There are differences in the way Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee, see the much-discussed India-US civilian nuclear deal, former foreign minister Natwar Singh has said.
"The prime minister says the deal is on and they will get it through but when Mukherjee is asked about it there is a big question mark. Mukherjee has even said the deal is not going to pass," Natwar Singh told IANS in an interview.
When told that it was Mukherjee who is selling the deal to the Left parties on behalf of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Natwar Singh said: "Much depends on how enthusiastic he himself is about the deal".
The India-US civilian nuclear deal has run into rough weather with the Left parties - who lend outside support to the UPA government - opposing it. The main opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is also opposed to the deal in its present form.
The US government has repeatedly told the Indian government that time may be running out for the deal to materialise as the George Bush presidency enters its last leg ahead of polls.
"The UPA government has gone about the deal in the wrong manner. When it knew that parliament would not approve it, it should not have gone ahead," said Natwar Singh, who was external affairs minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet till December 2005. He was succeeded by Pranab Mukherjee.
Natwar Singh had to resign when he, and his son Jagat Singh, were named beneficiaries by a UN inquiry committee headed by Paul Volcker in an Iraqi oil scam.
The former minister said the draft of the civilian nuclear deal had undergone several drastic changes since he first saw and approved it as external affairs minister on July 18, 2005. "Manmohan Singh and I saw it during our visit to Washington. I supported it then for two reasons. One, it tacitly recognised India as a nuclear power. And two, it was energy-oriented."
Natwar Singh said the term energy was later downplayed and non-proliferation was emphasised. "There were no questions about the 123 agreement, the Hyde Act, or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections then," he said. "The US has shifted the goalpost several times," he said, adding: "I don't see the deal going through".
Natwar Singh, who was in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) before joining the Congress, said, "The United States is selling this deal to us in an attempt to pitch us against China. We should not fall for it. (US President) George Bush has tried to sell it so that he can claim it as an achievement. But the next US president is not going to endorse it, whether it is John McCain (Republican candidate) or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (Democrat frontrunners)," Natwar Singh said.