The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia speaks in Karat’s language
- Pep talk and afterthought

New Delhi, Oct. 7: Sonia Gandhi’s attack on opponents of the nuclear deal should not be read as a sure sign that snap polls are round the corner, senior ministers and Congress leaders suggested today.

They said Sonia may have merely chosen to express the Congress position in the same direct manner that CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has adopted for several weeks.

For the past few weeks, Sonia has been under pressure within the party to be more assertive. The mood in the party has been that if the Left is free to cater to its constituency, so is the Congress.

Second, the Congress believes, the Left must realise that its support to the Manmohan Singh government is for a cause — that of secularism — and is not a favour.

At the previous UPA-Left meeting on the deal on Friday, the Congress had been more forthright than before. It said it couldn’t wait “for ever” to begin the IAEA talks, making it clear that the Left should either go ahead and withdraw support now or let the government complete the safeguard negotiations.

Sources said that at the meeting, the Congress had requested the communists to let the government take the matter up at the IAEA in November or February.

Sonia, who returned from the US yesterday, was hurt by the Left’s whisper campaign suggesting the government was compromising with national interest over the 123 Agreement, the sources said.

“She is trying to galvanise the party rank and file. If the mid-terms polls become inevitable, the Congress president wants to tell everyone that the UPA has all along acted in national interest over the nuclear deal,” an AICC general secretary said.

Her speech in Hindi in Haryana’s Jhajjar, 130km from Delhi, made a strong case for the nuclear deal.

“I know that as in Haryana, there is a huge need for power across the country and efforts are being made towards this (power generation). This is why a nuclear deal has been proposed with the US,” she said.

“Whether it’s in a state or the country as a whole, whenever we try to implement development programmes, there are elements who create hindrances. We must understand that they are not only enemies of the Congress but also enemies of development, peace and progress. We should give them a strong and befitting reply.”

Although Sonia did not refer to the Left by name, word spread like wildfire that she had branded the outside ally an “enemy”. Much like the feared nuclear chain-reaction, the issue then took a life of its own and Left leaders started reacting one after the other, though the CPM exercised restraint.

It was then that the Congress, which was initially soaking up the fallout of the tough talk, held a meeting and decided to clarify that Sonia’s comments were meant for the “Haryana” situation and not directed at the Left.

So far, the Left has refrained from openly criticising Sonia. Several of its leaders, such as Jyoti Basu and Sitaram Yechury, enjoy warm ties with the Congress president.

The next few days will show if the nuclear deal has taken a toll on Sonia’s personal relations with the Left, too.

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