New Delhi, Jul 19: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to turn the debate on the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha on Monday, July 21, necessitated by the withdrawal of support by the Left parties, into a larger discussion on the performance of his government in all sectors in the past four years and on the unfinished business of economic reforms.
"We are not a one-issue party and government," highly-placed sources said today as the Congress-led UPA government continued hectic efforts to muster the numbers needed to clinch the vote.
The sources said the government was quite confident that it would win the trust vote and would work on the possibility of completing proposed reforms in the insurance, banking and pension sectors in the remainder of its term after discussions with its new ally, the Samajwadi Party.
While aggressively seeking support for the nuclear deal, which he firmly believes is in India's best interests, the Prime Minister will also use the opportunity to focus attention on the steps taken by the government to tame inflation and on the ambitious programmes launched by it to boost rural and urban infrastructure, raise employment and improve education and health services, among other things. He will also dwell at length on the steps taken by the government for the benefit of the minorities.
The government will address all the concerns raised by the Left, the main opposition BJP and other sections about the nuclear deal and underline the absolute necessity of ensuring India's energy security if the current pace of development is to be maintained and increased.
The sources also said the government was "open to the idea" of amending domestic atomic energy laws to counter the provisions of the US Hyde Act, which has been one of the main points on which the BJP and other parties have opposed the deal. Their argument is that it is a legislation that restricts India's right to conduct nuclear tests.
"Our contractual engagement and obligations with the US are under the 123 agreement," the sources explained. According to them, the Hyde Act was only an enabling act which enabled the US to enter into an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation with India even though it was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"The people should have confidence in the government of India, they should not doubt that the government would enter into a deal that is not in national interest. We are not a banana republic," the sources said.
However, the government was open to the idea of amending the Atomic Energy Act to counter the Hyde Act. "We are willing to look at all options provided they are feasible," they said. On the rising rate of inflation, the Prime Minister is expected to point out that it is an "imported" phenomenon, quite unlike anything India has witnessed in recent decades and which will take some time to be brought down. He is expected to argue that, in the medium term, the growth of productivity in various sectors would neutralise the "strong rise in imported inflation." The Prime Minister is said to be quite upset that the government had to seek a vote of confidence at a time when it should have been concentrating on many important issues affecting the common man.
The sources said they were surprised that CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat had decided to withdraw support to the government while the Prime Minister was in Japan for the G-8 Summit on the basis of remarks he is reported to have made on the flight to Toyako. "Mr Karat could have rung up the Prime Minister and sought a clarification," they remarked, maintaining that Dr Singh had not violated any agreed code with the Left.
According to them, the government had repeatedly urged the Left parties to allow it to complete the process of negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the deal and that it had promised to place the outcome of these talks before Parliament and seek its clearance before operationalising the Indo-US agreement.
The sources scoffed at suggestions by the Left parties, which had allowed the government to start negotiations with the IAEA, that the Prime Minister should have given them an assurance that he would not do anything further on the deal.
"The Prime Minister would have looked ridiculous if he had told the IAEA Board that we had no intention of going through with the deal after successfully completing the negotiations. Who would have then voted for India at the IAEA?" they said.
They also pointed out India needed all the goodwill and manoeuverability it could muster to complete the negotiations with the NSG, where some of the 45 member-nations may not be well-disposed towards it.
The sources said there was a sea-change in the manner in which India and its civil nuclear programme were perceived by the major powers, as witnessed by the statement issued by the G-8 after their recent summit in Japan. Further, more and more countries are now turning around to the view that they need to harness nuclear energy to meet their growing energy needs and fully understand India's position on this issue, the sources said.
Four decades ago, despite the fact that Indian scientists had done a stupendous job against the heaviest of odds in the form of technology denials after the 1974 nuclear tests conducted by India. Besides, the country's uranium supplies were limited and not of very high quality, forcing most of its nuclear plants to operate below capacity. The sources were confident that all this would change once the nuclear deal came into effect, with the country gaining access to much-needed technology and material.
"The costs of power generation will go down and you will see a grand renaissance in India's atomic energy programme," they said.
According to them, India could, in the medium-term, even emerge as a major exporter of medium-sized reactors.
The government is expected to use the debate to put across its case that it had consulted the Left parties and the BJP and briefed them in detail at every stage of the deal, initiated by Dr Singh and US President George W Bush at their historic meeting in Washington on July 18, 2005.
Regretting the stand taken by the Left parties, the sources felt they might have taken a "more pragmatic view" if they had been part of the government instead of merely lending it support from the outside.
The sources defended the government's position that it could not have shared the draft safeguards agreement negotiated with the IAEA before it was circulated to the IAEA Board. In any case, the substance of the agreement was discussed with the Left, they said.
The sources said the government had also regularly kept the major powers, including Russia, France, the UK, Germany and China in the picture at every stage of the deal and all of them were supportive of India's efforts.
They also maintained that the nuclear deal would in no way affect India's independence of decision-making in foreign policy matters and referred to the country's position on Iran and Iraq to support the claim.
The sources said the Congress party was fully behind the Prime Minister on the nuclear deal.The government had also been able to enlist the support of other members of the UPA in this regard, they said.
The sources sought to dispel the impression that the nuclear deal would be on "auto pilot" once the safeguards agreement with the IAEA was through. They said there was a lot of tough lobbying needed with the NSG to get the required waiver for India to enter into nuclear commerce with its members.
"We cannot take the NSG for granted. It works on the basis of consensus," they explained. And after that, there was the challenge of getting the US Congress to endorse the 123 agreement.
The sources also pointed out that India had the freedom to step back from the deal, if it was not fully satisfied with it, at any stage till it finally filed the required declaration with the IAEA.
Asked if the government would withdraw the draft agreement from the IAEA if it lost the trust vote, the sources said, "We are not going to lose the vote.The rest is hypothetical."