The Congress can breathe easy. The Samajwadi Party’s public endorsement on Friday of the India-US civil nuclear deal as one “in national interest” enables the Manmohan government to go to the IAEA with an easy mind and with the claim that it continues to enjoy a majority in the Lok Sabha.
While welcoming the latest convert to the deal on board, the Congress also got ready to bid farewell to the Left parties which had been extending outside support. The communists on Friday wrote to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the UPA-Left panel on the deal, to inform them by July 7 whether the government would approach the IAEA.
The letter and the deadline raised the hackles of Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi who said, “sovereign governments or political parties cannot be subjected to deadlines.”
The government’s response — when it comes — would set the stage for the formal parting of ways between the partners who have had a uneasy relationship for over four years.
Sources said the communists were likely to pull the plug anytime between July 9 — when the PM returns from Japan where he will meet US President George W Bush on the sidelines of the G-8 summit — to July 14, the day they launch their nationwide agitation against the deal.
The first hurdle of getting the SP on board was crossed on Friday. Capping days of recent frenetic political activities, SP leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh around noon, and followed it up with another 30-minute meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence.
Before meeting the SP leaders, Sonia conferred with union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony, and her political secretary Ahmed Patel.
Later, in the evening the Congress’s core group reportedly met to take stock of the new developments, including the Left’s letter.
Emerging from the Prime Minister’s residence, Mulayam and Amar Singh endorsed the Congress stand on the nuclear deal, emphasising that “national interest rather than politics was our party’s priority.’’ They added that the “entire nation would be satisfied’’ with the PM’s clarification on the deal and they would try to convince other UNPA partners on the issue. Their priority, they added, was to “check the growth of communal forces.’’
Both leaders said they did not give any commitment to the PM about extending support in case of a confidence vote But Media Department chairman Veerappa Moily and spokesman Shakeel Ahmed chose to thank the SP leaders for backing the deal when they met the PM and Sonia.
Confident that the government now has the numbers to push through the deal, Moily added that it was now for the government to decide when to approach the IAEA for a safeguards agreement. “The SP’s support is not new. They had not withdrawn the letter of support they gave in 2004. Where is then the question of loss of majority? Why should the BJP butt in (by asking for a trust vote)?’’ asked Moily.
The Left has already said that it would vote against the government.
After meeting the PM, Mulayam and Amar Singh said they remained concerned about inflation and price rise.
Though there has been some talk about the SP lending issue-based support, sources said Mulayam’s party is eyeing some ministerial berths and is keen to become part of the government.
Officially, Amar Singh insisted that the Samajwadi Party was not striking any deal. “We are not negotiating for cabinet berths. We are not wheeler-dealers. We will not join the government,’’ Amar Singh told CNN-IBN.
Earlier, he demanded the government ban export of petroleum products by some private companies, as was done in the case of steel and cement. He clarified that his opposition to the finance and petroleum ministers was not personal but was targeted against their policies.
Meanwhile, the Congress renewed its attack on the Left — this time for shooting off and releasing its letter to Mukherjee when they could have asked for an early meeting of the panel to find out if the government was going to the IAEA. “It is not appropriate and shows lack of courtesy,’’ said Moily.