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N-hopes waft amid kebabs
- Cong upbeat on Id thaw but Sonia ready for poll ‘any time’

New Delhi, Oct. 6: At the Prime Minister’s iftar, the prayers were for post-Id survival.

For the first time since August, when the nuclear issue exploded, the UPA government is hoping to breathe easy. Congress leaders and UPA ministers today sounded optimistic that by Id, which is a week away, the Left might allow more time and space on the Indo-US agreement.

But Sonia Gandhi, who arrived from New York earlier in the day, signalled the Congress was ready to face elections “any time”. Asked if she was concerned about the prospect of snap polls, the UPA chairperson said: “Not at all. If there are elections, you face it.”

Over kebabs, murg makhani and Hyderabadi biryani, the AICC functionaries and Union ministers said that at yesterday’s meeting of the nuclear panel, the Left leaders were a lot more receptive and accommodating.

“We have sought time to complete formalities and negotiate with the IAEA and other UN bodies. Our stand is that unless we extract maximum concessions, the deal cannot be termed as final. So a decision on backing or opposing it should be taken then,” a senior Congress representative on the panel said.

The Left should either stop the government from going any further or let the deal take a final shape, the representative said. In reply, the Left promised to get back and did not junk the proposal outright, giving the UPA reason to be upbeat about the government’s survival.

Lalu Prasad, too, tried to prevail upon the Left in his own style, asking Prakash Karat to give him a chance to present a “revolutionary rail budget” in February 2007. Karat and everyone else present had a laugh.

“As long as there is dialogue, there is always hope. We hope for the best,” Manmohan Singh said, asked about talks with the Left.

At the lavish iftar he and wife Gursharan Kaur hosted this evening, Congress leaders on the nuclear panel said the next two meetings — on October 9 and 14 — were crucial.

Manmohan was asked today if elections are inevitable. “Nothing is inevitable,” he said. To a question whether the Left parties would pull the rug, he responded: “I am not an astrologer.”

After making the point that the Congress was not afraid of facing elections, Sonia refused to say any more. “This is the PM’s iftar party. I will speak to you on some other occasion,” she smiled, before going on to sample the jalebi and rasmalai and mingle with the guests.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury took the middle path. "I don’t know. Ask the government," he said, when asked if elections were imminent. But he added that in yesterday’s meeting, "very substantial notes have been exchanged". The nuclear deal issue has several nuances and they have to be properly evaluated, he said.

To a question how the Left would differentiate between formal and informal talks with the IAEA, Yechury said Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar has said no official talks have taken place.

The Congress has offered to convene a special session of Parliament to discuss the deal before the scheduled winter session. But the offer comes with the rider that the BJP and the Left should allow a discussion and not stall the House.

On Karnakata, where the H.D. Kumaraswamy government has lost majority, the Congress is veering round to the view that President’s rule would be the best course. Most party MLAs are opposed to playing second fiddle to Kumaraswamy and his father H.D. Deve Gowda in an alliance. The Congress assessment is that it could win the next Assembly polls on the "stability" plank.

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