The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It’s an ultimatum
- Left loads three-stage missile, Centre goes into huddle

New Delhi, Aug. 18: Plunging the UPA government into its worst-ever crisis since it came to power, the Left today unleashed the first step of a three-stage missile by formally asking Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi not to “proceed further” with the Indo-US nuclear agreement — a euphemism that spells the end of the deal.

Even as the Congress core committee went into a huddle and the party’s crisis managers started confabulating with key allies such as RJD chief Lalu Prasad and DMK boss M. Karunanidhi, the Left decided to sit back and wait for the Congress/UPA response before ushering in the second stage of its strategy.

In case the party and its allies decide to stick by the Prime Minister — who is expected to step down rather than face the humiliation of giving in to the Left diktat on the deal — the Left will announce a “complete break” in its relationship with the UPA.

The third, and most crucial, stage will be to “operationalise” the decision to break ties with the UPA. The CPM central committee, which is slated to hold an emergency session on August 22 and 23, and Left Front partners will have to be taken on board to endorse the decision to withdraw support to the government.

Whether that will mean bringing a no-confidence motion on the floor of the House (entailing voting with the “communal” BJP) or breaking off ties with the UPA and bringing down “a lame duck” government on some other issue of its choosing will be key considerations at the third stage, sources indicated.

Till late this evening, the Congress was standing by the deal and the Prime Minister. However, if the allies mount pressure, the Congress may consider putting the deal “on pause”.

Ideologically, a crucial task for the CPM leadership will be to get the central committee to endorse the emerging new line in the party — that the fight against “imperialism” is as important as the battle against “communalism”. Since the main reason for the party’s decision to back the Congress government was to keep the communal forces out of power, a reversal of that position would need an equally sound ideological basis.

Today’s ultimatum of sorts was delivered by CPM general secretary Prakash Karat who has been in the forefront of opposing the Indo-US agreement from the start and who succeeded in getting the party’s politburo to “unanimously” endorse the line to fervently oppose the operationalising of the nuclear deal.

Armed with the politburo decision, Karat and Sitaram Yechury drove to the Prime Minister’s residence to formally convey it to the reigning trio of the UPA regime — Singh, Sonia and Pranab Mukherjee.

Although the meeting lasted an hour, it went over old ground. With the Prime Minister having made his position on the deal clear in Parliament at the start of this week and the Left providing several public rejoinders on why the deal “and its wider implications” were not acceptable to it, there were no new arguments for either side to make.

But the unambiguous message delivered was if the Centre proceeded with the “next steps” on the deal, the Left would call off its relationship with the government.

The exact words of the politburo statement were: “Till all the objections are considered and the implications of the Hyde Act evaluated, the government should not take the next step with regard to negotiating a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. It is for the Congress leadership to decide on the matter which will have serious consequences for the government and the country.”

Although sections of the Congress privately argued that the government should “slow down” the deal to meet the Left’s concerns, both Karat and Singh are well aware that slowing down means killing the deal, sources said.

Since the Left’s stated aim is to disallow the “operationalising” of the 123 Agreement, it is unlikely to allow a “minority government” to run and will have to ensure the fall of the UPA regime if it decides to reject the CPM’s ultimatum and go ahead with the deal.

For the same reason, any move to replace Singh with another Prime Minister is unlikely to make a difference — unless that person agrees to forgo the deal, sources said.

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