External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal will represent the Congress on the 15-member joint committee with the Left parties to discuss the India-US nuclear deal.
Others from the Congress’ side include Defence Minister AK Antony, Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz and MoS in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan. Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, who, together with Mukherjee and Antony, bought a tenuous peace with the Communists on the contentious issue, does not figure on the final list.
Patel seems to have been spared the task with an eye on the Gujarat polls due later this year. The UPA’s team on the committee includes the NCP’s Sharad Pawar, the RJD’s Lalu Prasad and the DMK’s TR Baalu.
Mukherjee announced the names of the members of the panel late on Tuesday night on behalf of Sonia Gandhi. Both accomplished lawyers, Chidambaram and Sibal have been in the forefront of the UPA’s campaign to explain the benefits of the deal from the perspective of their party and the government. Mukherjee led the talks with the Left to set up the panel for an exchange of views on the US’s India-specific Hyde Act and its implications for the 123 Agreement, the country’s strategic programme and uninterrupted supply of fuel as well as New Delhi’s sovereign foreign policy.
Soz is the only Muslim face from Jammu and Kashmir in the Union Cabinet.
His presence on the panel will help counter the Samajwadi Party's bid to paint the deal as one with a super power that is against the Muslims.
The Left parties will be represented on the panel by Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury (CPM), AB Bardhan and D Raja (CPI), Debabrata Biswas (Forward Bloc) and T J Chandrachoodan of the Revolutionary Socialist Party. The RSP has preferred Chandrachoodan against Abani Roy, who has questioned the purpose behind the talks mechanism.
The panel is likely to have its first meeting on September 10, the day Parliament is scheduled to start debating the deal. A time frame, if any, for the panel to complete its work and the manner in which advise can be sought from experts and scientists will also be decided at its first meeting, said a senior left leader.