UPA-Left ties teetered on the precipice after a last ditch attempt to hammer out a compromise on the India-US civilian nuclear deal ended in frustration for the government on Wednesday evening.
The Left persisted with its iron rigidity, and though the government announced yet another meeting at an unspecified date, a divorce seemed the most likely endgame of the UPA’s rocky marriage with the comrades.
So stark was the absence of meeting ground between the two sides that they decided to disperse after merely reading out notes on their respective interpretations of the pact. The government repeated the deal’s importance for India’s energy security; the Leftists reiterated their opposition to it.
<b1>At one stage, panel convener Pranab Mukherjee, consistently badgered by the RSP’s T.J. Chandrachoodan for a date for their final meeting on the issue, lost his cool. "I cannot give a date. I have international commitments to meet,’’ he snapped.
Emerging from the meeting, CPI’s A.B. Bardhan said the proceedings had been “volatile”. The Leftists who had earlier insisted that they be shown the draft agreement with the IAEA, did not press for it this time. “We are no longer interested," a Left member of the panel told Hindustan Times.
Congress sources made grim prognoses of the future of UPA-Left ties. They said the communists had slammed the door on further dialogue with the warning that they would withdraw support if the government went to the IAEA. The ball is now in the court of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chief Sonia Gandhi, who have to choose between the deal and the Left’s support. But the defiance, and irritation with the Left, came through in what senior Congressman Veerappa Moily told a TV channel: “We are going ahead with this deal. That is very clear. And the timing is ours. We will choose our own time.”
Late in the evening, top Congress brass went into a huddle at the PM’s residence.
Besides the PM and Sonia, Mukherjee and Defence Minister AK Antony were present. It is learnt that the next meeting with the Left will happen after the Congress comes to a decision in consultation with UPA allies who back the deal, but are wary of early polls.
RJD’s Lalu Yadav made a forceful plea at the UPA-Left meeting against any move that would help the BJP regain power. He said the dialogue must continue as early polls suited nobody.
But the plea made no impact on CPM general secretary Prakash Karat who read out a two-page note detailing the Left’s arguments against pursuing the deal. The communists had formalized their position at a separate meeting before driving down to Mukherjee’s residence for the talks with the UPA.
What Mukherjee and CPM’s Sitaram Yechury read out finally to reporters was a standard statement: “The committee completed its discussions on all aspects of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. The next meeting of the committee to be convened in due course will finalise its findings."
The PM is scheduled to travel to Tokyo for the G-8 summit in the first half of July. He has been reportedly keen to formalise the government’s position on the deal before that. But it remains to be seen if the Congress is in a position to move that fast.
Rising inflation is a major concern. Sonia met Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia for a briefing during the day.
On his part, Karat had a lengthy meeting with the SP’s Mulayam Singh, whose support might help the Congress make up the numbers in the Lok Sabha should the Left withdraw support. The SP’s final position will be known after the UNPA’s July 3 meeting. Significantly, Mulayam has not met any Congress leader recently.