Indian Legislators Begin Key Debate

Members of a communist faction gather in Hyderabad to protest the nuclear deal negotiated with the United States.
Members of a communist faction gather in Hyderabad to protest the nuclear deal negotiated with the United States. (By Mahesh Kumar A -- Associated Press)
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By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

NEW DELHI, July 21 -- Indian lawmakers on Monday began a two-day debate whose outcome will decide the fate not only of the beleaguered government but also of the contentious civilian nuclear agreement with the United States.

The debate precedes a vote of confidence in the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. If Singh loses the vote Tuesday, a national election could be called in November, six months ahead of schedule.

The prime minister was forced to call a special session of Parliament after a group of communist allies opposed to the nuclear deal withdrew support from his government, reducing it to a minority.

Singh and his allies have said they remain certain they will win the vote of confidence. On Monday, the prime minister entered Parliament flashing a V sign for victory and telling reporters that his government would win "a hundred percent."

Many legislators, however, have not committed their support and are bargaining for more political influence.

The U.S.-India agreement would give India access to nuclear fuel and technology, even though it has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Critics have said it would erode India's sovereignty, tying the country to U.S. strategic interests and taking away its right to conduct nuclear tests.

"We are not at all opposed to having a relationship with America. But we would not like India to be a party to an agreement which is unequal," Lal Krishna Advani, the leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said in Parliament. "This deal makes India a subservient partner."

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee urged members not to rush to vote against the deal. "It will open the door and end 30 years' isolation of nuclear technology," he said.

"Keep your hand on your heart," he added. "Is this an issue on which you are bringing down the government?"


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