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Home > News > Columnists > Dr A Gopalakrishnan

N-deal: Parliament must have decisive authority

July 20, 2007

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Nuclear deal is in last leg: PM

The US-India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act of 2006 (HR 5682 RH) was passed by the House of Representatives of the US Congress on July 26, 2006. A total of 219 Republican Congressmen, out of the total 231, and 140 Democratic Congressmen, out of the total 201, voted in favour of this legislation. The US House has taken full cognisance of the cautions and protests it received from the US non-proliferation lobby, and has appropriately modified the earlier version of this Bill (HR 4974) to assuage the apprehensions. Thus, the overwhelming support this Bill received in the full House is only an indication that US requirements have been fully met, while we should also accept it as a strong blow dealt to India's national interests.

In connection with the House and the Senate versions of legislation passed in 2006 , some in the Indian media have gone overboard in their enthusiasm to proclaim that various "killer amendments," which could otherwise have been "deal-breakers" have been defeated in the process. This helped to spread the false and comfortable feeling that the legislation as it came out of the two Committees were benign to India, and all the negative clauses which the Indian critics of the deal have worried about have been eliminated.

The truth is far from it! It is only few of the additional amendments brought forth in the last few days, to further tighten the noose around India's neck, which have been defeated -- all the original restrictions and demands placed on India through HR 5682, as submitted to the House, stayed intact. This euphoria continued up until the two bills were further modified, reconciled and eventually approved by both houses of the US Congress as the Henry J Hyde United States � India Peaceful Atomic Energy Co-operation Act of 2006, in December 2006.

By the time the contents and restrictions of the Hyde Act started sinking into the minds of most of the Indian intelligentsia, it was clear that many  of the crucial and firm undertakings given to India by the US Administration have been outright negated by the US Congress, to uphold what the legislature in Washington saw as US national interest. However, die-hard US supporters in the Indian government and the big business houses continued to push both governments to forge ahead and close the deal on the basis of the Hyde Act, despite the strongly negative implications to Indian sovereignty and national security. 

A narrow, patriotic section of the print media, prominently led by the Asian Age newspaper, and a determined and experienced group of senior nuclear scientists who have spent most of their lives in building up the indigenous Indian nuclear program were left to carry on the battle of preserving what is rationally perceived as Indian National Interest. This group could gather the support of the opposition parties in the Indian Parliament and,through them, raise the opposition to the nuclear deal in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

This eventually forced the prime minister to open a dialogue with the Senior Nuclear Scientists' Group and give certain concrete assurances to the Parliament in August 2006, to assuage the sharp objections and rightful indignation of the opposition parties. As the endless negotiations between the two governments proceed, the nation awaits the final outcome, not knowing in which direction its future is being shaped by a few in the Manmohan Singh [Images] government.

A senior-level Indian team is currently conducting what are slated as the 'final lap' negotiations in Washington the fate of this nuclear deal may be a little clearer when this team returns.

We must not lose sight of the fact that many of the serious objections raised by Indian analysts and the scientific community still remain in the India-specific nuclear legislation, the Hyde Act-2006, and whatever wording we may choose in the so-called 123-Agreement, the Hyde Act will govern all aspects of future Indo-US nuclear relations and co-operation.

The Hyde Act-2006 still contains a strong linkage to our relations with Iran and  urges India not to co-operate with Iran even in the conventional energy sector, it outright denies the multi-path nuclear fuel supply guarantee which the PM had promised to Parliament, displays a total disregard for reciprocity of actions, includes the mandatory imposition that India need to cooperate and collaborate with the US on the FMCT, that we should fully participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement, etc.

So there is a need to be on guard against the misinformation campaign which is going on, perhaps with some support from our government and the strong business lobbies in India and the US.

Our immediate focus, however, needs to be on how best to protect India's national interests in the near and long term. Should we entrust this task, in the current context of the Indo-US nuclear deal, solely to the United Progressive Alliance government, as we have done so far, or should the primacy of Parliament be enforced to ensure that this and future governments stay within certain mutually agreed boundaries of action? Ironically, the best answer to this question can be gleaned from the views of the US Congress, which also found itself in a similar dilemma over the same deal.

