The CPM formally warned the UPA government on Saturday of "serious consequences" if it went ahead with the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. But it did not say it would withdraw support.
The CPM politburo passed a resolution that leaves scope for talks to evaluate the implications of a domestic US legislation, the Hyde Act, on India's sovereignty, its independent foreign policy and its economic interests. Until then, the government has been asked not to take the next step of negotiating a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This India-specific IAEA agreement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver are mandatory for the US Congress to ratify the pact.
The politburo's resolution was personally delivered to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee by CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat and his colleague Sitaram Yechury.
From Karat's remarks at a press conference later it was obvious that the crisis was for real. Admitting that the bilateral agreement has been signed and sealed, he said his party would hear the government before deciding its course of action: "
Hamein Congress ke faisle ka intezaar karna padega
Karat said historically there has been consensus on the country's foreign policy with the Left, even while not being on the same side of the political divide, supporting the Congress's independent, non-aligned approach. "But that's not so on this agreement," he said. "We hope they will discuss the matter and respond to our concerns."
Parrying questions on withdrawal of support, the CPM leader went by the text of the resolution: "It is for the Congress leadership to decide on the matter which will have serious consequences for the Government and the country."
The CPM tossed the ball in the ruling party's court. A core group of the Congress including Sonia and the Prime Minister met in the evening after Mukherjee's meeting with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. The consultations were inconclusive as two of the group's seven members, HRD Minister Arjun Singh and Home Minister Shivraj Patil, were not available.
Speaking to newspersons, Mukherjee indicated that the strategy hammered out by the core group, which might reassemble on Sunday, would be discussed with UPA allies. The exercise began with a meeting he and Defence Minister AK Antony had with RJD's Lalu Yadav. Sonia also reportedly apprised DMK president M Karunanidhi over phone of the latest developments on nuclear deal.
The 123 Agreement does not prescribe a time-frame for effecting the deal. But the Government would need to think on its feet as CPM's highest decision-making body, the central committee, is slated to meet on August 22-23. For the crisis to blow over, the two sides would need to close the gap on a host of issues even if the UPA decides against engaging with the IAEA for the present. While the Marxists interpret the IAEA's "safeguards in perpetuity" as operationalisation of the deal, Mukherjee said only a ratification by the US Congress—-consequent to steps in the IAEA and the NSG —- will put life into the pact. But the core differences relate to the "implications" of the Hyde Act on the bilateral 123 agreement which, according to the Left, promotes strategic alliance with the US. The government insists the deal largely is about affording India access to technology denied since its first nuclear test in 1974.
The government also maintains that certain elements of the Hyde Act that have raised the Left's suspicion, are not binding on India. But the politburo document argued that the Act — that enabled the Bush administration to negotiate the 123 agreement — had the wider implication of binding India into a strategic alliance.
The resolution asked the government not to proceed further with the agreement. But it appeared to leave room for talks when it said: "Till all the objections are considered and the implications of the Hyde Act evaluated, the government should not take the next step with regard to negotiating a safeguards agreement with the IAEA."
Soon after the politburo concluded its two-day deliberations, Mukherjee and the Congress president's political secretary Ahmed Patel met Yechury. Thereafter, Karat and Yechury called on the PM and Sonia to convey the party's stand. On Friday, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee had briefed Singh on the politburo's deliberations when they met over dinner.