Nuclear Deal Compromises Our Sovereignty

Subhanil Chowdhury and Vineet Kohli

[This report is so much in Indian interest, as it carries views of India’s most respected thinkers on the nuke deal, I consider it be of immense referral value for whosoever is keenly interested in the matter. I acknowledge with thanks its source: People’s Democracy, Vol.XXXI, No.37, of September 16, 2007]

THE Committee on India’s Independent Foreign Policy organised a convention in Delhi on September 10, 2007 on ‘Indo-US Nuclear Deal and India’s Sovereignty’. The venue of the convention, Mavlankar auditorium, was completely packed and people from all walks of life participated enthusiastically.

An unambiguous message emerged from the convention: the Indo-US nuclear deal, in the form of the 123 Agreement with the US, cannot be allowed to proceed. Among the speakers in the convention were eminent nuclear scientists – Dr A G Gopalakrishnan, Dr A N Prasad and Dr A Damodaran – who were joined by former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice P B Sawant, Shri S P Shukla, former Planning commission member, and political leaders such as V P Singh, Ramgopal Yadav, Yerran Naidu along with Prakash Karat and A B Bardhan. The speakers pointed out the need to examine the deal in the larger context of a dangerous shift in Indian foreign policy that seeks to subjugate the country’s interests to the military, political and economic hegemony of the world’s most predatory imperial power – the United States. The 123 Agreement constitutes the pivot in India’s strategic alliance with the US. It signifies a paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy from the earlier unequivocal Non-Aligned stance on global issues to becoming a junior partner of US imperialism. It was also stressed in the convention by eminent nuclear scientists that the 123 Agreement with the US, will seriously undermine the self-reliance achieved by India in the field of nuclear technology and jeopardise years of painstaking research that Indian scientists undertook to develop indigenous nuclear technology in the face of nuclear isolation.

The convention was presided over by eminent economist Professor Prabhat Patnaik. In his inaugural speech Patnaik said that the Indo-US nuclear deal signifies a paradigm shift in India’s relationship with imperialism. At a time when even the British government headed by Gordon Brown is moving away from the US, we are moving closer to the Bush administration. In the haste to be an ally of US imperialism, no objective cost-benefit analysis has been made of the nuclear deal. Moreover, India has also abandoned its long-standing demand for complete nuclear disarmament in the process. Professor Patnaik opined that the support for the nuclear deal comes from the same section of the media and the elites, who were clamouring for a Shining India during the NDA rule. It is in the interest of a small minority of the Indian elite to make India into a close ally of US imperialism and the interests of the majority of the Indian people would not be served by such a strategic alliance, he said. Even within the parliament, the deal does not enjoy majority support. He criticised the UPA government for trying to push the deal in an undemocratic manner.

Former prime minister V P Singh said that the Hyde Act will adversely affect our independent foreign policy. Whether we are bound by the Hyde Act or not is immaterial since the US president is bound by it. Moreover, the imported nuclear energy is a much costlier option compared to thermal energy. The more important question, according to V P Singh, is of democratic propriety. The principles of democracy require that the legislature will prevail over the executive. The UPA government, by going ahead with an agreement, which does not enjoy majority support within the parliament, would be committing an improper act. V P Singh called upon the prime minister, as the leader of the House, to convey to the US president that the 123 Agreement does not enjoy majority support in parliament and thus cannot be operationalised, rather than conveying Mr. Bush’s message to the Indian parliament.

Former Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar pointed out four main areas of interest for the US to enter into the nuclear cooperation agreement with India. Firstly, this will generate over $150 billion worth of business opportunities to companies producing nuclear reactors, which would in turn be financed by US based transnational banks. Secondly, the Defence Cooperation Agreement, which preceded the nuclear cooperation agreement, would pave the way for the sale of sophisticated weaponry to India creating a huge market for the military industrial complex of the US. Thirdly, this would enable the US to draw India into the National Missile Defence System, which symbolises the hegemonic design of the US to dominate the entire world. Fourthly, the US wants India to become its strategic ally in Asia, especially in the backdrop of the ASEAN taking a position against the Iraq War and the strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization comprising of Russia, China and other Central Asian republics. The provisions in the Hyde Act clearly point towards these strategic goals of the US. Nuclear cooperation would provide the leverage to the US to make India fall in line, he said.

