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Home > India > News > Columnists > T P Sreenivasan

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N-deal: A dream come true

October 02, 2008

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The US Senators, who sat through the night to vote on the Bill to clear the 123 agreement till the dawn of October 2 in India, must have been unaware that they were linking the new dawn in Indo-US relations to Mahatma Gandhi [Images]. The proverbial Gandhi magic may have played a role in persuading the reluctant Senators to remove the last hurdle in India's 34-year-old struggle to end India's nuclear isolation.

 

This is not the first time that Mahatma Gandhi and Indian nuclear policy got linked in the US Congress. In 1998, we were in the final stages of securing Congressional approval for setting up a Gandhi statue on Federal land outside the Indian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. A Congressional hearing on the setting up of the statue was scheduled on May 13, 1998. After the Indian nuclear tests two days earlier, we were quite nervous about the statue proposal moving forward in the new atmosphere in Indo-US relations. In fact, the second series of tests took place on the same day as the Congress panel met. At best, we were expecting a postponement of the decision.

 

The panel, however, saw the situation differently. Member after member spoke in condemnation of the tests, but took the line that Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings should constantly remind India about the values it stood for in the past. The setting up of the statue in Washington, they argued, would be a tribute to the old, non-violent India, a model for the world. They expressed the hope that India would one day return to the path of Mahatma Gandhi. As we came out of the meeting, heaving a sigh of relief, Ambassador Naresh Chandra said, "the Gandhi magic was at work again".

 

The deal is a dream come true not only for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images], but also for all those who have worked, since 1974, to end India's nuclear isolation without signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

 

Successive Prime Ministers of India made various proposals in this direction. Indira Gandhi [Images] sent special envoys to Washington and Moscow [Images] to seek nuclear guarantees in the event of India signing the NPT, Morarji Deasai proposed to Jimmy Carter a scientific study on NPT implications, Rajiv Gandhi put forward a comprehensive Action Plan for a nuclear weapon free world, Narasimha Rao extracted a promise from Bill Clinton [Images] that the US would move towards nuclear disarmament and Atal Behari Vajpayee conceded three of the four conditions put forward by Bill Clinton. But it was only after the advent of the Bush Presidency that the world conceded that India could retain its nuclear weapons and still engage in nuclear trade with the world.

 

For those of us, who have witnessed the way the moves of the earlier Prime Ministers were received by the world, it is nothing short of a miracle that the US not only accepted the Manmohan Singh proposals, but also sold them to the rest of the world with messianic zeal.

 

Of course, the deal is not without conditions and riders. It has been established time and again that the deal is as much about non-proliferation as about civilian nuclear co-operation.

 

The co-operation will definitely cease if India conducts a nuclear weapons test. But even these conditions do not detract from the essential value of the deal, which is historic and path breaking. The signature on an agreement with France [Images] and expected cooperation with Russia [Images] prove the universal value of the deal with the US.

 

The supporters of the deal have been fighting shy of admitting that the deal is not unconditional on non-proliferation and moratorium. Much of the argument with the opposition has centered on the sovereignty question. The masterly aphorism, "we have the right to test, they have the right to react" is nothing but an affirmation of the truth that the deal cannot survive a weapons test. The NSG also is of the same opinion. Secretary Rice went beyond the provisions of the 123 agreement to say to the Senate majority leader that the termination of cooperation will be "automatic" if India tested.  Since our moratorium is in place and our scientists are of the view that we do not need tests, the truth must be accepted, rather than go around it with spins. It may be beneficial to call a spade a spade.

 

The debate on the sovereignty question will not cease even if the test issue is clearly understood. India's foreign policy moves will be under a microscope in future. The Iran vote at the IAEA was seen in this light even though it was in keeping with our policy ever since the issue came to the IAEA.

 

In the Senate, it was pointed out that India had voted with the US only 14% of the time in the United Nations. This cannot change as a majority of the resolutions in question are on Palestine and economic issues. The US will complain about this and the Indian opposition will look for any sign of change. The governments of the future will have to strike a balance between the two even though termination of the nuclear agreement is not likely on account of foreign policy differences. India did not go overboard to support the US on Georgia and no one seemed to bother.

 

The energy- environment debate must get greater attention in the context of the deal. Much misunderstanding has been caused by arguments about thorium and self-reliance. If the picture was indeed that it would be possible for us to make up for the deficiency by other means, India would not have been so desperate to have a nuclear deal. Moreover, the pressure on India to reduce greenhouse gases has not been exposed to the public. Climate change mitigation is a responsibility that we cannot take lightly, though we have managed not to have binding commitments for reduction of emissions.

 

The increasing awareness of nuclear energy as the cleanest form of energy should get India credit for diversifying our energy sources. The Indian public needs to know more about the realities of our energy needs. The secrecy surrounding our nuclear programme should be relaxed, once the civilian programme is separated from the military programme.

 

The fact that the deal will also enable us to export our nuclear technology to others should not be forgotten. We have accepted the stringent export policies of the NSG, but we have a splendid opportunity now to sell our indigenous 220 MWe Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) to developing countries. Nearly forty countries have approached the IAEA to seek assistance to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Dr.Anil Kakodkar lost no time in making the offer to the General Conference of the IAEA on October 1, 2008. We should benefit from the nuclear renaissance under way in the world.

 

The work ahead is as hazardous as the path we have traversed. India will now be bombarded with offers of various kinds and much discretion is needed to choose the technology, which is most relevant to us. Legal obstacles to private enterprise in the nuclear field will have to be progressively removed. Hopefully, some scientists and others, who have been opposing the deal will fall in line and concentrate more on benefits rather than imaginary dangers. Like China, which has maximized its advantages in dealing with the US without surrendering any of its interests, India should be able to put the nuclear agreement to good use.      


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