The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panel to buy time for polls

New Delhi, Aug. 27: A mechanism will scan the nuclear deal while the Congress and the Left dissect their relationship and decide whether divorce is the only option.

The Left seemed amenable to a political committee, which would have representatives from its constituents and the UPA but no “outside experts”.

Such a mechanism will be empowered to summon officials (diplomats, scientists of the Atomic Energy Commission, the security establishment and the Prime Minister’s Office) for clarifications.

However, the leaders of the CPM and the CPI, who separately met the Congress’s mediators, said that even if the proposed mechanism were to get off the ground soon, the government should not move “even an inch” towards operationalising the deal.

In other words, the Left’s consent to consider the political mechanism should not be taken to mean that the government could pursue the nuclear negotiations.

That the government was equally firm about not shifting from its position was clear when Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony and Ahmed Patel — the Congress’s interlocutors — were non-committal about putting the deal on hold.

The two sides stressed that the mechanism should not be seen as a “breakthrough” or a “resolution”. If both stick to their guns, the mechanism will largely be reduced to a device to buy time before elections.

CPI leader A.B. Bardhan, who met the Congress’s crisis-management trinity, told The Telegraph: “What resolution' There is nothing like that. They proposed a political mechanism, which we agreed to consider. When we asked them to put off the deal, they said nothing. So, the basic positions remain unchanged.”

A senior Congress leader said: “Their (the Left’s) concerns will be heard, gone into and respected. But a compromise is ruled out. The Prime Minister is firm and Sonia Gandhi is behind the Prime Minister.”

Mukherjee and his colleagues will meet members of the Forward Bloc and the RSP tomorrow. After that, the trio will brief Sonia, Manmohan Singh and the UPA allies.

The Congress has found a bonus in L.K. Advani’s statement in Hyderabad yesterday that the BJP has no problem with the deal if the government amended India’s Atomic Energy Act to ensure strategic independence.

The Congress feels that the statement would help demolish the Left contention that the deal does not enjoy “majority in Parliament”, though the House will not vote on it. The government has tentatively slotted September 5 and 6 for the debate.

But the Congress’s main concern is finding an amicable way to part company with the Left, in case that became inevitable in the coming months, and choosing a time of its convenience.

The Congress is fairly confident of improving its tally if early elections are called but possible post-poll replacements for the Left are not reassuring.

The BSP was viewed as one. But after Mayavati saw an opening to arm-twist the Centre for the Rs 80,000-crore economic package she had asked from the Prime Minister, the Congress developed cold feet. The party is now wondering whether she could be counted on as a dependable ally.

According to the timetable the Congress is looking at, the government could either take a vote-on-account or pass the budget — the latter depending on the Left’s frame of mind — early next year and recommend the dissolution of Parliament.

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