The communist parties that have provided the Indian government with a parliamentary majority for four years said yesterday they were withdrawing their support to protest a civilian nuclear deal with the US.
The communist parties had said they would withdraw if the government formally went ahead with the deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday that the move would come “very soon.”
It was the final straw for the left.
“That time has come,” Prakash Karat, head of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), India’s biggest communist party, told reporters.
Karat said yesterday the communist parties would formally announce their withdrawal in a meeting with India’s president today.
“We have decided to ask the president for an appointment so that we can formally withdraw support tomorrow,” Karat said.
Another senior left leader, Debabrata Biswas, said the four communist parties that had supported the government would ask the president to call a vote of no-confidence.
The government has lined up support from a regional party to provide it with a parliamentary majority in the event of a vote of no-confidence and hopes to avoid early elections.
Singh arrived in Japan on Monday for a G8 summit where he was expected to tell US President George W. Bush — the man who shook hands with Singh on the accord at the White House in 2005 — that the delayed deal would go ahead.
The pact would be a major success for Singh, giving India access to US nuclear fuel and technology and moving the Asian giant’s trade and diplomatic relations closer to the West.
The withdrawal could plunge India into more political uncertainty that has already hit markets. The government believes it will survive the vote, having won the backing of the regional Samajwadi Party (SP).
IAEA diplomats said on Monday there was talk of a special July 28 board gathering to discuss the deal but any timetable for advancing it would be unclear until Singh authorized the IAEA to proceed.
“This meeting would be India-specific, but no date for it has been set yet. It would be premature at this point,” an IAEA official said on condition of anonymity due to political sensitivities.
But some say it could already be too late for the deal to be passed before the end of Bush’s term.
With time running out before the US election in November, India needs to seek approval for the deal from the IAEA, then the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, where there is doubt about it since India is outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and finally ratification by the US Congress.
The nuclear deal is potentially worth billions of dollars to US and European nuclear supply companies and would give India more energy alternatives to drive its booming economy.
The support of the SP, which has a history of pragmatic alliances with governments, should ensure that Singh wins the vote and avoids an early election this year just as the government grapples with inflation at a 13-year high and signs of economic slowdown.
The Samajwadi Party has 39 seats in parliament, compared with 59 for the communist parties. The Congress-led ruling coalition needs the support of 44 lawmakers to reach a majority. It would try to win the other five seats from smaller parties.