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The Rediff Interview/BJP leader Yashwant Sinha
'We can live without nuclear power'
March 04, 2008
The United States-India agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation has become the bone of contention between the Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main Opposition party in Parliament.
The BJP has opposed the deal, to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's [Images] acute embarrassment. Political circles believe that if the BJP withdraws its opposition, the deal can be pushed through. Despite extraordinary pressure from the US, the BJP has refused to budge.
Yashwant Sinha, who has held the finance and external affairs portfolios in the previous BJP-led government, has been at the forefront of the debate.
He spoke to rediff.com Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt.
In view of the visit by Senators John Kerry, Joseph Biden and Chuck Hagel to New Delhi, is US pressure building to seal the deal?
The government, especially the Prime Minister's Office, tries to give the impression that they are serious about pushing the deal forward. Maybe they are, but people within the Congress have said on record that if the deal is not acceptable to the majority of the people and political parties of the country, then there is no reason to go ahead.
I was recently invited by a group of educated and well-informed people to give a talk. I told them I could talk on the nuclear deal, or on economic issues, and they preferred that I talk on economic issues because the nuclear deal does not touch the masses. Even educated people have only a rudimentary idea what the deal is all about, so if anyone in Congress thinks it can become a major election issue, he is living in a paradise of his own. Bread and salt issues are what matter; if the Congress takes the nuclear deal to the people, those who oppose it will make our own arguments to the people.
What kind of arguments?
A simple argument I have advanced even in rural areas is that the nuclear bomb, which Atal Bihari Vajpayee created for India's security, is being handed over to Americans by this government.
Isn't this mere political rhetoric? Supporters of the deal say if your prime ministerial candidate LK Advani backs the deal, he can earn great respect in the international community.
This is a mistaken notion. Why was there so much outrage in the country when, last month, Condoleezza Rice told the Foreign Relations Committee that the Hyde Act will have to be taken into account by the Nuclear Suppliers Group? Because it is a prescriptive act, a humiliating act; it has conditions no sovereign, self-respecting country should accept.
If you are a patriot, if you believe in India, the only thing you can say about nuclear deal is: No. We can live without nuclear power for some time, but we cannot be subservient to the US. You say we are indulging in rhetoric; let me say the government is doing it too.
The government tells the people this deal will bring electricity to every household. This is total bunkum. We have proved with facts that less than three per cent of energy comes from the nuclear sector now; if the deal goes through and we set up all those reactors, that will go up to 8 per cent, which is nothing compared to our total requirement.
Frankly, I haven't found anyone in the BJP other than you and Arun Shourie who are against the deal. Brajesh Mishra, the strategic thinker once attached to your party, has said if a few concerns are addressed, he is not opposed to it.
All decisions regarding nuclear deal policy have been taken at the highest level, and Vajpayee was present until recently. Arun Shourie and I have been chosen by the party to speak for it, that is all. Brajesh Mishra is not a part of the BJP anymore. He was our national security advisor; he has his opinion and we respect it, but it is not our opinion. Our party has taken the unanimous stand of opposing the deal.
You have been our external affairs minister, and know how international diplomacy is conducted. Tell me, how can you talk to another country for two years, and then say no, sorry? What will be the image of India when the government looks less than serious in engaging another nation?
Let me assure you that India will look good in the eyes of world. Woodrow Wilson was the architect of the League of Nations, but the US didn't become a member. The US promoted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but Congress didn't accept it. There are many examples of countries going back on signed treaties, whereas the nuclear deal is an unsigned treaty under negotiation. I recommend that those who talk of India's image suffering should read world history.
This debate only enhances the image of a nation. India is a democracy, and on the nuclear deal we have seen one of the most well-informed debates, inside and outside Parliament. Though Parliament has no right to approve or reject such deals, its opinion has a tremendous impact on the government, and on public opinion.
Many, who are in favour of the deal, are bewildered by the BJP's opposition, because they remember that when your party was in power, you were discussing a nuclear deal with the US.
I suggest that my friends should continue to have confidence in India. I remember when we went in for the nuclear test in Pokhran, Vajpayee announced that we had received so many messages from Indians abroad that they felt proud for the first time. As finance minister in August 1998, when we issued the Resurgent India bonds exclusively for NRIs and PIO, we intended to get $2 billion (about Rs 8,000 crore) but ended up getting $4.25 billon (about Rs 17,000 crore). We had to close it before time, because so much money was coming in. Why? Because our people outside were proud of India. No Indian living abroad wants to see India become subservient to another country, even if it is the US. So I request them to study the conditions of the Hyde Act.
As a citizen, and not as a politician, would you not say that a government should honour its international commitments?
This is work in progress and not the concluded deal, not a commitment. Let me ask you a question -- what about our gas pipeline deal with Iran and Pakistan? Is it not also an international deal that we negotiated? Now we are not even going to the negotiation table -- so by your logic, won't that bring us a bad name? Who is putting pressure on us to walk away from that deal? Let us not look at the US -- it is the most important country in the world, but it is not the only country. India is also an important global player. Relationships between nations must be on the basis of sovereign equality. You cannot command respect globally if you think you are less than some other country. We must be able to negotiate as equals.
In retrospect, what went wrong, resulting in the Congress party facing international embarrassment?
It is not even the Congress -- it is only the prime minister and some people close to him. Natwar Singh, the external affairs minister at the time, has said he knew about the deal only when he arrived in Washington in July 2005. He also said when he returned from Washington, Sonia Gandhi [Images] was very unhappy with the deal. There are only some people in the PMO pushing the deal, it is very doubtful if the majority in the Congress (party) accepts it.
As a senior BJP leader, do you see the possibility of a change in your stance on the deal?
Advani and all of us have said we will renegotiate the deal when we come to power. Senators like Biden and Kerry have also said the new government of Democrats will renegotiate the deal. Good, let the new administrations in India and the US look at it afresh. If we come to an agreement, good; else we can go our separate ways.
But the new conditions may be harsher�
It will be harsh only if we accept them. As it stands, this is a bad deal for India -- it will reduce our self-confidence, and it will not help our energy requirements.
Your core constituency, the middle class, is for closer Indo-US relations.
They are pro-America but they are not pro-Bush, that is the difference. I too like going to the US, I have friends and relatives there. But that doesn't mean you have to surrender your national interest. One way to come close to the US is to become its junior partner, but is this the best way?
Categorically -- will the deal go through this year or no?
I don't think the deal will come through. If the government tries to push it through, it will have to go.
Technically, nobody stops the government from doing it�
The deal will have to be implemented also, no? It is not that you need a signature -- no party will accept the deal. Will India accept a deal from the US, if it knows the next administration will not accept it? The US will realise that there is no point in carrying out negotiations with a lame duck-government.
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