No patriotic Indian party will cancel nuclear deal: PM


New Delhi : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday said the Congress party was ready to take the support of the Left parties to form the next government, but not at the cost of giving up the nuclear deal with the US.

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In a wide-ranging interview, he also revealed that India was close to clinching a peace deal with Pakistan when the lawyers’ strike broke out in the neighbouring country, and that he would like to hand over power to “someone younger” at some stage.

Manmohan Singh defended the withdrawal of the international look-out notice on Bofors accused Ottavio Quatrocchi, saying the world was saying there was no case against the Italian businessman.

“I have enjoyed working with the Left. I have nothing personal against the Left parties… But it (any support) would not be at the cost of giving up the nuclear deal,” he told CNN-IBN news channel in an interview.

“The nuclear deal was achieved after a lot of labour, we ended India’s isolation… I don’t think any serious minded patriotic party would ask to annul the nuclear deal,” he said.

During the course of Election 2009 the prime minister has made overtures to the Left parties saying that an alliance with them after the elections was still possible and he regretted having parted ways over the India-US nuclear deal.

However, this is the first time that the prime minister has made it amply clear that the nuclear deal was non-negotiable.

The Left parties withdrew support to Manmohan Singh’s government in July last year protesting against the civilian nuclear deal with US.

Speaking for the first time on Bofors payoff suspect Ottavio Quattrocchi, the prime minister said the case itself had proved an “embarrassment” for the government.

“The Quattrocchi case is an embarrassment for the government of India. We have tried to extradite him from Malaysia. We have tried to extradite him from Argentina. We have failed. The court says we do not have a strong case,” he said.

He said the case did not show the Indian legal system in good light.

“It’s not a good reflection on the Indian legal system that we harass people while the world says we have no case. The Interpol had asked the government of India that why do you want to treat him under the Red Corner Notice.

“Therefore the matter was referred to the law ministry and then to the Attorney General, who gave the advice that there is no case for keeping the Red Corner Notice. Even (then) the issue is now before the court.”

In November 2008, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the advice of the Attorney General removed Quattrocchi’s name from the look-out notices issued by Interpol. The revelation earlier this week created a big furore with the opposition slamming the government, accusing it of trying to hush up the case.

Manmohan also reiterated that Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had all the qualities to be a good prime minister and said he would prefer “at some stage” to hand over power to someone younger than himself.

Asked by the channel if he is re-elected PM, “would he like to finish the entire term, or would he maybe midterm think about handing it over to someone else – obviously everyone would think of Rahul Gandhi?”

“I have said Rahul Gandhi has all the qualities a good PM should have. I certainly at some stage would like the seat of power should be in the hands of younger people than I am,” he said.

On Pakistan, the prime minister said he was close to clinching “an agreement” on all bilateral issues with former president Pervez Musharraf two years ago but the judiciary in that country halted that process.

“I and General (retd) Musharraf had reached an agreement in non-territorial solution to all problems but then General Musharraf got into difficulties with the chief justice (Iftikhar Chowdhary)… He said we cannot operate on all fronts and therefore the whole process came to a halt…,” he said.

The prime minister was referring to the Pakistani lawyers’ country-wide protests in 2007, which ultimately led to the president Musharraf’s downfall.

The peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad came to a grinding halt last year after the Mumbai terror attack, which India alleges was sponsored and executed by elements in Pakistan.

However, Manmohan Singh said India was looking forward to Pakistan root out terror from its soil.

“I still believe we have no ill will towards Pakistan. We want Pakistan to combat Taliban. It will have our good will. Our only concern is Pakistan should cooperate in not allowing the territory of Pakistan to be used for acts of terror in our country (India),” Manmohan Singh said.