By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI: Full-fledged campaigns are on in India from both the supporters and opponents of the controversial India-United States civilian nuclear deal. Turning to the media, the Congress party is coming out with full-page advertisements in newspapers carrying photographs of PM Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The slogans read: “If we don’t do it now, history will not forgive us” or “Tomorrow can be dark if we don’t see the light today.”
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is to face the crucial test on July 22, for which a two-day special Lok Sabha session has been convened. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who is also the UPA chairperson, asked her party members to promote the deal before July 22. “We have been given a task to take the issues of nuclear deal forward as they are important for the nation’s energy security. We have been asked to reach out to the masses and explain the nuclear deal to them,” Congress Spokesperson Veerappa Moily said.
The vote of confidence motion will be moved on July 21 and the voting will take place the next day. The UPA has been forced to face this challenge following the withdrawal of support by the left bloc. The four left parties: Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) formally handed their letters withdrawing support from the UPA to President Pratibha Patil on July 9.
After meeting Patil, general secretary CPI-M Prakash Karat told the media: “We have submitted two letters to the President. The first is from the four left parties withdrawing support. We have also submitted a joint letter requesting the President to ask the Prime Minister to immediately place the confidence motion in Parliament.”
“We have taken this step for two main reasons. First, this government is a minority government minus the left. This government has disregarded the Parliament. UPA and Congress leadership has violated the understanding arrived on November 16, 2007,” Karat said. The left has 59 legislators in the Lok Sabha.
Soon after the left formally withdrew support to UPA, Samajwadi Party (SP), with 39 legislators in the Lok Sabha, submitted a letter to Patil extending its support for the government.
“There was some confusion in the public mindset because of certain political differences between the UPA and the Samajwadi Party during the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. To clear those doubts, we have met the President to reiterate the support of SP in favor of UPA government,” SP general secretary Amar Singh told reporters after handing over the letter to Patil.
The UPA members held a meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence to fine tune their strategy on proving their majority in the Parliament (July 11). “I have no doubt that we shall prove our majority,” Sonia said. Expressing regret that the left parties withdrew their support, she told media persons: “It is time to look ahead. SP has offered to support us. We welcome this and thank them for it. Before the left withdrew their support, the Prime Minister had said that he would not operationalize the agreement without taking Parliament into confidence. We stand by that position.”
Thanking the left parties for their support, “who have been with us during these last four years,” Sonia said: “Without their support, the UPA could not have been formed and a good deal of what we have achieved would not have been possible.” “Unfortunately, we could not carry with them with us on the nuclear agreement despite our best efforts. While we regret their withdrawal of support, it is now time to look ahead,” Sonia said.
The UPA has an assured support of 221 legislators belonging to the coalition. It needs to secure more than 272 votes in Lok Sabha, which has an effective strength of 543, to gain a simple majority.
Unfazed by UPA leaving no stone unturned on the nuclear deal, the left has continued its drive to make it impossible for the government to go ahead with it. Karat discussed the issue with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, who is also Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and secured her party’s assurance on voting against the deal (July 13). The BSP has 17 legislators in the Lok Sabha.
Hailing Mayawati’s anti-nuke stance, Karat told the media: “We wanted the two parties to cooperate in the struggle against the government.” “We have to get the Indo-US nuclear deal defeated,” he asserted.
The left bloc has also launched a “vigorous” nationwide campaign against the government’s “unkept promises” and its “obsession” with the nuclear deal. During their campaign, the left leaders will place before the people the alternative to meet energy requirements for development and for putting an end to economic policies which are “harmful to farmers, rural poor, workers and other sections,” Karat said.
On the nuclear deal, the left has no reservations of voting together with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the UPA. The left has no option. Explaining this, CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury told a news channel: “When you travel in a train, you cannot choose your co-passenger. What can I do? I want to reach my destination. And my position is against the deal. We are opposing it (deal). Whoever else is opposing, let them take their own decision.”