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Centre keeps hopes afloat
- Stirrings of nuke gesture

New Delhi, Aug. 21: Highly placed sources today said the government was working on “some sort of an assurance” short of killing the nuclear deal to defuse the standoff with the Left.

The contours of the “assurance” are still vague but the effort mirrored the wild mood swings between confrontation and reconciliation in the capital and the government’s eagerness to shield itself against charges of cussedness if early polls prove unavoidable.

The unexplained gesture, if it evokes a positive response from the Left, could be announced in Parliament as and when a debate on the nuclear deal takes place.

The sources said the assurance could be associated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna next month.

The government was exploring whether discussions on India-specific safeguards could be kept out of the meeting without getting the deal derailed, they added.

Independent enquiries so far have suggested that if the Indian safeguards agreement misses the IAEA bus this time, chances of the deal getting approved while George W. Bush is in the White House are remote.

If, by some extraordinary stroke of luck, the government manages to get a breather at the IAEA without affecting the deal timetable, that could break the deadlock.

The sources refused to go into the nitty-gritty but this is the first time since the Left’s ultimatum that the other side has shown some sign, however feeble it is, of accommodation.

But they said the nuclear deal would not be allowed to die at any cost.

It is not known if the “assurance”, apparently thought up after CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury met Pranab Mukherjee this morning, was conveyed to the Left.

Yechury told the government’s principal trouble-shooter that while there is no problem with India attending the Vienna meeting, it should not negotiate the safeguards agreement at any forum.

The IAEA board meeting and General Conference are scheduled in September, both of which India will attend.

Other sources said there are several reasons for the Congress seeking to buy peace, if only temporary, with the Left. Over the next two days, the government has to transact critical financial business and pass supplementary demands for grants. It cannot risk adjournments.

It also wants to table an action-taken report on the Sachar report on minorities.

But another, bigger, reason could be that the Congress wants to send the message to allies that it has been “reasonable” and done its best to mollify the Left.

That the Congress has brought the allies on board was evident when Lalu Prasad told The Telegraph: “Nobody’s a kid. No chacha (uncle) of any bachcha (child) can accuse our government of playing with India’s iqbal (prestige).

“The world has changed. Being rigid doesn’t help anyone. Without the left hand, the right hand is useless. Paralysis will set in. Left and right have to work in unison.”

The government is also willing to set up another round of meetings between the Left and the Indian nuclear negotiators.

If the Left is still “unconvinced”, government sources said, a meeting of the coordination committee would be called.

In public, no respite was in sight with Karat repeating his virtual ultimatum at a meeting in Andhra Pradesh.

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