| Sonia at Rajiv Gandhi’s samadhi on his birth anniversary on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 20: Congress president Sonia Gandhi left for South Africa tonight, apparently sending a signal of support to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s handling of the nuclear deal.
Sonia is also keeping a commitment close to her heart by using the opportunity provided by the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe will be in India for the next three days — the duration of Sonia’s South African tour — and domestic political crises usually do not snowball when a foreign dignitary is the guest of the country.
In Cape Town and in Johannesburg, Sonia will launch the Mahatma Gandhi lecture series, address the South African parliament and visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 26 years in incarceration.
She could have cancelled the trip only at the risk of losing face and lending more gravity to the crisis at home. Yet, her departure could be interpreted as a message that the Prime Minister was in control, sources said
Till Sonia returns, the government is expected to seek to project a business-as-usual visage.
The process was already under way. “Yes, we will,’’ foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said without hesitation, asked whether the Indian side will discuss nuclear cooperation with Abe’s team. Japan is one of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) members that will have to endorse the Indian deal with America.
Atomic energy chief Anil Kakodkar’s September trip to Vienna for an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting was also on track, the sources said without committing whether he would discuss the nuclear deal.
A strong strand in the Singh-Abe conversations could be the “China factor”. China is trying to introduce at the NSG an amendment that seeks to put in place “criteria” for allowing waivers such as those for India.
Analysts interpret this move in the direction of China pushing for similar rights for Pakistan in the future.