N-deal: Left ups ante, Congress puts on brave face

Updated on Aug 13, 2007 02:22 AM IST

PM will make a statement in Parliament today, report Saroj Nagi and Ramesh Babu. India's N-status

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Hindustan Times | BySaroj Nagi and Ramesh Babu, New Delhi/thiruvananthapuram

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will make a statement on the Indo-US nuclear agreement in Parliament on Monday in the shadow of CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat’s thinly veiled threat on Sunday that it was for the Congress to decide “whether it wants to continue in power or go ahead with the nuclear deal”.

Singh will make a “factual statement” on the 123 agreement in both Houses of Parliament, his media adviser Sanjaya Baru told PTI. “It will draw attention to all the obligations and benefits of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement.”

In the meantime, Karat, who came down heavily on the PM for ruling out a rollback, said Singh could not take the Left’s support for granted. “It seems the PM is very sensitive towards ties with the United States. But it is not a matter of sensitivity; we are concerned about the security of the country. We don’t want the government to proceed with the deal,” he said in kerala. He added that the Left would be guided by the common minimum programme which does not have any mention of the deal.

Karat’s tough stance notwithstanding, Congress sources are confident the PM’s statement will address the Left’s concerns and allay their apprehension that the agreement limits the country’s foreign policy options. Even otherwise, they believe the Left will not rock the boat and the two sides will agree to disagree.

Singh is likely to talk to the Left leaders on the issue. On Sunday, he called up the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury to greet him on his birthday. The Left leader, in turn, said he would meet the PM on Monday. There was no word on whether the two spoke on the nuclear deal issue.

As part of efforts to build floor coordination, Leader of the House in Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee will also confer with allies and supporting parties. “We are hopeful of sorting out differences with the Left and discussions can take place at any point of time,” the leader, who was in West Bengal, said.

The Communists, on their part, will hold a meeting of their parliamentary party on Monday to assess the PM's statement before the debate in Parliament on August 14 and 16.

But things could get complicated if the Speaker allows a discussion under rule 184, which the BJP wants in order to widen the Congress-Left chasm and force the government to scrounge for numbers. Though it is the Speaker’s prerogative to decide the rule guiding the debate, Congress sources say the power to sign treaties lies with the executive and there is no convention of such agreements or foreign policy issued being voted on in the House. Significantly, the notice given by Left leaders is for a general discussion on the issue.

Asked if his party would join the Opposition to put the government on the mat, Karat said: “The BJP may have its own reasons to do so, but we are going to express our opposition in Parliament. We are not joining the Opposition but we will place our views in Parliament.”

The CPI’s AB Bardhan was quoted as saying by PTI that “the position of the prime minister and Left is diametrically opposite. We do not accept what he says. He says it is non-negotiable, then what is there to talk about?”

The UPA stands isolated on the subject, both inside and outside the House, with the deal being opposed by the Left, the Opposition, the Third Front and others like V.P. Singh. All these parties also plan to take the issue to the people.

As far as differences with the Left go, the last few days saw these escalate, beginning with Karat telling the ruling party to “face the consequences” if it went ahead with the deal. The PM reacted by saying if the Communists wanted to withdraw support, then so be it. By Saturday, both sides had toned down. But the Left upped the ante on Sunday. Whatever happens next, the government is in for a stormy monsoon session.

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