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N-deal may go ahead without Left consent

The Congress is evaluating the political fallout of sewing up the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA without Left's consent. HT Political Bureau reports.
By HT Political Bureau | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2008 11:05 AM IST

In the face of the Left’s unrelenting opposition to the India-US nuclear deal, the Congress, in a major shift of stance, is seriously evaluating the political fallout of sewing up the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA without their consent.

The postponement of the scheduled UPA-Left meeting on the issue on Wednesday saw hectic consultations in both camps. After being closeted with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Union Minister Kapil Sibal, a member of the panel for nuclear talks, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee conferred with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Others present at the meeting were Defence Minister AK Antony and Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.

Congress sources confirmed to Hindustan Times the possibility of the government signing the agreement despite the Communists’ rigid opposition. But the final call would be taken after the UPA-Left committee meeting now slated on June 25.

The urgency in the government’s moves was explained to the tight deadlines for completing the next three stages in the deal: the IAEA safeguards pact, the NSG waiver and the up and down vote in the US Congress on the 123 agreement. There was some relief, however, after the US State Department’s public assurance that Washington would push for the deal till January 20, the day the new President would take oath in that country.

The parleys scheduled for Wednesday were deferred for a week primarily to enable the government take a decision on balance upon assessing the pros and cons of disregarding the Left. Given the implications of its move for the government’s longevity, not to mention the need for Left’s support after the elections, the Congress leadership isn’t oblivious of the requirement of an intra-UPA consensus on the issue. Significant in this context was a meeting DMK’s TR Baalu had with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, the deal’s most vocal opponent. Baalu also met Sonia later in the evening.

“It is in the interest of the nation that the government should not fall on the nuclear deal issue,” Baalu told reporters after meeting Sonia. He said it was the responsibility of all UPA constituents to see through the present situation created by the issue.

Before crossing, so to speak, the Rubicon, the Congress-led UPA will need to factor in a whole lot of political scenarios including early polls.

"Even if that eventuality is delayed, we'd have to be prepared for a lame duck status. Legislative work in Parliament would come to a halt for want of the Left support and the BJP would question the government's legitimacy," said a highly placed source.

He nevertheless maintained that the deal was in national interest, what with nuclear plants running at 50 per cent capacity for want of the fuel the country cannot access without the IAEA agreement and the NSG waiver for nuclear trade.

For their part, the Left partners reiterated, after a meeting of their top leaders, their opposition to the deal. They also charged the UPA with going back on its assurance that the outcome of the talks with the IAEA would be presented to the committee "for its consideration before it finalises its findings".

The statement issued by the Left leaders was a confirmation of sorts of information trickling out from official quarters that the government has already indicated to them its intent to proceed with the deal irrespective of the panel's findings. In the diplomatic circles it was averred that India won't be taken seriously on the international stage if it failed to take the process forward.

To the Left's lament that it has not been furnished the text of the proposed agreement with the nuclear watchdog, sources claimed that at no stage any assurance of this kind was given to the communists.

"What we have is a draft prepared by a technical committee. We'd be violating all cannons of propriety if we show it to them even before it reaches the IAEA's Board of Governors," they said. "We are nevertheless answering the Left's queries on the basis of the draft. Sometimes we even used the language in the draft to clarify their doubts."

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