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As endgame nears, Cong woos friends

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets President Pratibha Patil for 50 minutes; next 48 hours crucial as UNPA, Left meet to take final call. HT reports.
Hindustan Times | By HT Political Bureau, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 02, 2008 10:59 AM IST

The divorce with the Left is seemingly a matter of days now, and the Congress was on Tuesday working on securing the backing of the SP, Ajit Singh’s RLD and Deve Gowda’s JD(S), even as it cast its net in the NDA camp to fish for the Shiv Sena’s support — or at least abstention — in the event of a floor test in the House.

The next two days will be important. The UNPA, of which the 39-member SP is part, meets on July 3, after which Mulayam Singh will spell out his position. A day later, on July 4, the Left parties meet — to take what could be the final decision to pull the plug. The communists will be watching to see if the Prime Minister decides to go to the G8, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said — adding ominously that if the PM was “stubborn”, the Left “will not compromise”.

On Tuesday, the SP did not officially move from the non-committal position it has been taking on backing the nuclear deal. But Mulayam repeated that his party had “no enemies”. And, in a sign that it is leaning even closer towards the Congress, it emerged that the SP’s top leaders are scheduled to get a briefing on the deal from National Security Adviser MK Narayanan on Wednesday. Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, who met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, said the SP and UPA were “together”.

Significantly, the PM met President Pratibha Patil for 50 minutes. The deadlock with the Left apparently figured in the talks, though the Rashtrapati Bhavan release made no mention of it.

The 13-MP Shiv Sena announced that Bal Thackeray would play a “crucial” role in the unfolding political drama. Spokesman Sanjay Raut said the Sena believed the deal was in national interest, but wanted to ensure India did not become subservient to the US. He added that the Sena would not do anything to hurt the NDA — Thackeray’s party has, however, broken ranks with the combine before, when it backed UPA nominee Pratibha Patil for president.

Mayawati spoke too — and appeared to be fishing in troubled waters. Muslims are opposed to a deal with America, she said, adding that the SP was backing the Congress because the Centre had put on hold all CBI inquiries against him.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat met NCP’s Sharad Pawar, TDP’s Yerran Naidu and Rammohan Rao, and SP’s Amar Singh — who had also met Pranab Mukherjee late on Monday night.

The TDP, which is with the SP in the UNPA, told Karat that Mulayam had not committed to supporting the Congress on the deal. “UNPA as a whole stands by the decision taken in parliament” of opposing it, Naidu said.

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