have also assured him that we will go back and discuss within the Left parties what we discussed with him," Karat said. The Left now wants the government to spell out its next course of action in the committee's meeting on June 25.