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Mainstream, VOL XLV, No 37

Letter to PM on Nuclear Deal

Tuesday 4 September 2007, by V R Krishna Iyer


Revered Prime Minister,

Onam salutations to you!

I address you, Dr Manmohan Singh, as a statesman who, when convinced, will change your view in tune with embarrassing truth and the inviolable obligation of high office to the supreme value of Swaraj which ‘We, the People of India’ won with dignity, in a do-or-die struggle, without a war. This great event was proclaimed at the Midnight hour of August 15 when a historic ‘tryst with destiny’ was made and the nation resolved to ‘wipe every tear from every eye’ and secure to every Indian those great fundamental rights which are part of the basic structure of the Constitution and binds you as well as all of us. Now your paramount duty to uphold the Suprema Lex is being put to the test, your commitment to Indian humanity is being challenged, the grave issue being an Indo-US Nuclear Deal. The controversy is as to whether we, a non-aligned nation, whose sovereignty is non-negotiable, sign a treaty with a hegemonistic Big Power which has had Hiroshima, Kabul and Baghdad as its indelibly imperial record, regarded as gross outrage on international comity, as scant respect for other nations’ sovereignty and as aggressive acts of cosmic terrorism, judged from the perspective of Gandhian global compassion and Nehruvian Non-Alignment Movement. I am somberly aware, as I write this letter, that I am an illiterate in the arcane art of political diplomacy and the imbroglio of nuclear power logomachy. I am equally aware that, being in the last leg of my mortal tenure, I have a wholesome detachment from worldly-wise pragmatism, unprincipled party politics of every brand and material hopes of personal gain or distinction. This subjective independence gives me the patriotic disposition to express my considered judgment in culturally conditioned humility to the Prime Minister of India than whom none sits higher in the pyramid of political governance. Do forgive me for this critical letter since I have, to the extant I know you, regarded you as straightforward and, therefore, capable of conscientious reconsideration of any stand you might have taken earlier. I salute you reverentially before communicating my profound skepticism about your provisionally non-negotiable adherence to the polemical Washington deal. I recollect, in this context of your statement in a letter to me that in persuading yourself into entering into this treaty your principal concern is the interests of the Indian people. Anyway, our Parliament, as the sentinel on the qui vive, will perform a grand inquest into this nationally controversial issue.

True, I have not studied the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Co-operative Deal and therefore have to rely on my inferences from what appears in the media. I cannot dismiss as irrelevant the firm stand taken by the Left parties against this Deal especially because they have been supporting your Government to the point of its survival. Of course, their political approach does not govern my judgment on this matter but it is a serious factor, even as your firm stand cannot conclude my attitude but it is a pregnant factor.

You have stated, in your letter to me dated June 23, 2007, that we cannot depend, for our energy needs so vital for Development, on our fossil fuels which are limited in quantity and poor in quality, our hydro-power potential, though large but is threatened with environmental hazards. Consequently, you argue for nuclear power and the Nuclear Deal with the USA is “a manifest attempt on our part to overcome this situation”. I give as aide memoire a relevant extract from your letter as annexure.

In this context, I plead with you to permit me to state that our wind energy and tidal power have not been exploited save for a tiny extent and these resources are large and free from pollutive potential. Again our hydro-electric energy source is enormous. While I was a minister for Irrigation and Electricity in the Kerala State I had occasion to prepare a Master Plan of the State’s water resources and to present it to Prime Minister Nehru who told me how small projects in the Soviet collective farms served their needs considerably and economically and you should produce energy from minor projects from rivers which are many. These projects save on generation cost and transmission losses. Indeed, I had a well-grounded hunch that our creative engineers and political visionaries can explore this grand nidus of power with confidence that environmental pollution can be obviated and distant places served energy at lesser cost. We have not made a national survey of our vast hydro-electric resource and its imaginative utilization through rural generation sans environmental injury.

Now a few words on the nation’s dependence on Nuclear Power Generation which you give as a reason for the agreement with the US Atomic Power as a policy is, an act of despair, a very last resort. It is costliest, relatively speaking. It is pathologically dangerous because nuclear radiation is a sure cause of cancer and other risks. More than all, any technical defect or accidental default will inflict national disaster as Chernobyl was in Russia and the narrowly averted Three Mile Island disaster would have been in the U.S. You know that these great countries have not started any Nuclear Power Plant in the contemporary era, so far as my information goes. The USA has only 20 per cent Nuclear Power and many countries of the West, except France (and Japan in Asia) relies on this source. The menace of the atom was highlighted by that great American public interest activist, Dr Ralph Nader in a book which I have read. Public opinion opposed such a plan in Kerala and the idea was dropped. Nuclear fission, as distinguished from Nuclear fusion (which is yet undeveloped) is so grave a risk that I humbly submit you should not adopt a policy of reliance on Nuclear Power without deep scientific investigation. The disposal of nuclear waste without a perennial reuse programme is yet not a scientific or pragmatic process even in the USA and such material is fraught with calamitous consequences. Indo-US Deal apart, I pray that you consider with anxiety the dependence on Nuclear Power as a major source of energy. The deleterious consequences on public health from our own nuclear plants and nuclear experiments are not revealed to the people because of statutory secrecy. From the Government’s angle kindly enquire and discover the grave human hazards of radiation before you finalise on a policy of borrowing from the US raw material for building up our Energy Estate.

