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Cong still indecisive on joint statement stance?

By Renu Mittal
July 22, 2009 22:54 IST
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Two dates: July 29 and July 30, will be important dates for the government and the Congress party to clear the air about the Indo-Pakistan joint statement.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to clarify the stand of the government over the Indo-Pak joint Ssatement and the End Use Agreement with the United States, as both the issues have given the opposition a handle with which to criticize the government.

The PM is likely to spell out the government's stance during the debate in the Lok Sabha on July 29 on "Issues arising out of the Prime Minister's visits" either through an intervention or the actual reply after which the party will firm up its position and response on the two issues.

The debate on joint statement between India and Pakistan is scheduled on July 29.

A senior Congress leader said that so far the party has not firmed up its stand, as there has been no core committee meeting, no Congress Working Committee meeting and no meeting of the Congress Parliamentary party. He said that the party's response will be decided after this.

It is learnt that a meeting of the core committee is likely to be on Friday and a meeting of the general body of the CPP
on July 30 with senior leaders admitting that if there is a need after that a meeting of the Congress Working Committee will be called.

Sources say that the party leadership expects the PM to speak on the two issues to clear the air. The Congress President met Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, defence minister A K Antony, Ahmed Patel and other party leaders. While these issues are learnt to have come up, a number of other party and parliamentary matters also came up for the discussion, say sources in the party.

So far the Congress party refused to 'welcome' the Indo-Pak joint statement but merely stating that there is 'no dissent within the party, nor any murmurs to that effect.'

But despite whatever may be stated on the record, there are noises within the Congress suggesting that there is disquiet.

A Bangla daily has put out a story that the Union finance minister and the Number 2 in the government, Pranab Mukherjee, is unhappy with the Indo-Pakistan joint statement. The story states that the draft which was cleared by the cabinet committee on security before the departure of the Prime Minister for Egypt was not the same draft
which was finally accepted and signed by the two prime ministers.

Pranab Mukherjee has not denied the story or its contents so far, by all accounts.

Senior sources in the Congress party admit that the Prime Minister may have overstepped his brief on the Pakistan issue. They contend that there should have been "wider consultation" (read party leadership) and are also treating the prime minister and his team as one unit saying that the entire team was responsible for the 'goof up' in Egypt.

A section of the senior leaders of the party are going to the extent of comparing this to Lal Bahadur Shastri's Tashkent Agreement which was seen to be against India's interests and which created an uproar in the country when Shastri was in Russia, a shock which he found hard to take.

Party leaders say it is wrong to assume that just because the
leadership backed Dr Singh over the nuclear deal, they would do so on every issue. They say that then the situation was different with Dr Singh threatening to resign as the Prime Minister and general elections just around the corner.

A senior leader said that the party had to work extremely hard to save its government because the PM had made the nuclear deal a prestige issue and at that time the leadership had no option but to back him to the hilt.

But no such situation exists at this time, say party leaders. Sources say that with Sonia Gandhi getting access to intelligence reports as well as inputs from various agencies, there is very little that is hidden from her, and it is just a matter of time before it becomes clear as to how the final statement was finalised.

A highly placed source said that they are waiting and watching the situation and seeing how it plays out and what would be the political fallout.

Based on that the party would take a final view which would be articulated by the Congress President, when she addresses the party MPs on July 30.

However, in view of importance of the issue and sensitivity of PM Singh over the foreign policy matters, it is likely that with use of smart jargons and camouflage, Congress will come  to terms with it.

However, once the crisis is over, PM Singh will find that there is little space for him to move forward on composite dialogue or any other issue except terrorism.

The PMO knows Congress party is watching.

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Renu Mittal