The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fiery Left lets off patriotism hiss

New Delhi, July 17: The limits of the Left’s hot-and-cold support for the UPA is being tested again by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whose angry dismissal of Left allegations that he was selling “national interest” last evening has provoked an acerbic response from the CPM.

“We are not challenging his (the Prime Minister’s) patriotism. He does not have to learn patriotism from us. But he does not have to learn it from Bush either. When he comes back we will take up this issue with him,” CPM politburo member and Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe said here this evening.

“We had said that ‘national interest’ was being sold,” Pandhe said. “That is not the same thing as saying the country is being sold. We will have to take up these issues when he returns.”

In their immediate response to the Prime Minister’s remarks, leaders of the Left today made it clear that they did not want to run down the Centre for its policies just as Singh begins his most important foreign tour since taking over. But they wanted their protestations registered even as the Prime Minister reached the US today.

The Left was a little taken aback that Singh used strong words to defend his UPA government against the Left’s criticism that New Delhi was tailoring policies to please Washington.

“Just before he left he had a briefing for us (the Left). In that he said he was mindful of our concerns. But then immediately afterwards to go to the media with these remarks is unfortunate. It could have been avoided when the Prime Minister had assured us that the issues we have raised will be taken into account,” Pandhe said.

The CPM leader said the Prime Minister had told the leaders of the CPM, Forward Bloc and CPI who met him on Thursday and Friday that he had taken note of the issues raised by the Left on both economic and foreign policies.

“Already (defence minister) Pranab Mukherjee in his visit to the US has signed the India-US framework agreement on defence which we do not think is a good thing for us. It has damaged our image. Then on the question of Patriot missile shield. Even the Canadian government, the US’ neighbour, has rejected it but we are showing such interest. This cannot be good for us,” Pandhe said.

The Prime Minister was quoted from Frankfurt as saying that it was an “insult” to suggest that his government was selling national interest.

How could it be imagined that “any Prime Minister of the Congress party will ever think consciously or unconsciously to sell India cheap”' he remarked. “I will safeguard national interest at the cost of my life,” he said.

The CPI was more tempered in its reaction to the Prime Minister’s remarks. “We are not questioning the patriotism of the Congress,” Bardhan, who along with D. Raja, had met Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh on Friday, said today. “We know that it had led the freedom struggle.”

The CPM’s Sitaram Yechury and the Forward Bloc’s Debabrata Biswas had met the Prime Minister and foreign minister K. Natwar Singh on Thursday. The Prime Minister told them he was not going to the US as a “client” or a “supplicant”.

Leaders of the CPM, Forward Bloc and the CPI expressed reservations over the government’s intentions on allowing foreign direct investment in retail trade, the signing of the India-US framework agreement on defence and the perception that the government was tilting towards Washington.

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