The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Concerted move to avert nuke showdown
PM knocks on Buddha door

Calcutta, Aug. 14: The Prime Minister, locked in a standoff with the Left over the nuclear deal, called Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee this morning and requested the Bengal chief minister to meet him in Delhi.

Bhattacharjee, who will be at the CPM politburo conference in the capital on August 17 and 18, will meet Manmohan Singh on Friday.

“The Prime Minister contacted me this morning. He wanted to talk to me,” the chief minister told a Forward Bloc gathering that was mourning the death of party leader and former agriculture minister Kamal Guha.

“I told him (Singh) he already knew my party’s position on the nuclear deal: (that) we had discussed the issue among ourselves and would hold further discussions at the politburo meeting. I told him that since you want me to meet you, I would do that during my visit (to Delhi) for the politburo meeting.”

Among all CPM leaders, Bhattacharjee’s views on economic issues are believed to be the closest to the Prime Minister’s and the two are said to share a rapport.

But on the subject of the nuclear deal, an issue concerning mainly defence and foreign policy, the chief minister joined his party’s tirade against America.

“My party and I, too, believe that the prevailing national situation demands a special role for the Left,” Bhattacharjee said.

“We have told the UPA government not to surrender to pressure from the US imperialists and forge a strategic alliance with them.”

Some Left Front leaders believe that the Prime Minister is also keen on getting Jyoti Basu’s help in resolving the stalemate, and has already entrusted his chief trouble-shooter, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, to court the CPM patriarch.

Basu was recently reported to have suggested that the Left would stage a “walkout” if there was a vote in Parliament on the deal, saving the government as well as itself a lot of embarrassment.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, however, has said that nothing has been decided and asserted that the Congress should be prepared to face “the political consequences” of the nuclear agreement.

With sections in both the Congress and the Left keen to avoid a showdown, Mukherjee has been in touch with Left leaders such as Sitaram Yechury, hoping to make good use of the time till the politburo meeting ends on Saturday.

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