PM confident of resolving n-deal differences with Left


New Delhi : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday said he was confident of resolving differences with Left parties over the India-US civil nuclear deal even as the Left leaders reiterated their “reservations” saying that the deal “was not acceptable to the majority in parliament”.

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Speaking hours after his unprecedented tongue-lashing of the Left created a storm, Manmohan Singh, who in an interview had dared Left parties to withdraw support to his government over the nuclear issue, stressed that he had “delivered” on the promises he had made to parliament last year.

“I feel sorry that so far the Left has been asking me to deliver on the basis of my July statement (July 2005 joint statement with the US) and my statement in the Rajya Sabha. I have delivered on those promises,” Manmohan Singh told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony of Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari.

He was reacting to a question on whether he felt hurt at the Left parties’ refusal to support the nuclear agreement between New Delhi and Washington.

“I am pretty confident that we can resolve the issues,” he said, adding that his forthcoming statement in parliament – scheduled for Monday – would clarify many concerns expressed by the Left parties. Parliament is scheduled to debate the nuclear deal Tuesday and Thursday.

Asked whether the government would fall if the Left withdrew its support, Manmohan Singh said: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it”.

When asked whether he would be meeting the Left leaders before his statement in parliament, the PM said: “There are still 48 hours left”.

“Treaties are not negotiated like rabbits out of a hat. The deal is signed and sealed. It is not re-negotiable,” he underlined.

“Where is the question of mid-term poll? All problems will be resolved. There is no problem,” Manmohan Singh said when asked again if he foresaw Left parties withdrawing support to the government.

Congress president and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi shared this assessment. “There is no threat to the government and I do not see any possibility of a mid-term poll,” she said.

But the Left parties remained unfazed by either Manmohan Singh’s tough talk or his later assurances. They stuck to their opposition to the pact, while the Bharatiya Janata Party tried to cash in on the rift and dared the communists to vote against the agreement in parliament.

“The prime minister feels that he has sincerely kept the promise he has given to the Left and delivered on them. But we have our own reservations about the deal. We will explain it during the discussion in parliament,” Sitaram Yechury, senior Communist Party of India (CPI-M) leader, told IANS.

“The prime minister and the government must realise that this agreement is not acceptable to the majority in parliament,” stated Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI-M.

“As far as the approach to the government is concerned, we will take our own counsel,” Karat said in an obvious response to Manmohan Singh’s unusually strong criticism of the Left parties in an interview to The Telegraph in which he made it clear that the communists withdraw support to the government if they liked but the deal would not be renegotiated. The interview was published Saturday.

“I told them that it is not possible to renegotiate the deal. It is a honourable deal, the cabinet has approved it, we cannot go back on it. I told them to do whatever they want to do, if they want to withdraw support, so be it,” Manmohan Singh told the Kolkata-based newspaper.

In response, Karat reiterated the Left parties’ insistence on placing the nuclear deal in the context of the strategic relationship between India and the US that they oppose, though they continue to support the government at the centre.

“We do not share the optimism that India can become ‘a great power with the help of the United States’. India is a country endowed with sufficient resources and self-confidence to carve out its own path of development,” Karat said.

“The Left parties have been consistently expressing their opposition to the July 2005 joint statement with the United States, which includes the nuclear cooperation agreement.

“After the Hyde Act was adopted by the US containing unacceptable conditions, the CPI-M has been asking the government not to proceed with the negotiations for the bilateral (123) agreement,” he clarified.

“The Left is an independent entity and we are not part of the government. We have every right to oppose the deal and air our differences,” Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary D. Raja told IANS.

In the interview to The Telegraph, Manmohan Singh had reminded his Communist allies that they needed to work together and that the UPA-Left alliance could not be a one-sided affair.

“I don’t get angry, I don’t want to use harsh words. They are our colleagues and we have to work with them. But they also have to learn to work with us,” he said.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Left have had a love-hate relationship since the present government at the centre was formed in May 2004, with the Communists often protesting its economic and foreign policies. However, neither Manmohan Singh nor UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has ever used harsh language about the Left.

Immediately after the publication of the interview, the government sought to play down the prime minister’s tough talk.

“The prime minister has a right to talk to his allies. I am not aware of the prime minister threatening A, B or C,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Saturday said that the government would hold more consultations with the Left parties on the issue. He did not, however, say when this would take place.

The main opposition BJP, which is pressing for a vote on the nuclear deal in parliament, quickly seized the opportunity of an apparent break in the government ranks and dared the Left parties to withdraw support to the government.

“Will they (the Left parties) now bite? If they really believe that the 123 agreement is not in India’s national interest they should vote against it (in parliament),” BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said while accusing the Left parties of “double-standards”.

So far, the Left has only wanted a debate on the nuclear deal in parliament.

Criticising the nuclear deal, the BJP spokesperson said: “More than two dozen countries will now examine India’s foreign policy. This amounts to mortgaging our foreign policy to the beck and call of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group of nations that also includes China.”