The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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N-deal, not Iran, on PM plate

New Delhi, Feb. 9: The Centre has decided to de-link the issues of the Iran vote and the Indo-US nuclear pact.

Although both have raised the hackles of the Left and the Samajwadi Party, which support the UPA government from outside, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not make a statement on the Iran vote in Parliament but opt for a suo motu one on the nuclear agreement.

The latter is expected to crystallise into a discussion, but the government seems keen to avoid a vote on it, given the Left’s opposition. Besides, the UPA is apprehensive that the BJP may try to expose the cracks in the ruling coalition.

With a week left for the budget session, parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi got down to brass tacks yesterday and met the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Dominant issues like the mood of the Left, the UPA constituents and the Opposition and what the government’s defence and offence strategies ought to be were discussed.

Apart from the thorns in the Left-Centre relationship, an interview given by Anil Kakodkar, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, to a newspaper this week has left the government red-faced.

Kakodkar, also secretary in the department of atomic energy, hinted at a growing rift between the nuclear and governing establishments in India and the US. The Bush administration’s demands, which have gone beyond the letter and spirit of the July 18, 2005, statement that it signed with India, have irked Delhi’s nuclear establishment as accepting them would mean compromising on India’s strategic interests, he implied.

At a meeting with Kakodkar and his senior colleagues on Tuesday, the Prime Minister reportedly conveyed to him there was no need for him to go public with his views as Singh has already promised to take Parliament into confidence.

Official sources said Singh’s “detailed” statement, in step with Kakodkar’s interview, would clarify that the political bosses were not prepared to barter away the country’s interests by acceding to US demands on the separation of civilian and military facilities.

Although the Congress backed the government’s stand, privately many members felt an excessively pro-US tilt in foreign policy would not go down well with their own rank-and-file, weaned on the non-aligned concept. Besides, the party would not want to alienate Muslims, said sources.

To mollify the Left, the government decided to package the deal in non-military idiom and stress on the “dividends” it would yield for the energy requirements instead of projecting it as a fillip to the military nuclear programme.

“In 1998, the Left criticised the Vajpayee government for going nuclear. But this deal is meant to generate power and not make bombs,” a source said.

“Indeed, if you see the various shades of opinions, the most vocal opposition has come from a small clutch of nuclear fundamentalists who think the deal will limit India’s military capability. The Left has never been a hawk and this government is certainly not one, either.”

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