The Left parties on Monday rejected the Congress-led UPA Government’s request that it be allowed to start negotiations with the IAEA on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.
The Congress leadership even suggested that the government would tell the atomic energy watchdog to give it more time to convince its political allies. Also, the Left was assured of being kept in the loop at every stage of the negotiations.
The development comes on the eve of the UPA-Left meeting, heightening speculation of mid-term polls.
In a day marked by a series of hectic consultations, including a 45-minute meeting late Monday night between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPM’s Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, the Congress leaders said the deal would be as good as dead if consultations did not start with the IAEA.
In November, the board of governors of the IAEA is meeting, and procedurally, the negotiations have to be completed before that.
The CPM leaders rejected the proposal at the meeting that was attended by Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony. They said that starting talks with the IAEA would mean operationalising the deal, “which is not in the country’s interest.” The proposal would now be placed before the UPA-Left meeting on Tuesday to bring into the picture other UPA allies.
In the last 24 hours, the Congress’ consultations with the Left have swung between hope and despair. On Sunday, Mukherjee met veteran Marxist Jyoti Basu in Kolkata, where he made the proposal for the first time.
After the meeting, Basu said, “We want to find a solution to this problem though discussion. We are not in favour of withdrawing support at this point since the threat from communal forces is always there. I have told Karat and Yechury to listen to Pranab when the committee meets.”
He added: “Let them see is they can come to an understanding. I don't know how that can happen or whether it is at all possible. The matter will be discussed at the next Politburo meeting”, said Basu. Karat's response was a big `no.'
Karat did not speak to the media after calling on Sonia. But after he met Mukherjee, he reiterated that talks with the IAEA were ``unacceptable'' and the UPA would have to face ``consequences'' if it went ahead with the deal.
Karat alongwith A B Bardhan (CPI), Debabrata Biswas (Forward Bloc) and Abani Roy (RSP) also came out with a joint statement citing national interests while rejecting the deal Sonia had hailed in Jhajjar the previous day.
"The deal is against the interests of India. Those who advocate it should know that India is capable of developing nuclear energy on a self-reliant basis. We need not surrender our vital interests to America on this plea," the Left leaders said.
Without naming the Left, Sonia had dubbed the pact's opponents as enemies of development who needed to be given a befitting reply.
The AICC later clarified that Sonia's remarks were not directed at the Left. ``What she said was in the context of Haryana,'' said Digvijay Singh, AICC general secretary. ``No inference whatsoever should be drawn, which will be quite extraneous in nature,'' said a carefully worded AICC statement.Congress president's political secretary Ahmed Patel reportedly called up the Left leaders on Sunday night to convey that her statement was not directed at them.
But most Congress leaders believe the explanation was not necessary. ``The statement was good but the contradiction was poor since it was unconvincing and reduced the effect of the Congress president's statement itself,'' said an AICC functionary, adding that the Congress president's remarks were ``not off the cuff.'' He added there is no going back on the deal on which a lot of thinking and hard work has gone. ``The deal was entered into not for squashing,'' he said.
Congress leaders are already working overtime in trying to ensure that they have the numbers if the UPA (with 219 MPs) and the Left (with 60 MPs) part ways over the deal. According to a senior leader, the Manmohan Singh government will go for a confidence vote banking on the support of 38 other members who had voted with them in the Presidential and Vice Presidential polls. ``We need only another 15 to meet the half way mark,'' said a Congress leader. In fact, the PM and Sonia had last month discussed the issue with their senior aides last September.