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'Govt will do all it can to avoid early polls'

Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi lay to rest speculation about early polls. See live webcast | Watch Day 1 video|Special: Hindustan Times Leadership Summit
Hindustan Times | By Vinod Sharma and Aloke Tikku, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 13, 2007 03:53 PM IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday laid to rest speculation about the country heading towards an early election due to the UPA’s differences with Left partners over the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

Singh made it clear that he would not put the government at stake, but added that he had not given up hope that “reason and common sense” will change the perception of the Left parties towards the deal.

“If the deal does not come through, it will be disappointing… But in life, one has to live with certain disappointments and move on to the next… We have a lot of unfinished business to complete,” the prime minister said at the fifth Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Friday.

Earlier, welcoming the guests, HT Media Ltd Vice-Chairperson and Editorial Director Shobhana Bhartia said India was poised to take its rightful place in the councils of the world even as it addresses its internal challenges. She cheered the positive trends of the Indian economy and called for zero tolerance for corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency. She also underscored that people on the margins had to be brought on board. Globalisation will have merit only when it creates employment, she said.

In a lively interactive session, the prime minister spoke his mind. “Ours is not a one-issue government,” he said. He denied a suggestion that he overstepped the limits of disagreement by daring the Left to withdraw support on the nuclear deal. “I don’t think I overstepped (my limits). I was responding to a public statement issued by the four Left parties. I am conscious of my responsibility, of what I should say and not say... I was appealing to their good sense,” he responded. Singh also turned another question on whether he would like to stay on as PM if the deal didn’t come through. “It is a suggestion for action,” he said.

This is the first time that the Congress’ top leadership has hinted at the possibility of not pushing the deal in the face of the Left’s opposition — to an extent de-linking the government’s fate from that of the 123 Agreement.

The statements by the Prime Minister and the Congress president came in the wake of reports that UPA partners such as the RJD, DMK and the NCP were opposed to early polls.

Like many in the Congress, they were also not sure if early elections were actually the solution, faced with the prospects of the 15th Lok Sabha being driven by regional parties like the BSP.

Sonia Gandhi, who spoke immediately after the prime minister, also flagged the UPA’s resolve to complete the full term. “When we won in 2004, we made certain commitments and it is only fair that we fulfill those commitments,” she told the gathering of political leaders, corporate honchos, diplomats, technocrats and dignitaries from abroad. She said the government was not going in for early polls. “We will do all we can and see that it (government) works,” she said. Sonia also played the ‘Left’s advocate’ when she rejected insinuations that the Communists were acting at China’s behest in opposing the deal.

“I don’t think that the Left is being unreasonable. It has a certain ideology, a certain viewpoint. They are merely stating their views,” she said. Sonia also clarified that she was misunderstood when her “enemies of development” statement at a public meeting in Haryana was interpreted to imply the Left with reference to the nuclear deal.

The Congress president clearly said that it just wasn’t her style to go public against a coalition supporter. And it certainly wasn’t in line with the coalition dharma as she knew it. “We are not looking for confrontation… The dharma of coalition is to work together, try and understand and accommodate each other’s view,” said Sonia, who played a key role in sewing up the UPA and has the tricky job of keeping it together.

For his part, Manmohan let it be known that his willingness to see the N-deal go down rather than the government was not because the deal was not good enough. “What we have done with the US, it is an honourable deal, it is good for India and it is good for the world. But we are in the realm of politics and within our coalition, there are differing perceptions,” he said, referring to attempts to reconcile the differences.

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