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Analysis: Dr Singh speaks to conquer
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | August 18, 2006 12:15 IST
Till Thursday, the only forceful political statement Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made was when he challenged former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to reveal the name of the mole in public if he had the "decency and courage".
On Thursday, Manmohan Singh, the politician, came into his own, as the prime minister rediscovered himself in the full glare of nation with his one hour long speech in Rajya Sabha.
The odds were stacked against him, with the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left allies seeking a statement regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal that will reflect the 'sense of the House'.
Moreover, eminent nuclear scientists also had aired their apprehensions about the nuclear deal.
As he stood up to speak on why he is seeking and supporting the deal, Dr Singh spoke every word emphatically and with a resolve to conquer. He clinched the moment with �lan and elegance.
At the end, it was democracy at its best, with the oppositional politics, propelled by the BJP, Left parties, scientists, and media raising a few serious questions about the deal and the prime minister giving his word to the nation.
In this impressive democratic process, Dr Singh spoke with much more clarity and conviction than ever, hardening his own stand on the nuclear deal.
After the debate was over, Dr A N Prasad, former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, who along with many other distinguished scientists had raised concerns against the deal, told rediff.com, "He did a good job. Rather, it's too good to believe. He has addressed our concerns."
Dr Singh has made the deal a prestige issue now, and has even linked with it his personal credibility. Because of it his stakes were quite high when he stood up to speak. His failure to convince a larger section of his critics would have led to a huge political fallout for him, his party and his government.
Assuring that the government will not accept changing of goalposts set in July 18 agreement, he said India will get "full civil nuclear cooperation".
"We seek the removal of restrictions on all aspects of cooperation and technology transfers pertaining to civil nuclear energy ranging from nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, to re-processing spent fuel, i.e. all aspects of a complete nuclear fuel cycle," he said.
The prime minister also satisfied many critics by saying, "Our position is that we will accept only IAEA safeguards on the nuclear facilities, in a phased manner, and as identified for that purpose in the Separation Plan only when all nuclear restrictions on India have been lifted. On July 29, 2005, I had stated that before voluntarily placing our civil nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, we will ensure that all restrictions on India have been lifted."
What this effectively means is that there will be no separation of Indian civil and military plans until India and the United States sign the 123 Agreement.
The prime minister told the House that India has not accepted the idea of the US president's annual report to the Congress.
He said India has told the US that "this would introduce an element of uncertainty regarding future cooperation and is not acceptable to us."
On the issue of IAEA safeguards, he said, "There is no question of India signing either a Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA or an Additional Protocol of a type concluded by Non Nuclear Weapons States who have signed the NPT."
The prime minister said, "India will not accept any verification measures regarding our safeguarded nuclear facilities beyond those contained in an India-Specific Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Therefore there is no question of allowing American inspectors to roam around our nuclear facilities."
That effectively means India will be treated neither as a non-nuclear weapons state nor a nuclear weapon state. It will have a unique position.
Dr Prasad says, "It means India will have something in-between. But the IAEA board has China and Pakistan as members. Here, consensus is required among members. If India-specific agreements are not approved by IAEA board then what will happen?"
The prime minister's speech was more assuring and less argumentative.
Dr Singh also said the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty debate will be carried forward in Vienna at the international forum and it will not be India-specific. He said: "We are not willing to accept a moratorium on the production of fissile material."
He denied the allegation that India will accept some kind of a legal binding over nuclear testing and continue with a self-imposed ban on nuclear testing.
At the end of the day, the prime minister's brief was to convince three strong and vocal lobbies campaigning against the nuclear deal: the Left parties, the BJP and the scientists lobby, who were hurling all kinds of charges against him, his party and his government for buckling under US pressure to sign the deal "against India's national interest".
But with his defence of the deal, Dr Singh not only laid to rest those questions that were asked, but also some issues that were not even raised.
He did not sound apologetic; his aggression overwhelmed even his own party colleagues as he silenced his critics by sticking to the best of parliamentary norms.
