Undecided Congress buys time to choose between n-deal, government(Night Lead)

June 26th, 2008 - 12:05 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, June 25 (IANS) With the Congress still undecided on whether or not to risk its government for the India-US civil nuclear deal, a much-awaited climactic meeting of the UPA-Left nuclear committee Wednesday ended inconclusively leaving the future of both the government and the deal in the balance. In the 100-minute long meeting, which was “tense” according to informed sources, the Communists informed the government in writing that they would not give a green signal to the government to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement for its civilian reactors with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

With the Left ruling out any change in its position, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the 15-member nuclear committee, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi to apprise her of the outcome of the meeting.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also met Gandhi to discuss the government’s next steps, the sources said.

The Congress, which is also under pressure from its poll-wary allies, is expected to take a decision soon on whether it wants the deal or the government. The party fears that soaring inflation that touched a 13-year high at 11.05 percent would adversely affect the ruling coalition’s fortunes in an early general election.

The government side, which was represented by Mukherjee along with eight other ministers, was upset about the outcome of the 15-member committee meet.

“It is a very sad day for us,” Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal reportedly told Communist leaders as they were coming out of the meeting, which witnessed some heated exchanges between Mukherjee and Left leaders.

According to Left sources, Mukherjee told the committee that Manmohan Singh was “keen” to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement that according to him would end the country’s nuclear isolation ever since its first nuclear test in 1974.

“Sonia Gandhi also holds the same view,” the foreign minister reportedly said.

During the talks, Mukherjee apparently got angry when Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) general secretary T.J. Chandrachoodan insisted that the Left would not budge from its stand.

“You are putting new conditions now,” Mukherjee reportedly told the Left leaders angrily. He also told the Left leaders that the process of getting the waiver of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would be tougher for New Delhi.

The government has distributed a seven-page note to the committee members in which it explained the need to go for the nuclear deal. The Left parties, which held talks just ahead of the nuclear committee meeting at Mukherjee’s residence, responded with a four-page note.

In the note, which was read out by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat, the Left said: “Given the fact that the board approval (of the IAEA) is required for going ahead with the deal, Left cannot agree to it.”

Karat reportedly added: “You had many opportunities to tell the world that you were running a coalition government.”

The Left, whose 61 MPs extend a crucial legislative support to the Congress-led coalition government, has warned that it would withdraw its backing to the government if its word is not heeded.

Although the proceedings were tense, the committee came out with a brief statement.

“The committee completed its discussions on all aspects of the nuclear agreement. The next meeting of the committee will be convened in due course to finalise its findings,” Mukherjee told an army of reporters, reading out a prepared statement.

All members of the committee barring Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar attended the meeting. Pawar is in London to mark the 25th anniversary of India’s cricket World Cup victory of 1983.

Mukherjee did not elaborate. But CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said: “The discussions are over. The (UPA-Left nuclear) committee will now present its findings at its next meeting.”

According to the sources, most of the committee members apart from Mukherjee and Karat were silent. However, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad said that UPA should not go for a snap poll which would benefit only the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Wednesday’s meeting of the UPA-Left nuclear committee was called amid serious differences between the Congress-led UPA and its Left allies over the India-US nuclear deal.

The committee members also included cabinet ministers A.K. Antony, P. Chidambaram, Saifuddin Soz, Ram Vilas Paswan, T.R. Baalu and PMO minister Prithviraj Chavan from the government’s side while the Left is also represented by CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India leader A.B. Bardhan and D. Raja and Forward Bloc leader Debabrata Biswas.

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