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Sparring partners buy time for polls
- Over juice & snacks, Left and UPA fix nuke talks calendar but see little hope

New Delhi, Sept. 11: The UPA and the Left today met to sip juice, nibble on snacks and agree that they must keep talking in what appears to be a strategy to buy time before plunging the country into an early election.

As the committee to sort out differences on the Indo-US nuclear agreement held its first sitting, neither side was optimistic of a breakthrough.

Discussions on impending foreign trips — such as a week-long one to Vietnam by the CPM and CPI — to draw up a calendar of meetings followed the exchange of pleasantries, as both sides went through the motions of trying to prove how “reasonable” they were.

“Our objective will be to stretch the dialogue because our allies don’t want elections in a hurry. The breaking news will come the day the talks are called off and that might not happen in a hurry,” a Congress member said.

The 15-member committee, which includes Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, Prakash Karat, Kapil Sibal, Sitaram Yechury and A.B. Bardhan, framed the “broad” issues for discussion and agreed to meet again on September 19.

“As of today, there was no meeting point. The Left has taken a pre-determined, proclaimed stand and judging from the pronouncements of our leaders, it appears we are becoming more adamant,” a Left leader said.

For the record, the CPI’s D. Raja said: “We agreed to have a structured discussion and to take up the issues one by one.”

The implications of the Hyde Act on the 123 Agreement and on nuclear self-reliance and its implications on foreign policy and security cooperation will be discussed.

The third meeting is likely in the first week of October after Mukherjee returns from a visit to the US.

Manmohan Singh in the Parliament complex on Tuesday. (PTI)

Asked if he hoped the meetings would decrease the Congress-Left trust deficit, a Left representative said: “Meeting and trusting are two different things. We will meet again, but that doesn’t mean trust is increasing.”

The government handed a note outlining the contentious issues, the basis of the contentions and the problems that needed to be sorted out.

The Left representatives broadly explained their viewpoint. T.J. Chandrachoodan, the RSP member, circulated a note on the Hyde Act.

A passing reference was made — it is not known by whom — to Karat’s statement yesterday that if the government ignores the majority opinion in Parliament, it will have to face the consequences.

Lalu Prasad, who is also on the committee, is learnt to have said they should be like “bhai-bhai” but the Congress and the Left appeared in no mood to revive the camaraderie of 2004.

While Karat and Debabrata Biswas, also a committee member, will address a seminar tellingly titled the “Prime Minister’s Stand: A Watershed in Democracy'” in Delhi on Thursday, Sibal will take his fight for Manmohan Singh to another red bastion this week — Thiruvananthapuram. He was in Calcutta last week.

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