Left gets harsher, Congress on the defensive


New Delhi : Setting a deadline for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government to clarify its position on the India-US nuclear deal, the Communists Friday asked the ruling coalition to face a floor test if they withdrew their legislative support. A furious Congress rejected the ultimatum.

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Hours after the Left set a Monday deadline for the government to specify its next step over the nuclear deal, Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan said the Congress-led government should prove its majority in the Lok Sabha once the Left, which has been backing the government since 2004, walked away.

Pointing out that the four-party Left bloc had given a letter of support to the Indian president when it decided to back the Manmohan Singh government, Bardhan said in an a television interview: “Once we pull out, it will reduced to a minority status. We will have to ask Manmohan Singh government to bring a vote of confidence (in the Lok Sabha).”

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left parties, whose 61 MPs provide vital legislative support to the multi-party government, shot off a letter to External Affairs Minister and Congress interlocutor Pranab Mukherjee asking the government to explain by Monday if it was approaching the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to finalise the agreement on India-specific safeguards.

“Please let us know the position by July 7,” CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat told a press conference reading out a letter written jointly by leaders of the CPI, CPI-M, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc.

However, the Congress rejected the ultimatum.

“Sovereign governments or political parties cannot be subjected to deadlines,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.

Slamming the Communists for going public over its deadline to the government, Congress general secretary M. Veerappa Moily said: “It is not appropriate. It lacks courtesy. It is not through the press you tell your partners (about the deadline).

“They are acting out of frustration,” Moily said. “Why is the Left so desperate? Why are they in such a big hurry?”

Meanwhile, overcoming years of bitter rivalry, Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh Friday met the prime minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a major step towards shoring up the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

As the CPI-M and other Left parties discussed the modalities of taking back their legislative support to the government, Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh met the prime minister at his official residence for 30 minutes and then indicated that they were prepared to save the government — and the nuclear deal.

“All new facts were presented to us by the PM. The country’s interest is more important to us … than politics,” Mulayam Singh told reporters outside 7 Race Course Road.

The duo then met Sonia Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence.