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Govt wants more N-gagement

The India-US civil nuclear deal is back in focus as the Govt attempts to build consensus. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.
Hindustan Times | By Sutirtho Patranobis, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2008 02:26 AM IST

The India-US civil nuclear deal was back in focus on Monday after the government said it was attempting to build a broad political consensus on the issue.

In a statement in both Houses of Parliament, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee reiterated the Centre’s argument that the Hyde Act, a US domestic law, was an enabling provision and does not have any bearing on the 123 agreement signed between the two countries.

In a signal that there will once again be much heat on the issue, the Opposition NDA and Congress-led UPA’s outside supporters, the Left parties, were quick to react. While the NDA said both countries should be interpreting the Hyde Act in the same manner, the Communists, who are part of the UPA-Left joint mechanism to discuss the deal, argued that the Act severely compromises Indian’s independent foreign policy and sovereignty. The CPM even served an ultimatum that they cannot support a government that enters into such an agreement with the US.

“We do not agree with the government that the Hyde Act’s implications do not exist for India... We don’t think that the government should operationalise the deal,” CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said. “We cannot support a government that enters into such an agreement with the US.” A CPM politburo statement said: “There is no political consensus and hence it should not proceed further with the agreement.”

CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta and RSP’s Abani Roy too warned that the Left would be free to decide its own course of action if the deal is operationalised.

But with budgetary sops for farmers and middle classes raising the election temperature and the Congress morale, the ruling party sought to create a favourable atmosphere for the deal so that any Left resistance is seen as unreasonable. AICC spokesman Abhishek Singhvi talked about the “notable progress” made at the IAEA talks and, in to maintain the party’s coalition dharma, asserted there is no reason to be pessimistic or negative about the negotiations, the deal or the outcome of the joint mechanism which will discuss the deal.

But will the Left, in an arm-twisting tactic, oppose the budget if the Centre presses with the deal? “It will not be easy for them to do so as it will send out a wrong message to the poor, the farmers and the middle class,” said a Congress leader.

Earlier in the day, Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha: “We will continue to seek broad political consensus within the country to take forward our engagement on this issue with other countries.”

He attempted to dispel apprehensions of the Left and other parties about the Hyde Act in view of some statements of US officials regarding its applicability to the deal. He said the legislation was “an enabling provision between the executive and legislative organs of the US government” and India’s engagement with the US on civil nuclear cooperation was solely under the 123 Agreement.

But his statement about a “broad political consensus” seemed to break little ground with other parties. BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra said: “The government should not consult the Left alone on the issue but also take the opinion of other parties.”

L.K. Advani stressed that what Mukherjee said should have been part of President Pratibha Patil’s address in February. BJP chief Rajnath Singh said: “Our fears about the deal have been substantiated by the statements made by US officials that the 123 agreement has to be consistent with the Hyde Act.”

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