New Delhi, Aug. 30: The breakthrough came suddenly before teatime, after a tense breakfast and lunch for Pranab Mukherjee and Sitaram Yechury.
Well into the afternoon, there had been no change from last night’s deadlock over the statement the Left wanted — that the nuclear deal would be on hold while a mechanism examined it.
The foreign minister’s problem was that the subtlest hint of a “pause” in the joint United Progressive Alliance-Left statement they were working on would be unacceptable to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The issue for the CPM leader was that unless the words “on hold” were underlined starkly, party chief Prakash Karat would junk the piece of paper.
Around 1am, halfway through a Congress meeting at the Prime Minister’s chamber in Parliament, the word got around that no “breakthrough” was possible because the Left and Manmohan were standing their ground.
Everyone knew that if a settlement wasn’t reached today, the uncertainty would continue because Manmohan would be out of Delhi for the next three days.
As Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, Mukherjee and A.K. Antony pored over the latest draft, journalists who spoke briefly to Yechury left feeling that he, too, was keeping his fingers crossed.
The RJD’s Lalu Prasad joined the Congress leaders and came out looking disturbed. He said little to the media.
Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss, of the PMK, summoned by the Prime Minister for a report on the AIIMS strike, was apparently bogged down with graver concerns.
An aide of his quietly spread the word that if the Left pulled out, the Congress had a backup plan. It would make up the required numbers by garnering support from within the National Democratic Alliance and the United National Progressive Alliance. The BJP, Janata Dal (United) and the Samajwadi Party were understood to be the targets.
Mukherjee’s grim expression said it all as he stepped out for a while. At 1.45, Yechury left with a copy of the draft. Mukherjee, Antony and Patel had another huddle.
The mood changed abruptly, like the English weather. When some journalists called on the foreign minister two hours later, he beamed at them.
His reply, though, was couched in the same diplomatic finesse that marked the statement released exactly an hour later.
“Yes, there’s a deadlock but you people won’t have to spend a late night. Wait and watch,” he grinned.
By then, Yechury had conveyed to him that the Left had endorsed the draft. As the journalists left Mukherjee’s chamber, a staffer whispered they should be at the Prime Minister’s residence at 4pm for the news they wanted.
When Sonia’s car rolled out of 7 Race Course Road at a quarter past four, she smiled and gave a thumbs-up to the waiting journalists.
Government and party sources said the party would not try to score points over the Left or claim “victory”.
“The two sides had taken extreme positions and finding a mean was tough. The statement might be pithy but it covers vast ground,” a minister said.
Asked specifically about pursuing the IAEA and Nuclear Suppliers Group negotiations, senior ministers were non-committal. “We cannot conclude the operationalisation of the 123 Agreement until we address their (the Left’s) concerns,” science and technology minister Kapil Sibal told a news channel.
Manmohan had spoken to Sibal, fielded by the government to articulate its position, shortly after the UPA-Left statement was released.
“If there is confusion about operationalisation, so be it,” said another minister.