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Since 1st March, 1999
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Pranab brushes off poll buzz
- Ally courts ally: Congress leader sounds Basu, CPM sermon to front

Calcutta, Dec. 16: Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee today ruled out mid-term parliamentary polls over the nuclear deal, apparently to clear the air on CPM general secretary Prakash Karat’s “ultimatum” to the Centre.

“It is being said that Karat had issued an ultimatum and there were discussions on whether the government would continue. Speculations about mid-term polls are nothing new for a coalition government,” Mukherjee said.

Karat yesterday denied that he had threatened mid-term elections.

Mukherjee made it clear that the Centre had begun talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on India-specific safeguards with “the full knowledge and approval” of the Left.

“We have moved ahead following the Left-UPA committee’s decision on November 16. The talks with the IAEA are progressing well. We will hold discussions again (in the committee) after the language of the safeguards agreement is finalised,” he said.

“Nothing has happened or will happen that will drive the Left to withdraw support tomorrow and make us go for mid-term polls the next day.”

The minister was speaking at the Congress headquarters where he released AICC pamphlets on the nuclear deal and the Sachar committee’s findings on minorities, which have been translated into Bengali by Manas Bhuniya.

Mukherjee, the Congress’s key interlocutor with the Left, visited Jyoti Basu at his Salt Lake residence earlier in the day.

Although the minister claimed it was only a “courtesy call as the veteran leader had been unwell”, CPM insiders said the Congress wanted Mukherjee to urge Basu to intervene and “restrain” Karat.

The CPM leader had said the Left had agreed to allow the UPA government to hold talks with the IAEA as it did not want to destabilise the Centre while the crucial Gujarat polls were under way. But he had also warned the government against wrapping up negotiations with the IAEA.

Mukherjee underlined the government’s efforts to sell the IAEA agreement to Karat, but added that the agreement with the IAEA “will be done according to international law”.

The dates for the next round of Left-UPA meetings have not been finalised in view of the ongoing negotiations with the IAEA, Mukherjee said.

He, however, hinted that the joint panel’s opinions would not be binding on the government. “It’s not a parliamentary or government-appointed committee but has been set up by the UPA chairperson.”

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