Report in The Hindu prompts leaders to rethink strategy

Top BJP leaders said they “discovered” the significant change made in the Standing Committee report on the nuclear civil liability bill only after reading The Hindu's report on Thursday morning.

Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj told reporters that she received a telephone call from the former External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, mentioning The Hindu story and wanting to know if he could have a copy of the Standing Committee report (that was distributed freely to the press after it was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday).

Ms. Swaraj then told Mr. Sinha to pick up the copy from her office in Parliament House, which he did, and began studying it in some detail. In the afternoon, Ms. Swaraj also said party leaders had been unable to meet — which they did later in the evening — to discuss the report in the light of The Hindu story as they were busy with other matters.

Separately, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, who was also alerted to the change by The Hindu's report, said he had written a note and handed it over to Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan stating that some amendments that dilute suppliers' liability had not been agreed upon by the BJP in their earlier discussions with the government.

Later in the evening, the four main BJP players in the nuclear deal with the government — Ms. Swaraj, Mr. Jaitley, Mr. Sinha and S.S. Ahluwalia, a member of the Standing Committee on Science and Technology that was considering the nuclear bill — met in Ms. Swaraj's Parliament House chamber and discussed and approved the note penned by Mr. Jaitley.

“This note represents the collective decision of the BJP. It is perfect,” Ms. Swaraj told journalists in the presence of Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Sinha. Ms. Swaraj also announced that unless the government once again conceded the party's “collective” demand, the BJP would not vote for the nuclear civil liability bill. The BJP suggested that the government had somehow diluted the suppliers' liability by making a small but significant change in the agreed text of the amendments to the original bill. But not once did any of the party's leaders charge the government with duplicity.

It was after this that the meetings began in the government between the Prime Minister and his advisers and colleagues so that yet another agreement could be hammered out with the BJP before the Standing Committee's report on the bill is taken up and approved by the Cabinet, now scheduled to meet on Friday morning.

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