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25 August, 2007

Let the people speak

The Indo-US nuclear deal has divided the nation sharply. While the deal was being negotiated, various sections had voiced misgivings. Most political parties took predictable positions. The scientific establishment feared that the government might accept conditions that put their work in jeopardy. Although observers at this end thought the United States was taking too tough a stand, various sections there, too, were voicing dissent. At one stage, it looked as though the talks had run aground. Then, all of sudden, the US softened its position and the 123 agreement materialized.

The agreement has attracted criticism from political quarters in both the US and India. The Indian Left’s reservations were known for a long time. It reiterated its position from time to time, but at no time did it attempt to impose its views on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, which is sustained in office by its support. Although the smaller Left parties have been arguing for some time that the time has come to withdraw the blanket support to the UPA regime, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) appeared to be in no mood to rock the boat – until it asked the government to put the nuclear deal on hold on pain of serious consequences.

The Constitution does not require the government to seek Parliament’s approval before or after entering into an agreement with any foreign country. Those who favor the agreement claim that it is in the nation’s interest. Those who are opposed to say it is not in the nation’s interest. The CPI (M), taking into account the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party is also opposed to the agreement, says it does not have the support of a majority of the members of Parliament. Every party speaks in the name of the people, but is any one of them entitled to speak on their behalf?

The Prime Minister’s Congress party received just 26.55% of the votes polled in the last parliamentary elections. The BJP’s vote share was 22.16%, the CPI (M)’s 5.66% and the CPI’s 1.41%.

Since nuclear policy was not a live issue in the last elections, it is not possible to conclude whether the people of India are for or against the deal on the basis of either the strength of the various parties in the Lok Sabha or the votes they polled last time.

If critics of the agreement have the courage of conviction they must be ready to go to the people. Let the people speak

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