Journalist | Writer | Analyst
Today has been a day of dramatic developments.
1. The four Left parties — the Communist Party of India (Marixst), the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc — met in Delhi on Tuesday and decided to withdraw suport from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the United Progressive Alliance government. They have said so in a letter addressed to External Affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. The Left parties, who have 59 MPs, will meet the President of India, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, on Wednesday formally to inform her of their withdrawal of support.
2. The Left parties have also renewed their demand that the draft safeguards agreement India has negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency should be made public immediately.
3. The Left has asked five pointed questions about the draft and demanded a public debate before the government approaches the IAEA:
* In case the US or other countries in the NSG renege on fuel supply assurances for imported reactors, will we have the ability to withdraw these reactors from IAEA safeguards?
* If US/NSG countries renege on fuel supply assurances, can we withdraw our indigenous civilian reactors from IAEA Safeguards?
* If we have to bring nuclear fuel from the non-safeguarded part of our nuclear programme for these reactors in case of fuel supply assurances not being fulfilled, will we have the ability to take it back again?
* What are the corrective steps that India can take if fuel supplies are interrupted by the US/NSG countries?
* What are the conditions that India will have to fulfill if the corrective steps are to be put into operation?
4. The Samajwadi Party has publicly committed itself to supporting the Manmohan Singh government on this issue. It has 39 MPs. Together with the UPA’s 225, that still means the Prime Minister needs the backing of another 8 MPs to reach the half-way mark of 272 and stave off defeat on the floor of the house. A number of smaller parties like the PDP and JD(S) have indicated they will vote for the government. However, some Samajwadi MPs may defect during the vote and side with the opposition.
5. The Prime Minister returns from Japan on July 10 and is likely to convene a special session of Parliament to prove his majority. That session is likely to be held on July 21.
6. Assuming the UPA wins the trust vote, I expect the government immediately thereafter formally to inform the IAEA secretariat about convening a special meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors for the purpose of approving the Indian safeguards agreement. In his press conference on Tuesday, in fact, Pranab Mukherjee said the government would only move the IAEA after winning its trust vote.
7. Under IAEA rules, 45 days notice must be given to the Board before the consideration of any fresh document. But if enough members want, the waiting time could be reduced. There is also a provision for a 72-hour notice period for emergency items but the Indian safeguards agreement will not be in the category.
8. The earliest I think the IAEA Board can approve the safeguards agreement, then, is September 8. But since the Board is scheduled to meet September 22-25 in any case, India might have to wait till then.
9. Assuming the IAEA approves the text, the U.S. will formally seek approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group for a change in its export guidelines to allow nuclear commerce with India.
10. Since the Indian safeguards agreement enters the public domain as soon as it goes to the IAEA Board, nothing stops the NSG members from commencing their study of it with a view to making up their mind on whether to back the American proposal on India or not. But for them to do that, they also need to know exactly what it is that the U.S. is asking the NSG to do. If the American proposal is communicated to them at the same time as the Indian safeguards agreement, the NSG could, theoretically, be in a position to take a decision around the same time the IAEA Board of Governors acts. This will also be the time when the Indian side will known whether the Americans are proposing a “clean” exemption for India or not.
11. In my estimation, the earliest the IAEA and NSG decisions can be made is the end of September. Once that happens, the U.S. President must make a “determination” that all the conditions India had to fulfil under the Henry Hyde Act have been fulfilled and, pursuant to that, the 123 agreement is being submitted to Congress for approval.
12. Assuming this happens in the first week of October, the 123 agreement must lie before the House for a minimum of 60 days before it is voted “up or down”. Thus, the earliest this could happen is in the first week of December, during the last “lame duck” session of Congress. The Hyde Act, incidentally, was also approved during this “lame duck” session in December 2006.