The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nuke sparring amid glimmer of hope

New Delhi, Sept. 18: Prakash Karat today said the Centre should wait for at least six months before continuing efforts to operationalise the nuclear deal, while minister Kapil Sibal asserted the government couldn’t “renege” on an international treaty.

A day before the second meeting of the UPA-Left panel on the 123 Agreement, however, the Congress saw hope in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s advocacy of nuclear power yesterday.

“You just cannot avoid nuclear power,” the Bengal chief minister had told a Confederation of Indian Industry meeting in Calcutta.

The Congress, though, is guarding against over-optimism. The party will not fall into the “trap” of “over-interpreting” Bhattacharjee’s comments, a member of the nuclear deal panel said.

“The ground realities remain essentially the same. The Bengal chief minister has only spoken of nuclear energy and not the 123 Agreement. So why should we become overly optimistic'” science and technology minister Sibal asked.

The party wants to wait and see what the CPM’s politburo and central committee meetings, scheduled at the end of September, decide.

Congress leaders have noted how ailing CPM veteran Jyoti Basu has ensured the meetings are held in Calcutta so that he can attend them.

“It shows he is keen to have a say and not allow the hardliners to hold sway,” a Congress source said.

“But we are not so naive as to hope for a breakthrough. We have to look at the next statement on the deal, if there is one, and see whether it is a reiteration of the CPM’s stand or whether it takes the issue forward.”

CPM chief Karat today said: “The government’s going ahead as per the time-frame committed to the US President will not be good for political stability. The government should wait for at least six months and discuss the deal in Parliament before proceeding further.”

Sibal, however, said: “No government worth its salt can afford to renege on an international treaty.”

The minister, fielded by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to speak in favour of the deal throughout the country, added: “We want the government to run its full term. It depends on them (the Left).”

The Congress’s tentative assessment is that the nuclear deal panel would meet at least a couple of times more.

Before Bhattacharjee’s remarks yesterday, top Congress sources admitted, the party had more or less given up on the panel.

“There is no point persisting with the charade. We’ve had enough,” a member of the panel had then said.

He said the government’s note in defence of the deal, handed to the Left yesterday, had an underlying message: “Take it or leave it.”

But the Bengal chief minister’s comments convinced the Congress that things had not reached a dead end.

“His statement confirmed our belief that the Bengal comrades have a more pragmatic approach to politics and economic reforms,” a Congress official said.

The Congress will now wait for the panel to hold a couple of meetings before the party considers aborting it and start planning for an election.

“That decision will be taken most probably after the Gujarat polls (due in November),” a source said.

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