It’s now or never, government advises Left (Second Lead)

June 18th, 2008 - 9:27 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) Upping the ante on the nuclear deal, the government Wednesday virtually threw down the gauntlet to the Left, telling them that if it does not get their consent on the next stage of operationalisation of the India-US nuclear deal they should be prepared for the inevitable. “The government is taking a tough stand. We tried to convince the Left that an immediate election is risky for both,” said a government source familiar with the latest discussion with Left leaders, suggesting the two sides could be soon heading for a showdown that could lead to an early election that many are predicting.

The Left parties asserted that they would not support the government’s move to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as they were not privy to the text of the pact with the global nuclear watchdog.

“The Left parties are of the firm opinion that the government should not proceed to seek approval of the text of the India specific safeguards agreement from the Board of Governors of the IAEA,” said a joint statement by the four Left parties.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left parties met here hours after the government postponed a crucial meeting of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left nuclear committee, scheduled for Wednesday.

The meeting is likely to be held June 25 or 26 after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the 15-member nuclear committee, returns from Australia Tuesday evening.

“We have given the Left time to fall in line,” said a Congress leader, who is a member of the panel.

The Left leaders argued that the government has not divulged the details of the safeguards agreement with them though there had been an understanding that the outcome of the negotiations will be presented to the committee for its consideration before it finalises its findings.

“However, the text has not been made available to the committee. As far as the Left parties are concerned, they have not been able to form any opinion on the text of the safeguards agreement. Neither has the committee arrived at its findings,” the statement said.

In a last minute attempt to convince the Communists for a green signal to go ahead to finalise the IAEA pact, Mukherjee held two rounds of discussions with CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat on Monday and Tuesday. Another CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury met Congress president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday evening.

The government’s decision to postpone Wednesday’s meeting came just hours before the committee was expected to meet. Although the official reason cited is Mukherjee’s engagements with visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, informed sources said this was a ruse to give the government more time to arrive at a consensus on the contentious deal.

Sources in the ruling Congress said the confusion within the party leadership over the deal continues. A large section of leaders, a party insider said, are of the view that the government should cut its losses and forget about the deal. But others, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, are pushing hard for the deal that they say will open the way for nuclear commerce to meet the energy crisis.

The Left parties have clarified that they would not allow the government to finalise the India-specific safeguard agreement with the IAEA as they believe that such a move would put the nuclear agreement with Washington in an auto-pilot mode.

The Left cannot make any more compromises with its opposition to the nuclear deal as it would cost it dear electorally, said sources in the CPI-M.

“What will we tell people if we allow them to go ahead and finalise the IAEA pact? It will be a political disaster for us,” a senior CPI-M leader told IANS, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The government is keen on finalising the safeguards agreement before IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei completes his term in July.

The pressure on Gandhi to go ahead with the deal despite the Left’s opposition remains, the sources said.

Once the IAEA agreement is finalised, the next step is to place it before the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to get an India-specific exemption to its guidelines, clearing the way for nuclear commerce between New Delhi and NSG member countries.

Once the safeguards agreement passes through NSG, the US Congress will have to decide if it wants to give its nod to the 123 agreement to change its domestic laws to allow trade between US companies and India on civilian nuclear energy and technology.

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