Samajwadi Party prepares to bail out government amid Left ultimatum


New Delhi : Months of wrangling over the India-US nuclear deal took a decisive turn Friday with the Left parties serving a Monday deadline to the government and foe-turned-ally Samajwadi Party deciding to shore up the beleaguered coalition of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of his visit to Japan.

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Setting aside years of bitter rivalry, Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh met Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi separately in a major step towards saving the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to make up for the imminent loss of Left backing.

Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh made it clear after their 30-minute meeting with the prime minister that they were dead set on saving the government and the controversial nuclear deal.

“All new facts were presented to us by the PM. The country’s interest is more important to us … than politics,” Mulayam Singh told reporters outside the prime minister’s 7 Race Course Road residence.

Even as Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily described the Samajwadi Party decision as timely, Mulayam Singh’s bete noire and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati ridiculed Mulayam Singh’s claim that he was acting in national interest.

“The deal has nothing to do with national interest, instead it is a political deal,” Mayawati said in Lucknow and added that the nuclear deal had gone wrong because the government had not shared the details with the people at large.

In New Delhi, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Forward Bloc discussed the modalities of taking back their legislative support to the government and shot off a letter to External Affairs Minister and Congress interlocutor Pranab Mukherjee.

The Left allies asked the government to explain in no uncertain terms by Monday its stand on approaching the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to finalise the agreement on India-specific safeguards – a crucial move that would take the nuclear deal forward.

“Please let us know the position by July 7,” a sombre CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat told reporters at his party headquarters.

And to make it clear that a divorce was imminent, he said the Left would launch a national campaign from July 14 against the government’s “anti-people policies”.

The CPI went one step ahead insisting that the ruling UPA should face a floor test in parliament once it loses Left support.

“Once we pull out, it (government) will be reduced to a minority status. We will have to ask the Manmohan Singh government to bring a confidence motion (in the Lok Sabha),” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan.

A furious Congress rejected the ultimatum.

“Sovereign governments or political parties cannot be subjected to deadlines,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said. “We are happy that other parties in the national interest are slowly converging to our viewpoint.

“We are working towards triple objectives — to do a nuclear deal in national interest, to carry along our allies with us for that purpose and to go to elections as per schedule” in May 2009.

Congress leader Moily hit out at the Left for going public over its deadline to the government. “It is not appropriate. It lacks courtesy. Why is the Left so desperate? Why are they in such a big hurry?”

In related developments, US Congressman Gary Ackerman met Prime Minister Singh and underscored the need to put the stalled civilian nuclear deal on fast track so that US Congress endorses it before September. Ackerman is the Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

Manmohan Singh told Ackerman about his government’s efforts to mobilise a political consensus to push the deal forward but did not indicate a timeline for concluding the safeguards pact with the IAEA, official sources said.

The prime minister flies to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido for the G8 summit Monday, leaving no one in doubt that he will press ahead with the landmark nuclear deal. He is to meet US President George W. Bush in Japan.

“The US is committed to getting us an exemption under the July 18, 2005 agreement,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said ahead of Manmohan Singh’s visit.

“We have been in touch with NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) members. We will seek their support,” he replied when asked if the prime minister will ask the NSG countries to support the nuclear deal.