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The government is not going to fall: Praful Patel

By Sheela Bhatt in New York
July 03, 2008 07:57 IST
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, claims Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel.

India has decided to go ahead with the India-US civilian nuclear agreement, which has been in cold storage for more than 10 months and on the edge many times because of the opposition from the Left parties who have 59 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Patel, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, a key constituent of the United Progressive Alliance, told, "The nuclear deal is good for India and the UPA government is going ahead with it."

It appears that Dr Singh's pressure tactics worked. The prime minister had threatened to resign if the Congress party and its president Sonia Gandhi did not support the nuclear deal. His party has now managed the difficult task of luring the Samajwadi Party, an erstwhile opponent, into its fold.

Congress leaders are not sure what the impact of the decision to go ahead with the nuclear deal on electoral politics will be and how the Bharatiya Janata Party will use the decision when a general election is called.

When asked about the Left parties's opposition, which was considered detrimental to the government's majority in Parliament, Patel merely said, "The government is not going to fall nor we will turn a minority. We have the majority. We will survive even when we go ahead with the deal."

A top source in the Congress party substantiated Patel's view and told, "The UPA consists of more than 12 parties. We have the support of Independents. We have almost made it without the Left parties."

When this correspondent insisted he clarify the numbers, the Congress leader said, "We have 234 (Lok Sabha) MPs in the UPA, add 39 members of the Samajwadi Party and the Independents who have declared support to us. We believe it touches the mark of 272."

If his statement is correct, it means the nuclear deal has passed the obstacles of domestic politics led by the Left and the BJP.

US President George W Bush and Dr Singh's dream deal may indeed go ahead before mid-August and there will be time to push the treaty into equally complex stages at the Nuclear Suppliers Group and in the United States Congress.

Experts in New Delhi believe if the issue takes an unexpected turn, the UPA will then call an election in early 2009 and end the tenure of this Lok Sabha by October or November.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Singh is all set to attend the G-8 summit in Japan; he will leave New Delhi early on Monday, July 7. His visit had become controversial because Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Prakash Karat had linked the visit with the nuclear deal. Karat had warned that the Left would view the prime minister's attendance at the G-8 summit as a declaration that the government would go ahead with the nuclear deal and therefore withdraw support to the UPA.

Much to the prime minister's relief, a news agency reported that the Communist Party of India is not in an agreement with the CPI-M to hurry with the withdrawal of support to the UPA government even before Dr Singh leaves for Japan.

CPI General Secretary A B Bardhan told reporters that the G-8 summit had nothing to do with the nuclear deal and hence his party would ask the CPI-M to delink any decision to withdraw support to Dr Singh's trip to Japan. He stressed that the Left parties were opposed to the nuclear deal and not to Dr Singh's foreign engagements, and were not opposed to the prime minister's meeting with Bush at the G-8 summit.

How far Karat pushes his agenda will be known only after the Left parties meet in New Delhi on Friday, but indications from other constituents of the Left Front are that the meeting will stop short of withdrawing support to the UPA. It will, however, finalise the modalities of withdrawal in view of all indications that the government will go ahead with the signing of an India-specific nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, a news agency reported.

The Congress party has worked hard on altering the Samajwadi Party's earlier opposition to the nuclear deal. The Samajwadi Party's change of heart over the deal has changed the viability of a third alternative in Indian politics.

The party, which has a considerable presence in India's most crucial political state, Uttar Pradesh, has ditched the Left parties and allies like the Telugu Desam Party and crossed over to the Congress side.

Congress sources claim Dr Singh was adamant he would resign if the party did not back the nuclear deal, a story first reported by this correspondent and When the economy is under serious pressure and a general election is around the corner, the party did not want to lose its prime minister. "His departure would have sent wrong signals to the people," a senior Congress leader said in a telephone conversation from New Delhi late on Wednesday night.

The exercise of winning over the Samjawadi Party's support for the deal was exceptionally unusual; National Security Adviser M K Narayanan met the party's senior leader Amar Singh at an undisclosed destination in New Delhi on Wednesday. Thereafter, the prime minister's media adviser Dr Sanjaya Baru issued a statement in which Amar Singh, who is not exactly an expert on nuclear or diplomatic issues, publicly responded to crucial aspects of international affairs, India's sovereignty and the nation's nuclear weapons programme. The latest statement is carefully drafted, but it will create waves in Washington, DC because it is a robust defence of the nuclear deal, and will no doubt be taken up by the anti-proliferation lobby in the United States.

Sheela Bhatt in New York