Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > September 1, 2007 > Why The Stand-Off?

Mainstream, VOL XLV, No 37

Why The Stand-Off?

Tuesday 4 September 2007, by A B Bardhan

CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan is the seniormost Left leader on the national plane after CPM patriarch Jyoti basu and former CPM General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet. This article of Bardhan is being published to help our readers get a clear idea of the Left position on the Indo-US nuclear deal as well as the Left parties’ approach to the present confrontation of the Left with the UPA Government on the issue. —Editor

The Indo-US nuclear deal has unleashed a big political storm in the country. Screaming headlines are appearing in the media. So-called ‘opinion polls’ are being published precisely with a view to influence and create public opinion. Political confrontation has been built up not only between the ruling UPA Government and the Opposition, but also between the government and its outside support, the Left parties. The UNPA has added its weight to the opposition against the government.

The government has ratified the 123 Agreement, since under the Constitution there is no need to have it ratified by Parliament. The matter is to be debated in Parliament, but the Speaker has ruled out a vote on it following the debate. The government is clearly in a minority on this vitally important issue.

As the statement of the Left parties said, they did not see the nuclear Agreement in isolation, but as part of the overall strategic tie-up with the United States. The Left parties analysed not only the text of the Agreement but also the context in which it has been reached. There are many wise men who tell us to look into the text and not drag in the context. Nations do not enter into major agreements or treaties suddenly on the basis of a stand-alone desire, but in pursuit of certain policies. In this case, there is a complex web of political, economic, commercial and military relationship growing into a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two countries.

The Left has pointed out that even when the 123 Agreement refers only to the narrow question of supply of nuclear materials and cooperation on nuclear matters etc., the provisions of the Hyde Act—the ‘national law’ of the US—will prevail and can be used.

It is a poor argument that the Hyde Act does not concern us. That is the business of the United States. True, a law passed by the American Congress cannot bind India. But it does bind the American side, who are the party to the deal. Bush says, he regards the provisions of the Hyde Act as only ‘advisory’ and not ‘binding’. But will the Presidents who follow him take the same view?

As for nuclear testing, the views of the Left parties are well-known. They are not for tests, but they are against any US imposed curbs on India’s sovereign right to exercise the choice. Moreover India’s traditional commitment is to universal nuclear disarmament. This cannot be given the go-by by getting accommodated in a US-led unequal global nuclear order.

The Left parties had on several occasions cautioned the government not to accept nuclear cooperation with the US on terms that compromise its independent foreign policy and its sovereign rights for developing a self-reliant nuclear programme.

That is why after a careful study and assessment of the text and the context in which it had been reached, the Left parties stated that they are unable to accept the Agreement. They called upon the government not to proceed with operationalising the Agreement. They demanded a review of the strategic aspects of Indo-US relations in Parliament. They expressed their intention to press for a constitutional amendment for bringing international treaties and certain bilateral agreements for approval in Parliament.

The Left parties’ statement came as a shock to certain political circles. The government, and particularly the Prime Minister himself, took it as a challenge. Elements from the media, official spokesmen including past and present diplomats, sections of the scientific community, were mobilised to attack all those who spoke against the deal. All their arguments, criticisms, doubts and apprehensions were rubbished, forgetting that these formations, despite their deep differences on other issues, together made up a majority in Parliament. The Left has come in as a special target of attack and calumny from several quarters.

Consistent with their stand that the government should not proceed further with operationalising the Agreement in view of the widespread opposition and the fact that a majority in Parliament is against it, the Left parties requested that it should not take the next step, namely, negotiating for the specific safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Is it a threat, an ultimatum, or an appeal to all to respect the spirit of our parliamentary democracy?

The Left parties have appealed to all the parties in the UPA to see the reasonableness of the stand taken which is fully in the spirit of our parliamentary democracy as well as the government’s commitment to the country’s welfare. Their willingness to find a solution, their accommodating approach could be seen in the statement that, “they (the Left) can understand the setting up of a committee or any other mechanism which can go into the objections regarding the agreement and evaluating the implications of the Hyde Act for the deal. But obviously this can follow only when the next step at the IAEA is not taken.”

You cannot go ahead with the deal and at the same time engage the others in talks in a committee.

It is not yet clear whether the Indian representative who will go to Vienna in September middle, will be participating only as a member of the Board of Governors of the IAEA in its routine meeting, or will engage in substantive negotiations on Safeguard Agreement. It is for the government to clarify this question.

We want the government to pause, to reflect ten times over, and respond to the genuine doubts and apprehensions. We tell them: It took you two years to reach the Agreement. Why should there be a hurry now to complete the next two steps, namely, negotiating with the IAEA, and then with the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) within the coming two or three months? Is your speed being determined by the time left for Bush before he becomes a ‘lame duck’ President?

May be, he is the ‘friendliest President’, and the agreement is a ‘historic’ one, but nothing will derogate from its importance, if you pause, reflect and respond to the doubts and criticism of a majority in Parliament.

Loss of Face: There are some who tell us that any hesitation or even rethink on the deal already signed and approved by the Cabinet, would mean a loss of face for the Government of India, and especially of the Prime Minister. If a government is sensitive to the public opinion within the country, to the strong views of its supporters, and to the sense of the House (that is, Parliament) does it amount to loss of face? Rather, we think that it indicates a bold democratic approach. The government can frankly state this to the other side as well. There have been many such occasions and precedents in the history of every country. The face of a government depends primarily on the support of the people in the country, and not on what the people abroad think of it. The latter follows from the former. The poser is: Are you with the people? Or, are you with Bush and the men in his Administration?

