It was a debate in which most frontline speakers relied on the written text - the issue under discussion too complex to be tackled extempore.
And when they digressed, they did so to score political points over the nuts and bolts of a domestic US legislation authorising the Bush administration to conclude a bilateral peaceful nuclear energy cooperation agreement with India.
The first to take the floor in the Lok Sabha was the BJP’s LK Advani. The Henry J Hyde Act, he averred, aimed at capping, rolling back and eliminating India’s nuclear weapons programme. “If you don’t reject it, it would mean a quick exit for your government,” he told the Treasury.
Clearly aimed at exploiting concerns of a section of the scientific community and the UPA-Left hiatus on the proposed deal, Advani’s remarks evoked a prompt rejoinder from Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi. “There is no law in the country to prevent anyone from dreaming,” he mocked.
But it was left to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to drive the knife deeper: “I assure Mr Advani that he’ll have to wait for a very, very long time (for the UPA’s exit) and take Mr (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee’s permission (to realise his ambitions).”
The PM’s allusion was to a recent TV interview in which the BJP veteran dropped hints about his prime ministerial ambitions. It caused mirth in the House.
On the same side as the BJP in the political divide over the Hyde Act, CPI (M)'s Rupchand Pal began by distancing himself from the saffron party. While in power, the NDA was like the junior team of the US, he insinuated, recalling the tussle over the phraseology of the March 2003 parliamentary resolution against the US invasion of Iraq.
His reference to the Vajpayee Government’s reluctance to go so far as to “condemn” the American action triggered protests in the Opposition benches.
For his part, the PM buttressed Pal’s comments by drawing Advani’s attention to the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh’s dialogue with the US’s Strobe Talbott on the nuclear question.
“Your government negotiated secretly for several months. I have taken the Parliament into confidence at every stage but you left it to Talbott to tell us what transpired between him and Jaswant Singh,” he said.
“It’s my government’s duty to safeguard our strategic nuclear programme. We’ll do nothing behind the country’s back, we’ll keep it informed….”