Delhi stakes all on nuclear
deal with US By Siddharth
NEW DELHI - The Indian
government will stand or fall on the Indo-US
nuclear deal. Congress party president Sonia
Gandhi has made it clear that the party backs
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and will be willing
to put the government at risk if coalition
partners, along with the official opposition
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), move a "resolution"
against the pact in parliament.
It is well
known that Gandhi is the final arbiter regarding
policy matters to be followed by the Congress-led
federal government headed by Manmohan. In the
past, Gandhi has overruled Manmohan, for example,
on the disinvestment of profit-making
public-sector enterprises. But she is firmly
behind him on the nuclear deal.
message was strongly conveyed by Gandhi during her
meeting with Sitaram Yechury,
a senior leader of the left-wing parties that
support the government, at her residence last
week. According to reports, independently
confirmed by Asia Times Online, Gandhi told
Yechury that any strong move in parliament against
the government on the nuclear deal would be
tantamount to a vote of no confidence. This would
result in the Congress party seeking to dissolve
parliament and holding new elections.
Sonia reportedly told Yechury that the
deal was in the national interest given the
country's abysmal electric-power situation, and
that the government is fully capable of ensuring
that the country's sovereignty and independent
decision-making is not compromised. She also
emphasized that the party fully backs Manmohan,
and there is no question of removing him from the
On the same day that Yechury met
with Sonia, Manmohan said that if the left goes
with the BJP on the nuclear issue, "that will be
the end of the day" for the government. Manmohan
has tenaciously defended the pact in parliament.
In the recent past there has been
considerable speculation that elements within the
Congress have been trying to impress Sonia that a
new prime minister should be installed. A senior
Congress leader told Asia Times Online that Sonia
told Yechury that if Manmohan resigned, so would
the rest of the government.
Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, considered
to be close to Sonia, said, "The UPA [United
Progressive Alliance] as a whole shall not
consider any resolution [in parliament] because we
have full faith in the PM."
been in the forefront in arguing against the deal
and has said parliament must come out with a
"resolution, motion, declaration or sentiment"
that has been supported by the BJP. That party's
leader, Sushma Swaraj, said in parliament last
week that the government should move a resolution
reflecting the sentiments of the House that
significant parameters of the deal would not be
Manmohan has been trying to
assuage the left by impressing upon them that they
should wait for the final version of the pact as
worked out by the US Congress, while New Delhi
will ensure that India's interests are
Last week Manmohan told
parliament: "The [US] House of Representatives has
taken up the bill, and there is a Senate bill, and
when there is difference between the two bills
there will be a conference. I cannot say that I
can predict what the US legislative process be.
All I can say is if the process leads to an end
product which is not consistent with what we have
committed that would be the determining factor of
what we can do."
A day before the US vote,
Manmohan assured parliament that his government
will never compromise in a manner that is
inconsistent with the July 18 Indo-US joint
statement on civilian nuclear energy. "I have on
more than one occasion shared our government's
views in parliament that we will not compromise
and that everything would be transparent," he
Significantly, there seems to be
dissension within the left ranks. Gurudas
Dasgupta, who represents an important section of
the left-wing parties, said after meeting with
Manmohan, "We are not in favor of having a
resolution with BJP, and neither are we aware of
any such move. We have decided not to go with the
BJP in any way." Regarding Mamohan's statement
that the government would "go" if the left moved
against it, Dasgupta said the prime minister "may
be saying this in anguish". The Congress party has
welcomed Dasgupta's statements.
other hand, Yechury has been quite steadfast: "The
government is shying away from disclosing facts,
which is forcing the left to be more apprehensive.
We cannot allow the country to be held hostage to
US diktats, and the government must remove our
fears by coming out with a statement which
expresses the sense of the House."
things stand, it seems that the Congress party has
called the left-wing parties' bluff and is tying
to stand up to the full onslaught of its crucial
coalition partners, without whose support the
government won't survive.
It remains to be
seen how matters evolve over this week when
Manmohan is expected to make a statement on the
pact and whether the left continues its vociferous
stance. The tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats by
India and Pakistan as well as other matters
related to two former foreign ministers of India,
Jaswant Singh and Natwar Singh, has sidelined the
focus on the pact for the moment. But this won't
It seems unlikely that the
leftists will pull the plug on the government,
comfortably placed as they are to enjoy
considerable patronage and power without being
actually responsible for it. Top business leaders,
including such captains of industry as Reliance
chairman Mukesh Ambani, make it a point to call on
leftist leaders before any major policy
Further, the left will be
averse to providing any chance to the BJP to make
a comeback. It may dislike the Congress, but it
hates the BJP.
The Congress, as a national
party, seems to be tired of the stalling tactics
of its coalition partners and has taken a "do or
die" attitude, judged as it will be on its overall
performance. Despite the noise at the federal
parliament, the left has been at the forefront of
inviting foreign investment and economic reforms
in its bastion state West Bengal. Congress party
stalwarts feel that such double standards will
hurt the Congress prospects more as the party is
answerable to a wider section of voter base,
unlike the left, which is firmly ensconced only in
two states (the other being Kerala).
clamor in parliament follows the strong approval
of the nuclear deal by the US House of
Representatives, with lawmakers voting 359-68 in
As per the proposed deal, the US
can be involved in the development of civil
nuclear power in India in exchange of New Delhi
placing its civil nuclear facilities under
International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.
The pact will allow India, a nuclear-weapons
state, to purchase nuclear fuel and reactors for
the first time in more than three decades.
The deal was negotiated a year ago and
announced in March. Putting the pact into effect
required that the US Congress exempt India from
certain sections of the US Atomic Energy Act.
The opposition says that the US has
"shifted the goal posts", and the terms of the
agreement are not the same as they were earlier.
Washington, meanwhile, has been trying to assuage
Indian fears. US assistant secretary of state
Richard Boucher is on a five-day visit to India
for discussions on the nuclear deal to "pursue the
agenda outlined by President George W Bush and
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to advance Indo-US
strategic partnership and review regional and
global issues and common efforts to combat the
scourge of terrorism", the US Embassy stated in
New Delhi. Interestingly, Boucher arrived in
Kolkata (capital of communist-run West Bengal)
"The final legislation is important
and I am confident that it will be on the lines of
what President Bush agreed upon when he visited
India," Boucher said in Kolkata.
is to hold talks with New Delhi officials on the
deal as well as deteriorating Indo-Pakistan
relations consequent to the Mumbai blasts.
Plenty more action awaits the Indo-US
Srivastava is a New Delhi-based