The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gujarat cover for N-pause

New Delhi, Oct. 10: The Gujarat elections on December 11 and 16 have given both the Congress and the Left some room for manoeuvre and an opportunity to decide how far they should push each other on the nuclear deal.

Gujarat is the state that brought the Congress and the Left together after the 2002 riots, eventually paving the way for the formation of the UPA to keep communalism at bay.

The dominant view in the Congress is that the leadership would press ahead with the nuclear deal and risk snap polls if Narendra Modi was humbled. However, a defeat is expected to drive the “secular” forces into one another’s arms, in which case the deal could be put in cold storage.

Opinion is divided on whether the government can afford to wait till the Gujarat results are out — December 23 — to decide on the nuclear deal or whether elections in a state where Modi is still the biggest factor could be considered a test case for the rest of the country.

But such is the keenness to avoid discussing early polls that the Gujarat elections have become a talking point in the UPA.

Sonia Gandhi is also reportedly averse to the idea of abruptly snapping ties with the Left and looking for support from unpredictable pressure groups.

“She still values the Left as a long-term ally. The Left has at least been trying to sort out differences with the Congress through talks for months but others like Mayavati or Jayalalithaa would have taken a minute to pull the plug,” a minister close to Sonia said.

The mood at 24 Akbar Road (the Congress headquarters) is upbeat. Senior ministers exuded confidence that Sonia would be able to blend her policy of “economic Right and social Left” to extend the UPA’s lease of life.

For the first time, the pro-deal lobby within the UPA cited China’s example — that it took 13 years to negotiate a similar deal. A minister said: “Both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh are alive to the fact that the UPA came into being for a greater good. The survival of the UPA and the deal hinges upon it.”

The Delhi mood could be gauged from the fact that a number of key players had begun packing bags while others focused on preparations for Id and the Pujas.

The Prime Minister will travel to South Africa and Nigeria on October 14 while Sonia will start her China visit on October 26. Pranab Mukherjee, who has been shuttling between the Left and the UPA, is going to Russia tonight and A.K. Antony, another negotiator, will follow him on October 17.

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