The Bill HR 5682 RH was submitted in mid-2006 to the House of Representatives along with a detailed report which explains the intention behind each of its clauses. Let me reproduce a few verbatim quotations from this report, which clearly make the case why the US Congress was compelled to proactively participate in shaping the current deal.
The report states, 'Given the unique and controversial nature of the proposed civil nuclear cooperation agreement and the fact that Congress was not consulted regarding the negotiations between the administration and the Indian government relating to the original announcement of their intention to negotiate such an agreement, congressional scrutiny and approval was deemed essential to protect US interests.'

The treatment that the Indian Parliament has received from the UPA government is also much the same. The PM sent his advance pointsmen to the US to lay the foundation for this deal, to discuss the strategic path for converting it into a reality, and perhaps to reach certain unwritten understandings with the US administration, including the potential commercial benefits that the US could accrue through this deal in the areas of selling nuclear power plants to India in the future, arms exports, sales of clean-coal technologies and associated equipment etc.

The government used only a few hand-picked senior officials from then on in handling this deal, persons in whom the PM has trust and who are also well-known sympathisers of the US points of view. The Parliament, members of the Cabinet, and almost all the rest of the bureaucracy and the general public have no inkling of what is being negotiated, ostensibly for the purpose of "enhancing energy security" and for the larger good of the country by leading it into the US camp.

Therefore, just as the US Congress did in its interest, it is time that Indian Parliament also woke up to the need for this deal to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and approval in Indian national interest.

The US House report further states, 'Direct Congressional involvement, especially the requirement for its approval, is also necessary to ensure that the pledges and assurances made by the administration and the Indian government are actually met and not rendered irrelevant through lack of action or discontinuation of interest. Without enforcement provisions, such statements are obviously little more than promises that may be modified at will, or even abandoned altogether, should circumstances change.'

In our Parliament also, the PM has made statements on this deal on few different occasions, giving solemn pledges on specific aspects of the agreement. However, the way matters have turned out, it appears that the negotiators appointed by the PM have totally failed to impress upon the US administration the promises that he had made on these occasions.

On the whole, the government has not stood up firmly against the American onslaught on the PM's promises, fearing that the deal may not go through. Inherent in this behaviour is the government's strong conviction that India cannot survive and grow if this nuclear deal with the US collapses, which sadly is a colossal fallacy. In any case, the way events are progressing, it shows scant regard on the part of this government for the shared responsibility which Parliament also has in our democratic polity.

I shall close with a third quotation from the US House report which brings out the importance of legislative involvement in such affairs of state. It reads, 'Constitution nevertheless vests Congress with considerable powers and responsibilities in the areas of foreign policy and national security, which its members are obligated to carry out. Fidelity to that trust means that Congress cannot delegate those responsibilities to the executive branch or allow itself to be made irrelevant to government policy in any area.'

Our Parliament must also be aware that it holds enormous ultimate powers and solemn responsibilities under the Indian Constitution. It must feel that, at this juncture, it has an unavoidable collective responsibility to steer this government away from the path it is deliberately following, contrary to the promises made in the immediate past. Whether this is achieved through a Sense of Parliament resolution or a prime ministerial statement to Parliament, is a matter to be collectively decided.

All of us do understand that the objective is not to pull down the UPA government, but to make this government understand beyond any shadow of doubt that it has to openly articulate the Indian position to the US administration and to our own nation. While doing this, the government must keep in mind the consensus opinion of Parliament at all times. We are ready to accept once again a statement from the PM, if that is what the government wants to save face in the light of the Hyde Act-2006 and the U.S refusal to amend it to take care of the PM's assurances to the Parliament, instead of a joint parliamentary resolution.

However, this time we hope the PM will not again make promises and prolong the agony, but decisively move forward and close out the negotiations on this nuclear deal, and start resuming the government's support to the indigenous nuclear program. It is an obvious fact that in trumping up a false case of enhanced energy security through the nuclear deal, the government has been  paying  scant attention to the indigenous national energy programs and projects in such major sectors like coal and hydro-power. It is time that we establish our national focus on these crucial  areas.

Dr A Gopalakrishnan is a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, government of India. He can be contacted at

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