Indian government, allies to hold talks on US nuclear deal
The Indian government and its communist partners held preparatory meetings for crucial talks due later Wednesday on a civilian nuclear deal with the United States as divisions in the ruling alliance over the issue threatened to force early elections, reported dpa.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee met Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat to try to break the deadlock over the nuclear agreement, said a politician from the Congress Party, which leads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Defence Minister AK Antony also participated in the talks, which assumed much significance because they came ahead of the UPA-Left Committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening.
The communist parties, which have 59 members in the 543-member Indian Parliament, have warned of withdrawing their support if the government approached the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's international nuclear watchdog, to complete an India-specific safeguards pact that is needed to implement the agreement.
The left-wing parties maintained their strident opposition to the nuclear deal, calling it a sellout of India's strategic sovereignty and a "cover" to building closer ties with the United States.
The Congress Party, meanwhile, has rallied behind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been insisting that the government should implement the deal because it would help India meet its ever-increasing energy needs.
At the same time, several UPA allies and Congress Party leaders do not want to upset the left-wing parties because the ruling alliance was expected to fare badly if snap polls were called because of a withdrawal of communist support.
They would prefer elections next year as inflation is already at a record 13-year high and the UPA has suffered a string of defeats in recent state elections at the hands of its main adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Wednesday's talks are crucial because their outcome would lead the Congress Party leadership to take a call on whether they want to go ahead with the nuclear deal, but political sources said it would not be a "make-or-break" meeting and the UPA-Left panel could meet again shortly.
While the communists planned to hold a politburo meeting on the issue Sunday, the Congress Party was trying to build consensus among its other allies.
It was also looking at support from the Samajwadi Party, which holds 39 seats, in case the communists withdraw support, but that party has said it would decide on its stand on the nuclear deal only by July 3.
Under the civilian nuclear agreement, the United States has promised to provide India with access to civilian nuclear technology and nuclear fuel in exchange for international safeguards on India's civilian nuclear reactors.
After reaching a safeguards agreement with the UN, New Delhi has to lobby for an India-specific waiver with the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and later send the agreement for final ratification by the US Congress.