N-deal endgame: key allies support PM, Left adamant (Evening Lead)

June 19th, 2008 - 9:13 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) With the politics over the nuclear deal heading towards a flashpoint, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday won support of his two key allies as his Left comrades reiterated their threat to withdraw support if the government went ahead with the pact, raising the prospects of early elections. Although wary of early polls, the ruling Congress leaders, who are facing the toughest crisis since coming to power in 2004, admit options were running out before them.

“We will have to go for elections. There is no other way,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named as he was not authorized to speak for the party.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), that leads the four-party Left bloc, said it would reconsider its crucial legislative support to the Manmohan Singh government if it went to Vienna to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an important step in sealing the nuclear deal with the US.

“We will reconsider our support if the government goes ahead with the IAEA,” CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury told reporters here.

However, Manmohan Singh received support from some unexpected quarters. “I am hopeful the deal will come through and if not, it will be unfortunate for the country,” said Railways Minister Lalu Prasad, who had earlier wanted to take the communists on board to take the deal ahead.

Lalu Prasad, whom Yechury met to gather support for the Left’s stand, added: “Governments come and go. Nuclear power is a requirement and assets must be created for our next generation.”

Congress’ Tamil Nadu ally, the DMK, with which the Left has been maintaining good relations, also came out in public to say that the party would support the Congress on the issue.

Another important ally, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar said: “It is out duty to take our friends and whoever has supported us for the last four and a half years into consideration before taking a final step.”

Pawar, the agriculture minister, met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee along with several other senior ministers, as part of the endless parleys going on behind the scenes in an effort to find a way out of the political imbroglio over the nuclear deal.

However, NCP spokesperson D.P. Tripathi said: “We are with the government on the nuclear deal issue. I know it’s difficult to convince the Left but we will try,” he said.

The Left’s adamant stance has set the election clouds looming over the government. The new developments in the ruling coalition have clearly boosted the morale of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Senior BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu predicted that the government would collapse by Aug 15. “We are giving this government time till August 15. We will prefer early (general) elections,” Naidu told IANS.

However, Congress sources say there were still attempts to avoid a showdown. Some well-placed sources said Manmohan Singh had asked Pawar to bring around the Left parties, but Pawar himself denied this.

Mukherjee along with Defence Minister A.K. Antony have been asked to make a last ditch effort to convince the Communist allies.

Yechury said the issue could be discussed at the next meeting of the 15-member UPA-Left nuclear committee, which is expected to meet June 25 or 26, after Mukherjee returns from his Singapore trip. Mukherjee, who heads the committee, leaves for Singapore Saturday for a three-day visit to attend the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) meeting.

The government has been arguing that New Delhi should finalise the India-specific safeguards pact with IAEA and get a green signal from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group for resuming nuclear commerce to end its nuclear apartheid imposed on it since its Pokharan test in 1974.

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