With seemingly irreparable cracks appearing in the Congress-Left equation, ruling party chief Sonia Gandhi will meet allies on Thursday to finalise its stance on the Indo-US nuclear deal.
With the Left making it abundantly clear that it would withdraw support if the government goes ahead with the pact, the Congress is being forced to look at early elections - and partners to tide it through the crisis.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and its left allies provide vital support to the government with their 61 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
According to insiders, the party is desperately looking for a stopgap arrangement if that prop goes. If the Left withdraws its legislative support, the Congress-led government would need the help of smaller parties to cross the halfway mark of 271.
As the debate over the deal intensifies, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will discuss the options before the government with its allies Thursday. The Congress has been under pressure from its poll-wary allies, who are against taking any steps that would disrupt UPA-Left ties.
Taking the support of the Samajwadi Party, with its 39 MPs, is one way out. But no final decision has been taken, says a Congress leader.
According to Congress sources, party leaders have begun backroom discussions with the Samajwadi Party as well as former prime minister HD Deve Gowda's Janata Dal-Secular (three MPs), Uttar Pradesh leader Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (three) and UPA's estranged ally Telangana Rashtra Samiti (three).
Congress leaders claimed the Samajwadi Party had already expressed its willingness to back the government in a critical stage. "However, the party is still undecided on whether to take its support because it is famous for playing the politics of convenience."
"Many Congress leaders feel that we cannot trust its leaders," admitted a senior Congress minister, who did not want to be identified.
The Samajwadi Party, on its part, has already indicated that it does not mind extending support to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government. A final decision, party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav has said, would be taken on July 3 in a meeting of the third-front parties, the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA).
The Samajwadi Party has its compulsions too. While its ally in the UNPA, the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) is dead against any pact with the Congress, the Left is also trying to stop it by rekindling hopes of a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Third Front.
TDP MP MV Mysoora Reddy ruled out any ties between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress. "We have not received any communication from the Samajwadi Party regarding their supporting Congress party. It is still with us," Reddy told IANS in Hyderabad.
In the "tense" UPA-Left nuclear committee meeting on Wednesday, the Communists clarified in writing that they would withdraw support if the government decided to go ahead and finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) despite their opposition.