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Home > India > News > Columnists > Praful Bidwai

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The true costs of the nuclear deal

July 18, 2008

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If you had asked members of the Left parties only a few months ago whether the United Progressive Alliance government should be toppled on the issue of the US-India nuclear deal, a majority would have said: "No."

Other issues, including rising prices and economic failures, India's increasingly intimate strategic alliance with the US, and the UPA's indifferent record on fighting communalism, are far more important." They would have said that the deal, on which less than a fifth of the public has clear views according to opinion polls, should not be the main determinant of UPA-Left relations.

Today, the Left has strange bedfellows like the Bahujan Samaj Party and what's left of the United National Progressive Alliance minus the Samajwadi Party. It wants to vote the UPA out of power primarily on the issue of the deal -- just as its mortal enemy, the Bharatiya Janata Party, wants to. The UPA, in turn, has allied itself with its long-standing adversary, the SP, for deplorably opportunistic reasons.

This huge shift can only be explained by the obsessive zeal with which Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] has pursued the deal, imposed it on the UPA, and violated the solemn assurances he had given to the Left.

The Left agreed in November to let the government go to the International Atomic Energy Agency to negotiate a safeguards agreement with its secretariat on condition that the UPA would not take the next step without bringing the matter back into its joint nuclear deal committee with the Left and taking its 'findings into consideration.'

The Left has every reason to feel let down by Dr Singh, who on June 30 made the incredibly childish demand that he be allowed to complete the deal, after which he would 'bring it before Parliament and abide by the House', thus directly contradicting Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee's promise that the UPA would go to the IAEA board of governors for approving the agreement only after securing a Parliamentary confidence vote.

As soon as the Samajwadi Party made its unprincipled U-turn and supported the deal, Dr Singh vetoed a meeting of the UPA-Left committee planned for July 10, and announced on July 7 that the government would approach the IAEA board of governors 'very soon.' Worse, the government made that approach even before the Left parties withdrew support and scheduled a briefing for the IAEA four days before the confidence vote.

Under Dr Singh's goading, the UPA stooped low to practice subterfuge, stealth and outright deception, and mocked at the process of democratic decision-making based on transparency, political honesty and honouring promises made to the elected representatives of the people.

This is all the more deplorable because Dr Singh never had a popular mandate for signing and completing the deal, which has huge implications for India's foreign policy, nuclear and strategic stances. Such a mandate cannot be conjured up by manufacturing a majority through political wheeling-and-dealing. It's an elementary requirement of democracy that no major policy reorientation or paradigm shift be executed without thorough, threadbare public discussion and before a broad consensus is reached on the issue.

The UPA is guilty of degrading, devaluing and defiling democracy on another count. It has promoted sordid forms of horse-trading, defection and bribery to stitch together a fragile majority. It has made the political process hostage to the machinations of powerful corporate interests. The Opposition, especially the BSP, is also using money power.

Some 20-odd MPs belonging to tiny regional parties or factions, six of them convicts/undertrials, seem set to determine the fate of the UPA -- and the deal. This is a disgrace.

Even if the UPA wins the confidence vote, the new power-sharing arrangement will lack anything resembling the programmatic basis that marked the Left's support for the UPA, through the National Common Minimum Programme.

The Samajwadi Party is backing the UPA not to isolate the BJP, but to counter the BSP's growing influence in Uttar Pradesh, and because it craves the loaves and fishes of power. It is deeply compromised with the Sangh Parivar, which enabled it to come to power in UP in 2005 through defections, and with the help of then governor and old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hand Vishnu Kant Shastri, and BJP leader and then assembly speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi.

Mulayam Singh Yadav covertly followed the Parivar's script while doling out favours to his cronies. He retained Tripathi as speaker, appointed/continued Sangh nominees as government lawyers and heads of commissions and universities, donated crores of rupees to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and ensured that L K Advani wouldn't be prosecuted for the Babri mosque demolition.

It's shameful that the UPA has chosen to team up with the Samajwadi Party and pander to the outrageous demands advanced by Yadav's lieutenant Amar Singh on behalf of a powerful businessman, Anil Ambani, who is in active rivalry with his brother. The Samajwadi Party will extract a horrible price for its support to the UPA, which might turn unaffordable.

The Samajwadi Party has wrought grievous damage upon Indian politics by betraying the Communist Party of India-Marxist, its long-standing ally, and seriously weakening, if not undermining the United National Progressive Alliance, Even if the UPA terminates this alliance out of sheer embarrassment, the damage will prove lasting. The Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance will shift the centre of gravity of Indian politics to the right, with harmful consequences for the mass of the population which has a stake in Left-of-Centre policies. This shift can only facilitate the rise of the already buoyed-up BJP, and could prove a big setback for secularism.

If the likely domestic costs of trying to push the nuclear deal are high, the external costs will be no less onerous. The deal is part of, and inseparably linked to, a close but unequal political and military partnership with the US, which will erode India's foreign policy and strategic independence and make New Delhi complicit in Washington's disastrous plans to retain its global hegemony by continuing with its ill-conceived war on terror, its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, its new Middle East initiative, and its effort to restart the Cold War by trying to corner Russia [Images] through its ballistic missile programme.

The IAEA safeguards agreement -- which the government dishonestly claimed to be 'confidential' and refused to share with the Left, but which it made public 10 hours after it was put on the Web sites of arms control groups -- won't fly. The UPA has failed to convince independent critics and the political opposition that the agreement meets the commitments made by Dr Singh to Parliament in respect of uninterrupted fuel supply, and India's right to build a 'strategic fuel reserve' and take 'corrective measures' in case supplies are interrupted.

These assurances are in the preamble, not in the operative part of the agreement's text. Even if the preamble is charitably interpreted as part of the main agreement and as setting the context and purpose of the safeguards that India agrees to accept, several clauses in the operative part mandate that the facilities put under IAEA inspections cannot be taken out of them even if the fuel supply is cut. 'Corrective measures' are nowhere defined.

Besides non-compliance with the prime minister's assurances -- a procedural criticism -- the agreement is flawed on substantive grounds too. It's part of an arrangement that detracts from the imperative of nuclear restraint, arms reduction and global nuclear disarmament. It normalises or legitimises India's nuclear weapons although India hasn't signed a single nuclear restraint or disarmament treaty -- because the US now wants to favour a new friend.

This will encourage other nuclear wannabes to seek a similar deal and weaken the global non-proliferation norm. That cannot be in India's, or the world's, interest.

Under the safeguards agreement, India will only put 14 of its 22 civilian reactors under IAEA inspections. From the remaining eight reactors, it can produce 200 kg of plutonium a year -- enough for 40 bombs, in addition to the 100 to 150 bombs India already has. This makes nonsense of the professed 'credible minimum deterrent', usually understood as a few dozen weapons.

The deal is rotten to the core and must be opposed because it hurts the cause of peace and promotes an inappropriate and ultra-hazardous route to electricity generation: nuclear power. As far as energy goes, it's another Enron in the making -- only costlier, far more accident-prone and dangerous.

A final word. Part of the responsibility for letting the deal process go this far lies with the CPI-M. Last November, it unilaterally allowed the government to go to the IAEA. The reason? Nandigram [Images], which saw a second eruption of violence, and made the CPI-M desperately anxious to avoid an early general election, in advance of the panchayat polls. Such are the wages of pro-business pro-rich policies. But will the CPI-M learn its lesson?


Praful Bidwai



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