Not only has he gained in domestic politics, but Dr Singh might have also gained maneuverability with the US.
"The PM's speech on one hand should satisfy a wide spectrum of people who were harbouring a sense of distrust, and on the other, having taken cognisance of the mood of the Parliament, he will be in a stronger position to negotiate with the US as we come closer to the bilateral agreement," said Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar, retired diplomat and strategic analyst.
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said: "The PM's speech was exhaustive. These assurances are as good as a resolution reflecting the Sense of the House."
Dr Singh spoke directly and unambiguously. He didn't bring in his ego, although he has been unnecessarily stubborn on a few matters related to the nuclear deal. This time he said, "I will be able to carry the whole House with me."
Probably the only glitch in the speech was when he argued that India will need an institutionalised mechanism to eradicate poverty as mere economic growth isn't enough.
He insisted, albeit unconvincingly, that he is seeking the nuclear energy deal for enhancing India's energy security.
Sudha Mahalinagam, energy security expert told rediff.com, "I agree he was quite categorical and empathic in his speech. He emphasised enhancing energy security through this deal but I don't know how he comes to this conclusion. India's distribution sector of power is unenviable. No transmission company will be able to afford bulk purchase of nuclear power."
But the PM's speech was more of a political exercise than anything else, and Dr Singh was on a mission where his first priority was to gain the trust of the parliamentarians and scientists; sharing of realistic vision was secondary.
A prime minister who is ridiculed for his alleged lack of political acumen used all the tricks of a mass political leader to win the hearts of the House.
He quoted from Machiavelli's The Prince.
He was almost in tears and at one moment could not control his emotions while answering personal charges against him.
He said harsh criticism is not new to him. In 1992, when he stood up to present the Budget in Parliament, some members some thought it was prepared with the help of Washington. "They alleged that I was an American agent," the prime minister said.
He said he will act keeping in mind "what is in enlightened national interest."
"But," he added, "I don't want to be apologetic for my conviction that good relation with America is in India's national interest."
He further targeted critics who doubt his patriotism inside and outside Parliament.
He said, "History will determine" if he is a strong or a meek PM.
He told fellow parliamentarians that he "comes from a poor family, was a first generation student, has a freedom-fighter's blood in him, was a latecomer to politics but has the privilege to be part of the freedom-fighter's family."
Answering critics that he is wilting under US pressure and his foreign policies are tilting towards the US he said, "Last year during my visit to the US, I addressed the National Press Club. A question was put to me regarding what I thought about US intervention in Iraq. In the full glare of the media, I said it was a mistake. I said the same to President Bush when he visited India. I said India does not favour regime changes."
He said, "We have not allowed any other country, including the United States, to influence our policies. This will not change as long as I am the prime minister."
While reacting to the most contentious issue of the US-India Nuclear Co-operation Promotion Act of 2006 (HR 5682 RH) he said, "No legislation enacted in a foreign country can take away from us that sovereign right. Thus there is no question of India being bound by a law passed by a foreign legislature. Our sole guiding principle in regard to our foreign policy, whether it is on Iran or any other country, will be dictated entirely by our national interest."
K Subrahamanyam, India's ace strategic thinker said, "He has tried to remove misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the bill. He has indirectly also said Americans can say whatever they want to say in the Congress but what matters to us is the bilateral agreement that India is going to sign."
Subrahamanyam also thinks the Americans will see the prime minister's speech as something necessary for domestic politics. "It was also meant for the Americans, they should know what the Indian Parliament thinks."
But, Dr Prasad added a rider: "If whatever the prime minister has said today is communicated to Washington then the deal will fall through. US laws are such that they don't allow certain things that he has promised us."
But, the prime minister had an answer for Dr Prasad too.He hit the nail on the head when he said, "If in the final form, the US legislation or the adapted NSG Guidelines impose extraneous conditions on India, the government will then draw the necessary conclusions, consistent with the commitments I have made to Parliament."