The Congress and the CPM have reached an understanding to set up a mechanism to discuss the contentious India-specific Hyde Act of the US.
Highly placed sources told the Hindustan Times that the panel, to be constituted after Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s return from South Africa, would have equal political representation from the two sides. Scientists and diplomats who have negotiated the deal would be available to the committee for advice and clarifications. The parameters of the mechanism and the back-channel talks that led to an understanding on it were explained to the CPM’s Central Committee (CC) by Sitaram Yechury, a key player in the negotiations.
At his press conference after the CC meeting endorsing the politburo’s line against the deal, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat gave fleeting glimpses of the rapprochement that accommodates the requirements of both parties to the dispute. He said his party was “not flustered” by Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar’s proposed visit to the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna. “We should have our man there… but we should not discuss IAEA safeguards,” he added.
What Karat did not reveal is as follows: the government will desist from making applications for India-specific IAEA safeguards which the Left believes would amount to giving effect to the bilateral 123 Agreement with the US. Short of that, it has room to engage with the nuclear watchdog and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.
It was evident that the CPM’s iron hand on the issue had a velvet glove: it stuck to its stand that if the government gave effect to the deal, the crisis would snowball. At the same time, it gave the Congress-led coalition breathing space by accepting the mechanism for evaluating the implications of the Hyde Act on India’s foreign policy.
“We are prepared for any mechanism. We can wait for a few days. We are not in a hurry,” Karat said. By shifting the onus of ensuring the coalition’s continuance on the Congress, he betrayed his party’s unwillingness to take the blame for bringing down the government.
“The central committee does not want the current crisis to affect the government. However, this is contingent upon the
government not proceeding further with the agreement. The central committee, therefore, authorises the politburo to take whatever necessary measures to see that the agreement is not operationalised," Karat said.
He underlined that the CPM never spoke of withdrawing support: "You won't see a single leader of the CPM either in Delhi, or in Kolkata or in Hyderabad having said we will withdraw support. Our Politburo has not given such a statement." But at the same time he underscored the fact that the government cannot survive without the Left's support. Will the Left allow a minority government to run? "How will it run if we do not support?" he asked.
The question of withdrawing support would be addressed when the situation arises. “I hope it does not happen,” Karat said. The CC reportedly was one in its opposition to the deal. On the polls, however, it stood divided, with a section drawing attention to the state units' lack of preparedness.
Congress leaders were quick to read the nuances in Karat's statement including his green flag for a debate in Parliament. “The CPM leaders have put the ball back in our court while keeping the door open for a dialogue if a credible mechanism is set up to take up their concerns and allay their apprehensions. But no, there is no softening of stand. Without engaging in sabre rattling, they are being polite, resolute and firm,” said a Union minister.
He read several positives in Karat's statements: no talk of withdrawal of support at the moment; a mechanism to discuss implications of the Hyde Act and his party not “flustered” over Kakodkar's visit to Vienna. The CPM leader also said he was aware that the government was talking to NSG members and the deal could have figured in the PM's talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.
On the formation of the committee, the final call would be of the Congress High Command, what with Karat drawing a line between the government (read Manmohan Singh) and the Congress leadership. This perhaps is his way of not allowing tensions between him and the PM coming in the way of the peace dialogue. In fact, Left leaders are talking of a possible meeting with Sonia on Friday.
(With inputs from Vinod Sharma & Saroj Nagi)