Dr A G Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, argued that there are ample alternative energy sources like coal and hydel power to generate electricity in India. He pointed out that the government has withheld a proposal to upgrade coal energy in the country. Nothing has been done to promote hydel power either. In the nuclear energy field, post-1974 (Pokharan-I), Indian scientists had to develop nuclear technology indigenously solely through their own efforts. The government is now belittling this effort by suddenly embarking upon nuclear cooperation with the US. Dr Gopalakrishnan also said that the nuclear deal with the US will harm the indigenous three stage nuclear programme, which seeks to develop nuclear energy from Thorium, which is in abundant supply in India. He said that the government’s claim of wanting to improve the energy situation in the country is not a sincere one.

Justice P B Sawant, former Supreme Court judge, dwelled upon the legal aspects of the nuclear deal and questioned the claim that the 123 Agreement does not require ratification by the Indian parliament. He said that the union Executive has no authority to enter into any binding treaty unless it is ratified by parliament. In support of this assertion, Justice Sawant quoted three articles from the Indian constitution: Articles 53, 73 and 253 along with entry numbers 6 and 30 from the union list. On the basis of these he concluded that to go ahead with the nuclear deal without ratification of parliament is not only undemocratic but also unconstitutional. He also brought out that how the national laws of the US are already embedded in the 123 Agreement and how the spokespersons for the government cannot deny that Hyde Act will apply to the deal.

Dr A N Prasad, former director of Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, said that our chief weakness regarding nuclear energy is a limited supply of uranium which can be expanded by more mining or going for the thorium cycle. The government without doing any of this has suddenly pushed us into a 123 Agreement with the US, when India today is on the threshold of completing the Thorium cycle, he said. Dr Prasad also said that contrary to the assurance made by the prime minister, the nuclear deal has not assured “full” nuclear cooperation. Technology would continue to be denied to India in crucial areas.

S P Shukla, former member of the Planning commission, said that the 123 agreement cannot be seen in isolation and has to be seen in the context of the Hyde Act and the strategic interlocking with the US. This process of interlocking started as early as 1991. Now it has reached an intolerable level where an agreement is being made without parliamentary approval, he said. This 123 Agreement and the interlocking with the US would seriously jeopardise the basic concepts of equality, self-reliance and solidarity with the oppressed people all over the world, which formed the basis of India’s foreign policy in the post-independence period. In order to defend these concepts, all right thinking people should be mobilised against the nuclear deal.

Senior journalist Seema Mustafa argued that the Indo-US nuclear deal is not acceptable since it compromises on India’s sovereignty. She said that the India-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline has been shelved because of American diktats. Three aspects of the deal are most worrying according to her: Firstly, it has been the US side which has given most of the information on the deal, with Nicholas Burns contradicting the Indian interpretation of the 123 Agreement.

Secondly, the executive seems to be desperate in pushing through the deal with scant regard for the legislature. Ronen Sen’s statement about “headless chicken” reflects a contempt towards the parliamentarians. Thirdly, a section of the Indian media have abandoned all journalistic principles and ethics while reporting on the deal, and indulging in vivacious attacks against the critics of the deal. She lamented that very few people in the media have actually taken the trouble of providing solid arguments for or against the deal and have rather chosen to create a hysteria around it. The distinction between news reports and editorials and opinion columns have got blurred on this issue, she said.

Dr A D Damodaran, formerly of Nuclear Fuels Complex, stressed on the point that nuclear technology in India has been developed with great pain and effort, and the independent development of science and technology in India has been a counterpart of our Non-Aligned foreign policy. The Indo-US nuclear deal jeopardises our independent research as well as our commitment to the NAM, he said.

