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10 July, 2008

Play acting in the name of nuclear deal

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front have finally stopped play acting. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party has stepped in to save the government which has lost the support of 59 Left members. SP’s 39 members are not enough for the UPA to chalk up a majority in the Lok Sabha. Yet the Congress says there is no threat to the government. The Lok Sabha’s term ends only next year. The Congress hopes that in a confidence vote it will have the support of small parties and Independents who want the house to complete its term.

This does not mean that elections will take place only next year. If the government loses the confidence vote, elections will become necessary this year itself. For, it will be difficult for the present Lok Sabha to throw up an alternative government. Even if the government wins the confidence vote, it can seek dissolution of the house and fresh elections any time it conditions are considered favourable.

The media has extensively debated the propriety of the Left withdrawing its support to the government when the Prime Minister was abroad. The Left argues that it was left with no choice as the Prime Minister announced the decision to go ahead with the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal during a foreign trip. Actually, both sides should have given thought to propriety much earlier. The decision on the nuclear deal emerged from a meeting between US President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh three years ago. The Left immediately made it clear that the deal was not acceptable. In the circumstances, there were only two possibilities before the UPA-Left combine. Either the Left should have withdrawn its objection or the government should have dropped the deal in deference to the Left’s feelings. If the deal was dropped the ruling front had to drop the Prime Minister who had made as well. Instead of choosing either course, the two sides pretended that the difference of opinion was something that could be resolved through discussions. It was their common desire to keep the government going and avoid early elections that prompted them to do so.

The pretence did much damage to the government and the Prime Minister. The sight of the government supplicating before a mini front, which was not a part of it, for permission to take follow-up measures on the deal it had signed with another government was not an edifying one. As the government’s position weakened, the impression gained ground that those who had reduced it to that state were powerful. They too started believing it.

What is the worth of a Prime Minister who is unable to give effect to an agreement he had signed? To maintain his credibility before Bush, Manmohan Singh, who had an invitation to attend the summit of the wealthy nations, found it necessary to stop play acting and declare publicly that he was going ahead with follow-up measures. The US administration had been pressing India for some time to complete the deal. It is said that Bush, who is due to lay down office shortly as a colossal failure, reckons that if the deal is completed he can claim it as a personal victory.

When Bush and Manmohan Singh announced the nuclear deal in 2005 it had invited much opposition both in India and in the US. There is a law in US which prohibits the supply of nuclear material to any nation that has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and agreed to inspection of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. After India conducted nuclear tests, the US government had imposed a strict embargo. As a result, India was unable to obtain fuel even for its existing nuclear power stations. Opposition to the deal in the US was directed against freeing India from this situation. However, the US Congress approved the deal in 2006, rejecting the amendments proposed by its critics.

After that, the only obstacle was the Manmohan Singh government’s inability to take follow-up measures. But opposition in the US has not completely died down. Only last Saturday, the influential New York Times, in an editorial, demanded that the US government must not complete the deal in a hurry even if India is ready. It listed five arguments against the deal. One, it forgives India for making nuclear bombs. Two, for the first time in 30 years, it gives India permission to buy nuclear fuel and equipment from not only the US but also other countries. Three, it does not ask India to stop making bombs. Four, India does not undertake not to increase its nuclear arsenal. Five, India does not promise not to conduct more tests. It points out that if the deal goes through India will be able to get nuclear fuel and technology from countries like Russia and France.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been opposing the nuclear deal saying it does not allow India to conduct more tests and acquire more weapons. The New York Times opposes it saying it allows India to do all that. This shows that each one is interpreting the terms of the agreement in such a way that it suits his purposes.

The main basis of the Left’s opposition to the deal is that the US is the other party. The Left parties believe that the government is trying to forge military ties with the US. They attach much importance to US officials’ statements favouring a ‘strategic partnership’ with India. The expression ‘strategic partnership’ was heard often while Sino-US relations were growing after President Nixon sent Henry Kissinger on a secret mission to Beijing. The official statement issued after Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Washington in October 1997 for talks with President Bill Clinton had said the two agreed to work for constructive and strategic partnership. The then Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth explained later that the concept of strategic partnership did not involve military ties and that it only envisaged a relationship that involved mutual consultations on all issues.

The Left and the BJP are one in denouncing the nuclear deal on the ground that it would endanger India’s policy of non-alignment. A. B. Vajpayee as Prime Minister had tried hard to build close ties with the US. It was an initiative that he took which led to the nuclear deal. His party’s present stand is wholly dishonest. It was around the time leaders of the Communist Party of India undertook a secret visit to Moscow to ask Stalin what they should do that Jawaharlal Nehru declared that India would not join any power bloc. Stalin and the Indian Communist leaders could not comprehend what non-alignment meant. That was why the Communist Party went around saying India had not really become free and that Nehru was boot-licker of the imperialists. Non-alignment did not stand in the way of India accepting the US nuclear umbrella following the Chinese aggression of 1962 or entering into a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union 1n 1971 to face the Pakistan-US axis. Those who either desire or fear Chinese or American servitude will do well to remember Jawaharlal Nehru’s observation that India is too big a country to become anybody’s appendage.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated July 10, 2008

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