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Singh conveys ‘anguish’ to allies

New Delhi, Oct. 22: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed “anguish” at the way some allies have joined the Left in criticising the nuclear deal that the government iterated would not be operationalised until a joint mechanism submits its views.

The UPA-Left panel, which met for over two hours this afternoon, will sit again on November 16 by when its report is expected to be in place.

The date, chosen by the Congress and not the Left, gave the ruling coalition a three-week “breather”. But it also meant that the government would not be able to adhere to the initial October-end timetable to begin talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But the dreary proceedings at the joint mechanism were overshadowed by the Prime Minister’s reported comments earlier in the day to allies.

Singh apparently questioned the manner in which “some allies” had criticised the deal after the Left turned up the heat.

Sources would not say whether the Prime Minister named anyone but the list of invitees to a meeting at his home left little unsaid.

Singh asked Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad and T.R. Baalu to take part in the meeting that took place hours before the joint mechanism convened. Pawar and Lalu Prasad have been at the forefront of opposing early polls — a stand that also made them appear opposed to the deal — while Baalu’s political boss M. Karunanidhi had been sending mixed signals from Tamil Nadu.

Usually, a panel meeting is preceded by an informal briefing by its convener Pranab Mukherjee to the allies.

However, today, in the presence of Sonia Gandhi, Mukherjee and A.K. Antony, Singh reminded the allies that the cabinet committee on political affairs — of which Pawar, Lalu Prasad and Baalu were members — had unanimously cleared the deal.

The Prime Minister stressed that the government should not be seen as a “lame-duck” one because of the stalemate over operationalisation of the nuclear deal.

Word soon “leaked” that the Prime Minister had offered to quit. But Prithviraj Chavan, the minister of state in the PMO, scotched the suggestion as “absolutely baseless”.

Sources interpreted the “leak” as a “tactic” to exert pressure on the Left. But Left sources said there was no mention of it at the joint meeting.

Singh’s outpouring apparently had some impact on the allies. Congress sources said that at the panel meeting, Lalu Prasad, Pawar and Baalu went “out of their way” to convey they were not at odds with the government.

If the Prime Minister opened up before the allies, his party told the Left that the government could not completely disregard the views of the US. The Left was also cautioned that the government’s “credibility” would suffer internationally if the treaty were allowed to die.

Congress sources said they expected Sonia and the Prime Minister to take a political call by the end of 2007. Election results in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will also be out by then.

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