Consensus building within the UPA on the India-US nuclear deal in defiance of the Left and at the risk of early elections is proving to be difficult even with Sonia Gandhi taking the centrestage to resolve the vexed issue. Audio: HT's take
The UPA leaders who drove down to 10 Janpath on Monday included NCP’s Sharad Pawar, RJD’s Lalu Yadav and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan. Pawar was later closeted at his residence with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat for over an hour.
Coupled with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s vigorous defence of the deal, the outcome of Sonia’s meetings with the UPA allies made doubly difficult her task of blending national interest with the political interests of the coalition she presides over.
In separate interactions with Sonia, the allies backed the deal but advocated a dialogue with the Left to avoid early elections. Weighing heavily on their minds were the rising prices, without controlling which they saw little prospects in the polls.
This inflation issue was flagged by RJD chief Lalu Yadav, who had recently told HT that the deal was in national interest that has to be given precedence over party ideology.
Emerging from the meeting, the three points Lalu made were: the time is not right for elections; there is need to contain inflation and nothing should be done to dilute the 2004 mandate of keeping the BJP out of power.
On the Left's apprehensions that the US would use the deal to compromise India's foreign policy, Lalu said the deal wasn't just about dealing with Washington; it would open the gates for nuclear trade with countries like France and Russia.
On his part, Pawar was tight-lipped about his discussions with Sonia and Karat. "In a democracy, dialogue is both important and necessary," was all he said, adding, to a query, that he was hopeful that a "way out" would be found through dialogue.
Sources close to Pawar said the NCP leader appreciated the government's compulsions to push the deal and the Left's reasoning against the move. He felt the parting of ways, if at all, with the communists should not be bitter -- as there might be a need to work with them after the elections.
Counted among those who worry over the minorities' reaction to the deal, Paswan advocated the seemingly difficult middle path of accommodating the Left and having the deal. "The government is not going. We will remain together. There is nothing that cannot be resolved with dialogue," he said.
In this context, there has been some talk of certain formulae being mooted to break the logjam but there has been no agreement on them so far.
With no assured backing from the 39-member Samajwadi Party, whose support can help the UPA get within striking range of a simple majority in Lok Sabha, the lack of consensus in the ruling coalition could be interpreted as a setback of sorts for the Congress.
The government cannot take the risk of a trust vote in the House without the pre-requisites of committing the UPA constituents to the deal and seeking on that basis the backing of the SP.
But here too, the sailing isn't smooth as Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party opposed the pact in the House, was non-committal on rethinking its line without consultation with its UNPA allies, including the anti-Congress TDP and the INLD.
DMK chief M. Karunanidhi's final word on the deal would also have to be factored in by the UPA chairperson. There was no immediate confirmation of an early visit to Delhi by the Tamil Nadu chief minister to help settle the issue.
The crucial UPA-Left meeting on the deal remains scheduled for June 25 though Pawar would then be in London. But the panel's convenor, Pranab Mukherjee, will return from Australia by then and another important Congress interlocutor AK Antony has cancelled a foreign tour to be at hand for consultations.