The Congress sought to take the high moral ground in the face of a mounting attack by the BJP and the Left parties by emphasising that if the government loses the trust vote in the Lok Sabha “it would not seek the approval of India-specific safeguards from the IAEA Board of Governors”.
The nuclear deal’s opponents have charged the government with “political deceit” for going back on its promise of approaching the IAEA only after obtaining the vote of confidence. But Congress spokespersons and officials in the Foreign Office denied any contradiction between New Delhi’s request for a meeting of the Board and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s July 8 assurance that the “government would operationalise civil nuclear cooperation and seek approval of the Board of Governors only after obtaining a vote of confidence in Parliament”.
“The letter sent to the IAEA is for a meeting of the Board and not for approval of the agreement,” a top MEA official said. Even this communication to the nuclear watchdog was made hours after the Left parties announced withdrawal of support and shot off a letter to Mukherjee on July 8.
The Minister conveyed the Left’s decision to the PM, then in the midst of the G-8 summit, around 2.30 pm IST, after which the Department of Atomic Energy, under Manmohan Singh’s charge, set the process into motion. The sources furnished this time-line with the information that Vienna was three-and-half hour behind IST.
The Left parties had, in their letter, termed as “meaningless” the proposed final meeting of the UPA-Left committee on the deal in view of the PM’s statement en route Japan that India would “very soon” approach the IAEA.
The draft safeguards agreement posted on the MEA website was dated July 7. The official explanation for it was the Indian envoy to the IAEA initialed the letter requisitioning a meeting of the Board a day before he formally handed it over to the agency.
Consequently, the draft safeguards pact that fell in the ‘classified’ category until then was distributed to the 35 Board members, and could be made public. “We took prompt action to place it on our website,” sources said. “It is wrong to interpret the request for the meeting as going to the IAEA,” added Congress spokesman Veerappa Moily. Going to the Board meant consideration of the draft agreement by the Governors at their next meeting — scheduled on July 28.
“Before that stage comes, we stand by our commitment of taking a confidence vote in the Lok Sabha,” declared Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal at a separate briefing. He said the UPA-Left mechanism to discuss the deal broke down with the communists’ decision to withdraw support. The government subsequently requested the IAEA for the meeting, in preparation of which the draft was circulated among the governors.
On the Opposition’s charge that the government invoked the IAEA on being reduced to a minority, the Congress claimed the UPA continued to enjoy a majority and would prove it on the floor of the Lok Sabha. “We do not believe in listing the numbers but in demonstrating them in the House,” said Moily.