The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre rattles poll sabre
- PM pitch for nuke energy

New Delhi, Aug. 20: The Congress today launched its first public as well as political defence of the nuclear deal and the Prime Minister, raising the spectre of last-ditch options like elections if the deadlock drags on beyond a point.

The government ruled out falling back on a half-house measure or a face-saver that would “subjugate India to the position of a weak, third-rate nation”, capping a day of strong messages that saw Manmohan Singh rooting for nuclear energy.

In a spirited defence of nuclear energy, Singh seemed to suggest there was little scope for a rethink, saying: “No government can afford to shirk this responsibility (of ensuring energy security) and hope to find favour with the people.”

A showdown seemed likely with the Left, too, sticking to its guns and saying that negotiations for wrapping up the nuclear deal have to be put on hold irrespective of whether the government sets up an assessment mechanism.

The political class has now begun discussing scenarios such as whether the UPA would have enough leeway to carry on with a minority government if the Left withdrew support and whether the estranged ally would steer clear of a no-confidence motion moved by the BJP or the third front.

Officially, the government pooh-poohed suggestions of snap polls. But sources said the Congress’s best bet was to have elections at a time of its choosing, use the interlude to “operationalise” welfare schemes and keep the UPA intact.

In the next few days, Singh and foreign minister-cum-trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee will be preoccupied with the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit. A “considered” response to the Left’s insistence that the deal be put on hold is not likely to come in a hurry.

The Congress is reading the future on the following lines:

Only a no-trust motion can topple the government.

The Left will not move such a motion against a “secular” coalition.

By the same logic, the Left may not back a motion moved by the Opposition.

A debate on the deal may take place by end-August.

The government will try to pass the unorganised sector and anti-communal violence bills and have a discussion on the minorities report.

Breather after the session ends on September 14 or earlier if Parliament is adjourned sine die.

Preparations start for elections in Gujarat.

Winter session in November, but no fireworks likely.

Red light could flash again in the budget session.

During the day, the government rejected the Opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee on the nuclear deal. It also sounded lukewarm to the idea of constituting an expert committee.

As of now, the only solution the Congress and the government are willing to consider is a debate in Parliament. If it fails to dispel the Left’s misgivings, the government is open to another round of talks.

The Congress reminded the Left of the election option by fielding minister Kapil Sibal to make what sounded almost like a poll pitch. Addressing the media — the first such party briefing since the Left ultimatum — Sibal responded to allegations of a “sell-out” to the US.

“Can you imagine that the Prime Minister of India will play around with its sovereignty' The Congress refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The first nuclear bomb was detonated by the Congress in 1974. Bangladesh was liberated despite the US threat to send the Seventh Fleet,” he said.

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