Prabir Purkayastha, power sector analyst from the Delhi Science Forum, made two basic points. Firstly, he said that in the last 15 years there has not been a single official document, which states the importance of nuclear energy. Now, a hue and cry has suddenly been created around nuclear energy being crucial to India’s future. This itself exposes the hollowness of the propaganda, which is nothing but an post facto justification for an alliance with the US. Secondly, over the successive plan periods since the seventh five-year plan, the installed capacity for power generation in India during a plan period, has continued to decline, exposing the non-seriousness of the central government to ensure sufficient electricity for the people. There is nothing else to suggest from the policies of the UPA government that it is different from its predecessors.

Ram Gopal Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party and Yerran Naidu, leader of the TDP expressed unequivocal opposition to the nuclear deal on behalf of their parties. They said that the presentations by the various experts in the convention have only strengthened their resolve to oppose the deal. Ram Gopal Yadav also said that the Hyde Act seriously infringes upon India’s independent foreign policy, which would mean that India has to support US’ policy on Iran. This is totally unacceptable, he said. Yerran Naidu criticised those who questioned the patriotism of the critics to the deal and said that those who are saying that the Left is acting on behalf of China themselves have sinister motivations.

A B Bardhan, general secretary, CPI, said that the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA has a clear commitment towards following an independent foreign policy, opposing unilateralism and promoting multipolarity in world affairs. A strategic alliance with the US, which is the harbinger of unilateralism in the world, is therefore contrary to the letter and spirit of the CMP. Bardhan pointed towards the ploys of the US to attack Iran and the devastation it has caused in Iraq. “How can India’s foreign policy be congruent to that of the US,” he asked. He said that the UPA government is trying to thrust a new foreign policy paradigm through the Indo-US nuclear deal, drifting away from the consensus that prevailed earlier. He made it clear that the issue is not that of a standoff between the Left and the UPA government, but one concerning our supreme national interest. He said that the future generation would not forgive the political leadership if they compromise India’s sovereignty in the 60th year of India’s independence.

As the final speaker of the convention, Prakash Karat, general secretary, CPI (M), countered the misconceptions regarding the Left’s position on the nuclear deal. He said that the section of the media and Congress leadership, which is alleging that the Left is speaking at China’s behest, are “politically illiterate”. The Left in India, while advocating disarmament, has always opposed signing discriminatory treaties like the NPT, which China as a member of the P-5 has always wanted India to sign. Even if China lends support for the 123 Agreement with India at the NSG, the Left in India would continue to oppose it, since the Indian Left is concerned about India’s sovereignty and the interests of our people, which would be harmed if there is a strategic alliance with the US. Karat also refuted the charge that the Left’s opposition to the nuclear deal has not been consistent. He said that in August 2006, the Left parties had raised nine points regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal, which were addressed through concrete assurances made by the prime minister in parliament on August 17, 2006. However, after that the Hyde Act was passed in December 2006, the CPI (M) and the Left parties had stated that the Hyde Act provisions were grossly violative of the assurances made by the prime minister in parliament. The Left parties had asked the government not to proceed with the negotiations on the bilateral agreement. Four such statements were issued since December 2006, he said. After the experience of the Defence framework agreement, which was surreptitiously signed by Pranab Mukherjee in Washington in June 2005, the Left cannot trust the government anymore. Karat called for a nationwide movement to educate the people about the adverse effects of the nuclear deal and the strategic alliance with the US. He also said that if the UPA government still decides to ignore the majority opinion in parliament and the voice of the people, it will have to bear the consequences.

Karat also lambasted the BJP for not allowing a debate on the nuclear deal in parliament, which would have clearly shown that the deal does not have majority support.

The convention ended with a clarion call for launching a countrywide campaign movement against the Indo-US strategic alliance and the nuclear deal. One couldn’t miss the steely resolve reflected in mood of the participants at the end of the convention.

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