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Parliament to debate nuclear deal today

The debate is neither expected to produce a breakthrough nor lead to a vote on the historic deal.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2007 12:38 IST

The parliament holds a long-awaited debate on a controversial nuclear deal with the United States on Wednesday, with critics expected to prove the pact does not enjoy majority support.

The debate will not lead to a vote on the historic deal, which brought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's three-and-a-half year coalition to the brink of collapse, nor is it expected to produce a breakthrough.

However, amid the high-decibel rhetoric that is anticipated, both the ruling Congress party and its communist allies -- who have rejected the deal -- are expected to signal their political strategies, analysts said.

"We will oppose the deal," said Sitaram Yechury, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the largest of four left parties whose 60 MPs support Singh's coalition.

"We are against the deal and we will reiterate our stand," he told reporters ahead of the debate. "This debate will show where the majority opinion of parliament is on the deal."

The nuclear deal aims to end more than three decades of sanctions against nuclear commerce between New Delhi and Washington even though India has stayed out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and tested nuclear weapons.

Strategic friendship

Proponents of the pact say it will help meet India's soaring energy needs and is a sign of a growing strategic friendship between the two countries.

But communist allies of Singh, known for their traditional anti-Americanism, have rejected it saying it compromises sovereignty and imposes American influence.

The communists had threatened to end support of the government if it pursued key global approvals needed to clinch the deal, but relented this month to give a conditional go-ahead.

While the government has opened talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for a safeguards pact for the deal, it hopes the parliament debate will give Singh another chance to convince opponents.

"Everyone wanted a debate, so the government agreed to a debate," said one of Singh's aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Washington says time is running out on the deal as it still needs the backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations and has to be approved by the US Congress before campaigning for presidential elections takes over next year. But neither the ruling Congress party nor the communists are expected to make significant departures from their positions during the debate, political analysts said.

"Do I expect anything big to happen? No," said Mahesh Rangarajan, an independent analyst. "But will we watch it for the nuances for the coming weeks? Yes, absolutely.

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