Ties between the ruling UPA and its Left allies entered another uneasy phase with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat on Thursday seeking a meeting of the bipartisan panel set up to resolve differences on the proposed India-US nuclear deal before the end of next week.
"We want the meeting before March 15. We want the government to tell us about the negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," Karat told
referring to the talks between India and the atomic watchdog. He put down the demand in a letter to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the panel.
The urgency imparted to the next meeting also came out clearly in a somewhat alarmingly titled editorial —
Turning Point Has Arrived
— in the CPM's mouthpiece,
. The editorial said the government was mistaken if it thought that after arriving at an agreed text with the IAEA on a safeguards agreement it can take the next steps for operationalising the deal.
"It is for the Congress leadership whether it decides to bow to the pressure of the Bush administration or take a democratic decision after heeding the voice of Parliament and the people. And this decision has to be a quick and clear one. The future of this government depends on the decision they will take," it said.
The government, however, was in a mood to stick to its stand of working out a consensus. PTI quoted Mukherjee as saying in an interview to
magazine that the government's survival was more important than the deal and the Left would have to be taken on board. He ruled out the possibility of a minority government signing the agreement, saying that the US was not ready for it.
If the Left did not come around, he said, "then I don't know what will happen. The Congress leadership, the UPA leadership will have to take a final view".
Karat's missive to Mukherjee came in the wake of reports that Indian negotiators were close to firming up an agreement on India-specific IAEA safeguards, which has to be cleared by the UPA-Left panel. The Left parties have also factored into their move Mukherjee's proposed visit to the US later this month.
Karat met CPI's D Raja and Forward Bloc's Debabrata Biswas to discuss the Left's strategy if the government proceeded with the deal despite their objections.
The demand for the meeting followed PM Manmohan Singh's statement in Parliament that the government was attempting to evolve a broad political consensus on the issue and the US raising the pitch by insisting that the deal required to be clinched by May as the safeguards pact with the IAEA would be ready by March-end. This would be in time for the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) waiver that will clear the way for an up and down vote in the US Congress on the 123 Agreement.
Congress sources admitted that the government was getting "closer" to the deal. AICC's Veerappa Moily adopted a mellow tone and even thanked the Left for raising concerns on the deal that helped the Centre drive a hard bargain with the US.
"I don't think the government is under threat…Everything until now has happened after consulting the Left and in the public gaze of the country and world," he said. He said viewed holistically, the Left has been cooperative all through on the issue.
Considering that many Congressmen see the deal as a facilitator for
and, therefore, a potent election issue in the state and Lok Sabha polls, the party sought to put pressure on the Left by claiming that any resistance to it was anti-people and anti-farmer. He said it would pave the way for the return of the BJP that was willing to go for a deal that would bring 50 per cent less that what the proposed deal would bring.