Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government appeared to have received a temporary reprieve Tuesday with its Left allies agreeing to continue discussions over the India-US nuclear deal, apparently after being assured that there would be no formal talks with the IAEA.
According to Left party leaders who attended the fourth meeting of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left nuclear committee meeting Tuesday, the government has agreed that there would not be any formal talks on India specific safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before discussions with the communists over the deal are over.
This assurance, said Left sources, has given the government a 13-day breather. After Tuesday's two-and-a-half hour meeting at the South Block, both sides agreed to meet on Oct 22 to continue discussions over the contentious deal.
"We do not think any formal negotiations will begin (with IAEA) before this committee comes out with its findings," Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan told reporters.
"Our talks are continuing. I don't think anything will be operationalised," he added.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the 15-member committee, said after the meeting that the members "shared in detail their perceptions on various aspects of the cooperation agreement between India and the US".
"Discussions were also initiated on the implications of the nuclear agreement, on foreign policy and security cooperation," he said.
The committee's decision to meet again comes amid intensive speculation that the differences between the two groups would result in a mid-term poll.
But Railway Minister Lalu Prasad dismissed the possibility of immediate elections. "The government is not falling. There will be no snap poll," he told reporters as he came out of the meeting.
Leaders from both sides, however, said early elections had become a certainty. "It's only a matter of time," a senior communist leader told IANS after the meeting.
Congress sources also indicated that the government could not hold back the negotiations for long, as there was a time frame for the operationalisation of the deal.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat, who on Monday rejected government's plea to go ahead with the IAEA talks, looked more relaxed as he was going inside South Block. He said he was positive and hoped that more meetings would follow.
Mukherjee has approached the Left leaders ahead of IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei's visit to the capital Wednesday, during which he is expected to hold informal talks with the government on the nuclear deal.
Left leaders say they made it clear to the government that it could not hold any negotiations over the India specific safeguards with the IAEA till the committee completed its discussions.
"There is no change in our stand. We stick to our original position," Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) representative in the committee T.J. Chandrachoodan said.
Added another Left leader: "As long as the government does not operationalise the deal, we will not have any problem. But the formal talks with IAEA means the implementation of the deal."
The CPI-M-led Left, which provides crucial legislative support to the Manmohan Singh government, has been opposing the deal saying that it would make India a junior partner to the US in strategic and foreign affairs.
They have warned the government of "serious consequences" if it went ahead with the deal.