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BJP, Left ready for N-deal debate in Parliament

The Govt will make one last effort to convince the Left and the BJP about the merits of the Indo-US N-deal.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2007 21:31 IST

The India-US nuclear deal is set to dominate the winter session of parliament beginning on Nov 15, with the government bracing to defend the 123 agreement from attacks by its Leftist allies and the chief opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday held talks with Left leaders Prakash Karat and AB Bardhan on the debate on the 123 agreement.

"It was agreed that the statement made by the prime minister on the 123 agreement during the last session of parliament should be taken up for discussion at the beginning of the forthcoming winter session of parliament," the prime minister's media adviser Sanjaya Baru said in a statement after the talks.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee were also present at the meeting.

During the winter session, the government will make one last effort to convince the Left and the BJP about the merits of the nuclear deal that aims at bringing India into the global nuclear mainstream after a gap of three decades.

In its impassioned defence, the government will underline the importance of the deal for the country's energy security, especially for its fast expanding economy, and argue for the pressing need for India's global nuclear integration without compromising on strategic deterrence.

The meeting with the Left leaders took place a day ahead of Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow beginning on Sunday during which civil nuclear cooperation with Russia will be discussed.

The meeting of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left panel headed by Mukherjee, which was to be held on Nov 16, has been put off.

"The meeting will be convened as soon as possible," the statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.

The last meeting of the UPA-Left panel ended without a breakthrough with the Left leaders pressing the government not to prolong uncertainty and announce that the nuclear deal was off.

The Left parties have forced an unpleasant choice on the government - either to defer the implementation of the deal or face the prospect of the withdrawal of their support that could lead to an early general election.

Manmohan Singh has said that his government was trying to evolve a broad-based consensus on the nuclear deal and is still hopeful of implementing it.

Unlike the stormy monsoon of parliament, this time around the BJP appears to be in a mood to listen, but has made it clear that its opposition to the deal in its present form remains unchanged.

The BJP wants the nuclear deal to be renegotiated as it thinks the 123 pact in its present form could affect India's nuclear weapons programme and undermine its strategic autonomy.

The last session of parliament was a complete washout with the BJP, supported by its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the members of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) stalling proceedings while insisting on voting and a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the deal.

"We will go on demanding 184 (the Lok Sabha rule which entails voting) but we see no point in stalling the proceedings and will facilitate a debate in both houses," BJP's parliamentary party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra told IANS.

The Left parties have always pressed for a "sense of the house on the nuclear deal", but have clarified that the debate could take place without voting.

The BJP maintains that it will finalise and formulate its strategy at its parliamentary party meeting on Nov 14.

The party will stick to its decision to oppose the deal in toto but the final call will be taken only by the parliamentary group of the BJP, said BJP vice president Yashwant Sinha.

This meeting will be followed the same day by a meeting of the members of the NDA parliamentary group executive.

While stressing that, "there is no change in the BJP's stand", Sinha said the strategy for the session will be decided by the parliamentary party.

"Apart from the party's parliamentary wing, we have also to consult our allies in the NDA and only then we can say anything," he said.

Janata Dal-United (JD-U) president Sharad Yadav backed the BJP's stand. "We are fully with the BJP on this and will extend our full support on the nuclear deal," he said.

"We have other issues to raise like the farmers' suicide, the price rise and the SEZ (special economic zone) policy," he said.

First Published: Nov 10, 2007 20:32 IST