The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singh stings, Sonia rubs in salve
- Ghosts of past under fire

New Delhi, Oct. 12: A gleam in his eye, Manmohan Singh today robustly defended the nuclear deal, scorned the Left for living in the past and dismissed a journalist’s question on his resignation as absurd.

The Prime Minister never named the Left but there was no mistaking the target of his attack. “No static ideology can freeze or straitjacket the creativity, the enterprise and the imagination of our people,’’ he said.

Then again: “We cannot assume that the country and the economy will move forward on their own while we dissipate our energies in meaningless controversies. If all our time and energy is spent battling the ghosts of the past, how can we hope to do the day’s work efficiently'”

Manmohan never let go even during the Q&A that followed. Admitting there were “divergent perceptions in politics”, he said he had never “overstepped’’ the line but was only responding to the Left’s statements. “I am conscious of my responsibility.”

Was he provoking the Left' “I was only appealing to their good sense,’’ the Prime Minister said.

Yet, minutes later, Sonia Gandhi was reassuring the communists that “they were not being unreasonable’’ on the nuclear deal.

Sonia added that she remained fully behind Manmohan in every way, as she had been from the start, and revealed that she had considered no one else for the Prime Minister’s post.

Her dignified defence of the Left’s comments on the nuclear deal again confirmed her role as the UPA’s chief conciliator. She said, again and again, that the “Left was not being unreasonable, they have an ideology, and we have to take notice of what they say”.

Asked why Union ministers were then painting the Left as stooges of China, Sonia dismissed the charge. “I don’t think anyone in my government has accused the Left of being stooges of China.”

“We are working in a coalition,” she added, “and I work towards bringing about a consensus with the Left”.

For an hour, Sonia spoke of her distaste for politics after her mother-in-law and husband were assassinated, how she overcame that distaste to lead the Congress to victory, and her dreams for son Rahul. She mentioned her undying hope that Parliament would still clear 33 per cent reservation for women in politics.

It was her remarks on the nuclear deal, however, that were key. “I am not in favour of early elections. We will do all we can to keep to the deadline of 2009 that we have made to the electorate,’’ she said.

Sonia painted the BJP as the villain of the piece, citing how it had blocked discussion of the deal in the last session of Parliament. So what could the government do'

The BJP “had done a great deal of groundwork’’ on the nuclear deal, she said, implying that its opposition now was purely opportunistic.

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