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Bush fuel in Left fire

Aug. 14: From breakfast to dinner, Prakash Karat, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and George W. Bush kept the Prime Minister busy on the eve of Independence Day but the standoff with the Left on the nuclear deal showed little sign of ebbing.

The crisis, highly placed sources said, could escalate with the Left leadership “implacably” opposed to the “operationalising” of the deal and Manmohan Singh — buoyed by public support from Sonia Gandhi today — equally determined not to “renegotiate” it.

After a breakfast meeting with Karat, Singh spoke to Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and set up a meeting with him in Delhi on Friday.

Singh’s day ended with a call from the American President. Obligatory greetings for Independence Day offered a ready excuse but the gesture is being seen as an iteration of US support for the nuclear deal.

White House spokesperson Dana Perino said the phone conversation was “in terms of how we can support” the Prime Minister. In revealing this, she may have added fuel to the political fire in India over the nuclear deal since the dispute over it, at present, is purely a domestic issue among political parties in the country.

Perino claimed that “the civil nuclear agreement has many wonderful aspects to it”, adding that one of them was “bringing India into the system of some monitoring and compliance”.

Her statement is unlikely to go down well with the Left, which already feels that the 123 Agreement impinges on national sovereignty.

A statement from the Indian foreign ministry said the leaders “expressed their satisfaction at the mutually beneficial and cordial nature of relations currently existing between the two countries”. Bush is also learnt to have enquired about the floods in some parts of India.

The CPM’s hardening stance was evident from a stern politburo release that asserted “the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament does not shed any new light on the India-US Nuclear Agreement that calls for a reassessment on our part” and offered a point-by-point rebuttal of Singh’s claims.

The CPM said “the Defence Framework Agreement of 2005, the logistics support pact being negotiated now, joint naval exercises being planned and the stand on the Iran nuclear issue” were all indicative of how the deal was drawing India deeper into US embrace.

Government sources, who initially dismissed the Left’s opposition to the deal as “posturing”, conceded that the gulf was widening.

Singh tried to reach out to the CPM general secretary, but there were “fundamental” differences in their perception that no amount of “personal interaction” could obliterate, the sources said.

One reason that no “political deal” of the normal kind can be struck is that Singh and Karat are not run-of-the-mill politicians, other sources said. Both are widely regarded as men of impeccable integrity, deep convictions and a strong sense of history — who differ on what constitutes India’s national interest.

If the Prime Minister is convinced that the nuclear deal is “good for India and good for the world”, Karat believes equally strongly that it will compromise the country’s independence and long-term interests.

Referring to Karat’s statement in Kerala on Sunday that the onus of sustaining the UPA government was on the Congress and not the Left, a senior CPM leader told The Telegraph today: “There has been no change in our position. If the Congress persists with the deal despite the fact that a majority in Parliament is against it, it will have to face the consequences.”

On fears that a political breach — even if the Left refrains from voting along with the NDA on a resolution on the deal — will only help the BJP, a CPM source said: “We consider communalism and imperialism equally dangerous for India. If the Prime Minister feels that history will vindicate him, we also believe that history will not forgive us if we back a deal that will bind us to the US in perpetuity.”

The equation of “communalism” with “imperialism” is significant because it indicates that even the Left’s primary reason for propping up the UPA government could get undermined, if the strong anti-US sentiments prevail over the more “pragmatic” voices within the CPM, sources said.

Under the circumstances, much will depend on how far Singh and Karat can line up their parties behind them. The CPM politburo meeting this weekend will take a final call on the nature of the “political consequences” of the nuclear deal.

The Congress, too, will have to weigh the “strategic benefits” against the “political costs” of the deal in case the Left refuses to budge from its position, the sources said.

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