New Delhi, Aug. 16: On the eve of two critical Left meetings — the CPM’s politburo and the CPI’s central secretariat — the Prime Minister and the Congress stepped back to let Pranab Mukherjee emerge as the pointman on the nuclear deal.
In Calcutta, CPM state secretary Biman Bose dismissed speculation about mid-term polls saying: “It’s gossip. I don’t think it has any basis.”
But CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan kept up the pressure, telling a TV channel that the differences were “irreconcilable” and withdrawal of support “seems to be inevitable” if the government goes ahead with the deal.
Manmohan Singh will meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at dinner tomorrow but the Left central leadership is sceptical of the success of back-channel efforts.
Mukherjee, the No. 2 in the government, had kept a low profile when the deal was worked to its conclusion. But faced with a combative BJP and an unyielding Left, Singh fielded the foreign minister to talk to the allies.
In the Congress top rung, Mukherjee is thought to have the maximum comfort level with Left leaders who also see him as the most “political”.
If Sonia Gandhi steps in, sources said, it would be at the “very last stage” — either when the UPA-Left “breach” seems irreparable or if it is sealed.
Mukherjee met CPM MP Sitaram Yechury this morning in Parliament and is to see him again tonight. While the minister said the deal had addressed the nine concerns raised by Yechury during a parliamentary debate and was not tied to America’s Hyde Act, the CPM leader stuck to his party’s line that it must not be operationalised.
“The question is not that we are withdrawing support or not. The issue is of not operationalising the deal,” he said.
Sources close to Mukherjee said he told Yechury the deal was non-negotiable. A resolution will have to be found in the context of the deal and the related agreements, like negotiations with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and IAEA.
“The government will complete its full term,” parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi declared, but government sources admitted their options were getting narrower with neither the UPA nor the Left willing to budge.
Yechury told Mukherjee that while negotiating with the NSG, India must ensure the US is not allowed to prevent others from supplying fuel.
In response to a US warning that the cooperation will end if India tests again, the government said “India has the sovereign right to test and would do so if it is necessary in national interest”.