Some scientists and public interest activists have told me about the harmful results of the currently controversial Nuclear Deal, my role being that of a lay activist communicator with a nationalist conscience, so that you may check upon my apprehension with regard to the nuclear fuel supply from the USA. America Inc. has huge investments ambition in India making Swaraj a mirage. Quite apart from these considerations, the dubious Deal has grave dangers. American inspectors when they land in India in the name of the nuclear deal treaty to be satisfied about our programme, accessibility of dual use technology as well as the impact of this Agreement on our independent Foreign Policy, freedom of action and non-aligned judgment as a sovereign nation are intangible to superficial observers but latently terrible for those who know Big Power stratagems.

We live in a unipolar world where domination belongs to the US whose aggressive President is Mr George Bush. Whatever be your sense and sensitivity against a dependencia syndrome, Washington will promote its strategic domestic and foreign policy objectives in Asia. Be warned, dear Prime Minister, that this global Power can be diabolic in its on hegemonic objectives. Korea and Vietnam are alarming pages. India will be reduced to a satellite position if Lord Acton’s statement that ‘Power tends to corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is too universal for an American exception. American propaganda is so powerful an agent to condition naïve minds and dollar-tempted souls that even our bureaucracy including our US Ambassador, may succumb to the pressure of the Yankee lobby. Information Technology geared to imperial interest may victimise veracity and make it incarnate as convincing mendacity through the process of brainwashing. I am an admirer of the US in many of its achievements and its noble Declaration of Independence, of the great President Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King (Jr) who were victims of assassination. Even in the field of jurisprudence celebrated Chief Justices like Marshall and Earl Warren and marvelous judges and jurists have extorted my deep appreciation. How sublime were Thoreau, Emerson, Walt Whitman and the Chicago Address of Vivekananda as far back as 1893! Harvard, Yale and Stamford are educational wonders and so too a host of other institutions and superlative achievements. Indeed, the people of the USA in a large majority do not go with President Bush. So it is that I say that my statement against the suspect Treaty is not induced by any hostility to the USA. However, to be a realist, you must appreciate how once Prime Minister Nehru in a statement in Parliament, reminded the US President Eisenhower that we are not international mendicants to beg for arms. (This is my failing recollection.) The general impression is that American Power may likely be on the side of Pakistan in case of conflict, taking advantage of the unfortunate differences between our two countries. Smt Indira Gandhi, a great leader, found the US Seventh Fleet on Pakistan side but the Soviet presence nullified its aggressive support. (Again my dim memory.) Being the sole Super Power, Washington can pressurize us into obedience to its policy, a situation which militates against our anti-imperialist, pro-socialist vision and values. It is in this broad prospective that I submit your government should investigate with profound care the perilous possibilities of the controversial Nuclear Deal. Are we not disturbed by the comment of US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, that people should not forget “in the twentyfirst century the shift in the global situation”? The Hyde Act, whatever our interpretation, will ultimately bear Washington’s semantic construction. A progressive friend of mine, who is not a Communist, wrote to me that “to regard George W. Bush as India’s best bet in the present international scenario is an affront to the world movement against Bush’s policies that has acquired an unprecedented magnitude within the United States itself”.

Let me candidly admit that I am not a campaigner for or against the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, although I have independent views on it. But reading about the bitter controversies in Parliament on the subject, I thought it fair to inform you, Smt Sonia Gandhi, Sri Prakash Karat and the Hon. Speaker Somnath Chatterjee (since the matter is now in the cognisance of the House) about my views in a brief way. Kindly have the charity and the compassion to consider my views as that of a patriot whose only interest in this matter is the well-being and swaraj value of Indian humanity. There are moments of crisis in a nation’s life when speech is a duty and silence is guilt.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,

V.R. Krishna Iyer

(Excerpts from the PM’s letter to Krishna Iyer, June 23, 2007)

‘It is unfortunate that the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the United States-which is still under discussion-should have become an object of controversy. I would, however, like to assure you that the approach we have taken in these negotiations is fully in keeping with our national interests. As one of the most eminent figures of our country, you will appreciate what I mean. The ‘Achilles’ heel’ of India’s future growth potential is the energy deficit. The likelihood of an energy crunch is already becoming evident, and there is an urgent need to overcome this situation. We are not well endowed with fossil fuel. Our coal supplies are hardly unlimited and, unfortunately, are of poor quality. With growing concerns over GHG emissions, coal cannot, hence, become a major energy source. We have substantial hydro resources, but there are environmental concerns concerning large dams. It is this, which made us look at nuclear energy as an alternative source. For many years, we have remained victims of a discriminatory, iniquitous nuclear regime-almost a form of nuclear apartheid. The Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the United States is a manifest attempt on our part to overcome this situation. We are hopeful that it would enable us to break out of our existing nuclear isolation. That we would be able to do so without sacrificing our strategic programme, our national pride and our independence, will be no mean achievement. You can rest assured that under no circumstances, would we compromise our independence of action or alter the contours of our Foreign and Defence policies. I shall be grateful if you could convey this same assurance to others who may share similar concerns.’

Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer is a former Supreme Court judge and a distinguished champion of civil liberties and human rights.

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