The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong delinks deal, PM gesture

New Delhi, Nov. 15: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today briefed Sonia Gandhi and other members of the Congress’s core committee on his meeting with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani yesterday.

Congress sources said the Prime Minister’s move to look up the ailing Vajpayee was a “gesture of concern” and did not have “deep” political significance. Nor did Singh “go out of his way” to solicit the BJP’s support for the nuclear deal as sections of the Opposition party made it out to be, the Congress sources added.

According to a media release from the Prime Minister’s Office, he discussed the current political scenario, including the 123 Agreement, with Vajpayee and Advani. The Congress sources, however, said the “limited” objective was to keep the BJP in the loop so that Advani and others would not gripe about the government giving them a wide berth.

“The Prime Minister made a courtesy call to enquire about the health of a former Prime Minister. This is the strength of Indian democracy. We are political adversaries, not enemies,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

On the talks on the nuclear deal with the BJP leaders, he said: “Unless the discussion is converted into something concrete, it should not lend itself to speculation. There was no formal statement on the discussion from either side.”

Rejecting suggestions that the Prime Minister’s initiative a couple of days before the UPA-Left nuclear panel meeting could undermine the exercise, a Congress general secretary cited a US example.

“The Hyde Act was passed by the US Senate with bipartisan support and that, too, in the run-up to the presidential election. It’s not as though the Democrats’ support blurred their battle lines with the Republicans after the passage of the act. It is time for the Indian political establishment to grow up and realise that certain issues should transcend political boundaries and reflect the sense of the nation. The nuclear deal is one such issue.”

The general secretary said it was not as though Parliament was about to “ratify” the treaty with the BJP’s support. “We are clear, the Prime Minister is clear that nothing will be done without the Left’s nod. The question of ignoring the Left and going to the BJP doesn’t arise. The Congress can still legitimately claim that it is the only party to never ever join hands with the BJP,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Advani, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, complained that had the government not cold-shouldered the BJP, ways of salvaging the deal could have been explored. He said it was a bit late in the day to approach the BJP and the government’s overture seemed like a “formality”.

Singh, claimed Congress sources, wanted to disprove the charge by calling on Vajpayee.

Congress sources said they were worried not about the BJP’s response but the outcome of the UPA-Left panel meeting tomorrow. The Left is expected to give a limited go-ahead to the government to approach the IAEA on the safeguards agreement.

The nuclear debate in Parliament is tentatively slated to take place on November 27 and 28 after the Prime Minister returns from the Commonwealth summit.

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