The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Time to blink or sink
- Karat rejects formula despite Sonia step-in

New Delhi, Oct. 8: The simmering crisis facing the Manmohan Singh government on the nuclear deal reached a blink-or-sink flashpoint after CPM leader Prakash Karat rejected Sonia Gandhi’s efforts at a last-minute compromise this evening.

Karat, accompanied by Sitaram Yechury, made it clear that the Left would not hesitate to withdraw support if the government began negotiations with the IAEA. He also rejected the government’s plea that such discussions did not construe “operationalisation” of the deal.

The seriousness of the crisis could be gauged from the fact that Sonia Gandhi — who had so far kept out of all negotiations with the Left on the deal — chose to step in today after external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee failed in his mission despite the conciliatory position taken by CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu and other Bengal leaders at their meeting with him yesterday.

But Sonia made no headway either. Karat refused to accept the government’s argument that it be allowed to start talks with the IAEA on the crucial India-specific safeguards agreement even while taking the Left’s concerns on board at every stage, sources said.

Faced with the Left’s intransigent stance, the Congress core committee went into a huddle late tonight to decide its future course of action — whether to blink and indefinitely delay taking the next steps on the deal or go ahead with the negotiations even after being reduced to a minority government when the Left withdraws support.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh having made it clear that he would rather lose office than renegotiate an “honourable treaty”, there is a strong view within the government that it should go ahead with negotiations and “face the consequences as they come”, the sources said.

But there are equally strong voices within the Congress and the UPA who are keen to avoid early polls and would like the pretence of negotiations with the Left to continue for some time even if the “go-slow” means the end of the nuclear deal.

With Sonia Gandhi personally stepping in to resolve the impasse and failing to get any concession from Karat, the chances of the pro-dealers having their way have increased, the sources said.

Even before today’s developments, the pro-deal lobby received a shot in the arm when Sonia came out forcefully in favour of the nuclear agreement at the Haryana rally on Sunday and accused opponents of the deal of being “enemies of peace and development”.

The Congress made an effort to backtrack from that position with party spokespersons claiming that Sonia was speaking in the context of Haryana and was targeting the BJP and not the Left.

But the fact remains that Sonia’s Sunday speech as well as her “we are ready to face polls” remark on Saturday have boosted the morale of those who believe that India must go ahead — or at least be seen as going ahead — with the deal in order to safeguard the country’s international reputation.

Sonia’s comments over the weekend come close on the heels of her sojourn in New York, leading Congress leaders to believe that whatever lingering doubts she may have had about going ahead with the deal were set at rest during her US visit.

Officials are convinced that if India does not take the next steps soon, the deal will be as good as dead. The Left’s insistence that the deal be put on hold “for at least six months” is just a way of killing the deal, they feel.

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