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PM ready to brave Left split & polls - Singh wants decision on nuclear agreement before G8 summit in July

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By SANKARSHAN THAKUR in Delhi
  • Published 25.06.08
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Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, June 24: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is learnt not to be averse to early polls — and a brief rupture with the Left — if that means he’ll be able to carry through the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Admitting that there are reservations among “some allies and MPs about their term in power being shortened by a few months”, sources close to the Prime Minister told The Telegraph on the eve of the UPA-Left meet: “But that (concern over a slightly early election) has to be weighed against an international agreement that has the unanimous approval of the cabinet, the Congress Working Committee and UPA constituents. A deal that has been hailed as being in the national interest cannot be sacrificed just because some people do not like America.”

Without speculating on what might transpire at the UPA-Left meet tomorrow, the sources indicated that Singh was losing patience with the protracted wrangle and wanted the matter sorted well before he departs for the G8 summit in Japan in the second week of July.

“Whether it is at tomorrow’s meeting or later, the matter has to be quickly resolved, within a few days,” a source said, making it apparent that the prospect of having to equivocate on the future of the deal on the G8 stage was weighing heavy on the Prime Minister’s mind.

The sources declined comment on whether Singh will contemplate pulling out of the G8 visit — where a sideline one-to-one with President George W. Bush is on the plate — if the UPA failed to make a categorical resolve in favour of the deal. But they did add, rather pointedly, that the UPA’s inability to overcome domestic obstacles and proceed with the deal had “hurt India’s credibility abroad… the world is watching and it does not want to do business with a country that cannot decide”.

Unlike the past, though, the Prime Minister’s camp is upbeat about support from the Congress and UPA allies.

Reflecting a changed, more confident, mood, sources close to the Prime Minister said: “There is nothing to suggest that either Sonia Gandhi or the party are not behind the deal. If the Left thinks the Government of India will go back on an agreement that has the unanimous approval of the cabinet, the UPA partners and the Congress Working Committee, they are living in a fool’s paradise.”

The obvious suggestion was that the ruling party is now more determined to push the deal than it was last year when it backed away from a decisive confrontation with the Left. The Prime Minister had dared the Left to withdraw support to his government last August but was pulled back from brinkmanship by a party that was unprepared to either break with the Left or face mid-term elections.

As if to buttress their cla-im of unstinting backing for the deal from the Congress, they quoted the AICC chief spokesperson, Veerappa Moily, who said last week that the “deal is the lifeline of the country. We cannot simply shut the door on it…. It needs to be considered whether the country should be always limping back on the nuclear energy front or go ahead.”

Two factors may be prompting surer pro-deal exhortations from the Congress. One, that the government is in its final lap and it won’t really matter if general elections have to be advanced by a few months — the price/inflation situation is unlikely to improve so drastically that the government can turn the tables on the Opposition, and the fight with the Left in Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Andhra (where the Left is allied with Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP) is an unchangeable given.

Two, that in the likelihood of a hung result, the Left will willy-nilly have to support the UPA because keeping the BJP out of power will be more important.

“Election-time friction between the Congress and the Left has to happen whether there is a nuclear deal or not,” a source said. “Where is the wisdom in not pursuing it (the deal), having said that it is a good thing for the country?”