A day after stonewalling comrades pushed the UPA’s marriage with the Left to the edge of splitsville, a cloud of confusion hung over the ruling combine as it waited for a clear signal from the Congress on the next step in the battle to save the India-US civilian nuclear deal.
“We know that the government is keen to go to the IAEA (for the safeguards agreement). An evaluation process is on, but until a political call is taken one way or the other, this uncertainty and confusion will continue,’’ said a Congress leader.
The Leftists have put the ball squarely in the court of PM Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi by saying they would pull the plug if the UPA went to the IAEA. Working backwards on the time available, sources said the government will need to approach the IAEA latest by mid-July for the deal to be routed, through the NSG, to the US Congress that is slated to meet in early September. Said a minister: “If we need the deal, we have to proceed very quickly.’’
The communists have indicated they would not allow the government to choose the time of the split, and the possible subsequent elections. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee met CPM’s Sitaram Yechury on Thursday, but sources said no progress was made. The Congress continues to bank on the SP for a bailout should it come down to a numbers game in the Lok Sabha.
Like the UPA allies, many in the Congress too do not relish the prospect of elections in the season of runaway prices. “The nuclear deal cannot be an election issue. It is double-edged. We can project it as a bijli paani and aam aadmi issue. But how will the minorities view it?’’ wondered a Congress leader.
Several leaders feel the party erred in projecting the deal as “India-US civil nuclear cooperation’’ when it could have been simply called an “international’’ treaty.
Again, there is a feeling that even if the government bites the bullet and pursues the deal, there may not be enough time left to rush it through the NSG and US Congress to culmination. “If we don’t ultimately get the deal, why do we need to rupture our relations with the Left to begin with,” asked a senior UPA leader.
As the Congress and the government grappled with the all-important political call, Sonia on Thursday sought feedback from her chief ministers, CLP leaders and PCC chiefs about the party’s poll preparations. Among those who met her was Andhra CM Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.