It was part of a ‘deal' for the nuclear deal arrangement with political parties

In the first week of July 2008, contrary to the public posturing and the assurances that were given to political allies, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress was “quietly” working on the draft nuclear safeguards agreement that was to be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board. Simultaneously, it was involved with a “deal for the deal” arrangement with political parties to garner support for the government and its nuclear initiative.

A cable (160825: confidential) sent on July 4, 2008 from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi under the name of Ambassador David Mulford noted that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was determined to announce “to President Bush during their meeting at the July 7-9 G-8 Summit the United Progressive Alliance government's plan to submit the safeguards agreement to the IAEA Board of Governors.” This, the cable said, “prompted the Congress Party to seek the support of the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) to retain a parliamentary majority in the event the Left withdraws support.” In return, the cable revealed, the SP leaders wanted Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Petroleum Minister Murli Deora to be dismissed.

The cable documented a flurry of meetings that were convened in Delhi on July 4, 2008. “Samajwadi leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh met sequentially with Prime Minister Singh and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi to discuss the broad outlines of a political alliance.” After the meeting, the Samajwadi leaders announced their “support for the nuclear initiative.” They explained that “Narayanan's [National Security Adviser] briefing and Kalam's [the former President] position helped ‘clear their doubts'.”

The cable mentioned that “the savvy political power-brokers of the Samajwadi Party are unlikely to have expressed such public support for the nuclear initiative without prior guarantees from Congress Party leadership.”

It came to this conclusion based on what Amar Singh told the U.S. Political Counselor, and “Prime Minister Singh's confidence as expressed to Representative Ackerman [member of the pro-India Caucus of American legislators who led a Congressional delegation to meet the Prime Minister].”

On July 4, after meeting Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, Amar Singh met the U.S. Political Counselor. He explained to him that “he did not require positions for his party members,” but had “told the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi that Chidambaram and Deora should be sacked.” He also had “grievances against [Indian] Ambassador Ronen Sen, but dismissed Sen as ‘too small a fish' to warrant his attention.”

On the same day, in another meeting, a confident Prime Minister assured Mr. Ackerman, that ‘“things are moving in the right direction' politically, and that he expected to ‘clear the issues' within a few days so that India could move forward with the nuclear initiative.”

The cable noted that through its contacts the U.S. Embassy had come to know that, apart from the Samajwadi Party, “the UPA has secured eight more votes: one each from the National Loktantrik Party (NLP), the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), an Independent UPA supporter from Kerala, an Independent UPA supporter from Assam, and four votes from other previously undeclared Independents.” The contacts also reported that “the UPA has approached the Shiromani Akali Dal with eight seats, to abstain in the event of a confidence vote.” The other “small parties” in discussion with the Congress party, as the cable mentioned, were the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam with four seats, and the Asom Gana Parishad with two seats.

For its part, the U.S. government, through its Ambassador, conveyed to the Prime Minister on June 4 that if the government of India announced that it would proceed with the nuclear agreement initiative before the Prime Minister left for the G8 summit meeting in Japan, where he was scheduled to meet President George W. Bush, it was willing “to seek language in the G-8 chairman's statement.”

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told the Ambassador at the July 4 celebration of the U.S. Independence Day at the U.S. Embassy that the government “understood the advantages of an earlier announcement and was working to arrive at some conclusion prior to the Prime Minister's departure.” Mr. Menon also assured the Ambassador that he would keep him informed “over the weekend of any developments.”

On Monday, July 7, 2008, the Prime Minister announced that the government would go to the IAEA board soon. The next day, the Left parties withdrew support to the UPA government. The same day, the government submitted the draft nuclear safeguard agreement to the IAEA for circulation. At the lakeside resort of Hokkaido Toyako in Japan on July 9, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Bush on the sidelines of G8 summit and discussed the nuclear deal.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)