It is said, we are destabilising government and forcing an early election. This is incorrect. Our approach to the deal and other matters is in the best tradition of democracy. As we have stated, we await the response of the Congress leadership and the UPA to our proposal, that is, not to take the next step of negotiations with the IAEA.

How then can we be accused of trying to destabilise the government that we have been supporting? There is not one precipitate step that we have taken. But if the UPA leadership adamantly refuses to halt, to pause, and to reflect before proceeding further, and therefore certain consequences follow, then it is not we who are to be blamed.

There is no question of our joining hands with the communal forces to destabilise the government and the country. We are firm in our commitment to keep the communal and pro-imperialist forces like the BJP at bay. As a large formation in Parliament and as the Opposition party, they have certainly a role to play. But nothing that we do will help to bring them strength. We also appeal to those who are in the UNPA, to be wary of this. Anti-communalism and anti-imperialism have to go hand in hand.

India, China and the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: Some publicists, thinking to embarrass us are saying: Look, China has also signed a 123 Agreement, and ours is better. We have negotiated a better deal. May be so. At no time has the Left dragged in the deal that China has signed, and compared it to ours. Comparison may be a useful exercise. But each country arrives at an agreement on the basis of its specific needs and circumstances. These differ from one country to another.

We have looked at our needs and circumstances in assessing the deal. As we have stated before, the Indo-US nuclear deal caps a number of other steps that India has taken in the direction of coming closer and eventually forging a strategic alliance with the US.

Let us recall the generous help that the government has given to the US multis to penetrate our economy, our agriculture and commerce, and even our education and knowledge initiatives. They are too many to be named in this article.

In the military sphere, we have had the Defence Framework Agreement, followed by the Logistic Support Agreement and the Maritime Cooperation Pact. We have had a series of air and naval exercises, culminating in the massive September naval exercise planned in the Bay of Bengal, when the Indian Navy will join with a powerful flotilla led by the nuclear-armed aircraft carrier Nimitz and Kitty Hawk, together with their military allies— Australia and Japan. One may rightly ask. “What is the objective of such an exercise with India joining the trilateral military alliance?”
A huge deal in military hardware is in the offing and American businessmen do not hide their glee about it.

What implications do this series of moves have on our independent foreign policy and our relations with friendly countries in Asia and the world? Starting from a tilt and a drift towards the US by the 123 Agreement, we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into the US strategic plan.

Official spokesmen and leaders of the USA have dared to address demands to us about breaking our relations with Iran, not to go ahead with the Iran gas pipeline, to give up the Non-Aligned Movement and so on. Have they addressed similar demands to China?

Independence and Sovereignty: The Prime Minister has assured us that nothing can derogate our independence and sovereignty, and our autonomous right to take our decision. We agree to that. But only because our freedom loving people, with all our glorious traditions, our centuries’ history of struggles and sacrifices, will never allow it. Not because there is anything intrinsic in the deal.

Our Motivation and Theirs: India’s motivation behind this 123 Agreement, it is said, is to meet our energy needs in a fast-developing economy. This is quite understandable. But what is the Agreement on Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation going to contribute so as to meet this growing need? We are told that it may give us 20,000 MW by the year 2020. Nuclear energy, which is only three per cent of our total power generation today, may then go up to about seven per cent. Truly a mountain in labour delivering a proverbial mouse! If this is in the normal course, there can be no grouse or criticism. But are we to pay such a heavy price, both in terms of dollars, and in terms of our political standing, to avail this modest target?

For our energy needs we have a vast reserve of coal, oil, gas, hydel, solar and wind. We have yet to fully exploit our potential of hydel, solar and wind power. Our own nuclear technology has also developed to a great extent. Getting supplies of coal, oil and gas as well nuclear fuel and other nuclear material and technology from abroad will of course contribute to our growing energy need. But for that we don’t have to pay a heavy price only for nuclear fuel.

As for the US, their nuclear businessmen are licking their chops at the prospect of a $ 100 billion market opening up in India after this deal. Besides economic gains, the US links it with strategic gains.

America would like to see India as a strategic partner, standing vigil from the Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Malacca. But India has a far greater and nobler role to play, as a friend and supporter of all peoples struggling for liberation and progress, against imperialist aggression, and as a defender of peace and security in the region.

India must build friendship with all countries of the world, including America, and develop good relations with all its neighbours.

India cannot give up its friendly relation with Iran, and the prospect of building a gas pipeline from Iran to India precisely for its energy security, for the sake of a nuclear deal with the US. The one must not be allowed to impact on the other.

There are some who are overawed with the US and have contempt for countries like Iran, Iraq, Palestine and so forth. We cannot allow such people to decide our agenda.

Some have used the present debate to hurl abuses at and slander the Left. When arguments fail, some persons resort to abuse and slander. They have come down to accuse the Communists of being China agents, of not being patriotic enough, for opposing this wonderful Indo-US agreement. They are not even original in their abuse and slander. China will take care of itself. Let us in India take care of our national interests and not allow our country to be dragged into a strategic partnership with an imperialist superpower.

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