In a major shift of stand, BJP’s prime minister candidate L K Advani has said for the first time that his party will not abrogate the civilian nuclear deal with the US if it is voted to power.
In an exclusive interview with The Hindustan Times in the course of his election tour, the 81-year-old leader said, “We realise it’s not easy to do so. After all it’s an international agreement, and one signed between two countries and their governments. We will have to look into all aspects.”
He conceded that his party had vowed to turn the clock on the deal during the heat of the controversy in July last year when the Manmohan government was in trouble in Parliament after the Left withdrew support. Senior BJP leaders including Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie had called for cancellation of the deal.
“But once when we are in the government,” Advani said, “we will obviously get to know more about the deal and decide accordingly on the basis of all available facts. We are definitely against India being subjected to a discriminatory non-proliferation regime.”
His government, if voted in, will undertake a complete review of all aspects of the deal to protect India’s strategic interests. “We will never compromise on our country’s interests. But I cannot say today that we will just cancel the deal.”
Defending the BJP’s changing view, Advani said, “one must remember that it was the BJP (as the Jan Sangh) that was first to demand that India must have a nuclear deterrent way back in 1964 after China exploded a device.”
He said, “In 1998, the BJP manifesto had promised to re-evaluate the country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons. We took office on March 19 of that year and we conducted Pokhran II on May 11 — in 39 days.”
Advani’s latest position on the issue underscores the BJP’s worry — right from the start of the controversy — that it could lose the support of the middle-class that favours close ties with the US.
The BJP’s decision to live with the deal had been in the making after the US Congress put its seal of approval following the IAEA’s waiver for India so that the Nuclear Supplier Group could do commercial nuclear business with the country.
In fact, in 2007, Advani tried to fine-tune the party’s stand by stating that the problem was the Hyde Act (passed by the US Congress, which barred India from contesting any nuclear tests further) and not the 123 pact that laid down terms of civilian nuclear cooperation. But he had to retract in the face of disagreement within the party.
On the BJP’s position on the nuclear deal, Advani said the party would honour India’s commitments to prevent proliferation. But it will pursue an independent nuclear policy.
The BJP still favoured an amendment to the Constitution to make it mandatory for the government to seek Parliament’s approval/ratification by two-thirds majority before signing any bilateral or multilateral agreement that impacts India’s strategic programmes, territorial integrity and economic interest. Advani also held that the BJP always favoured “excellent ties” with the US and “the six years we were in office are a testimony to the closeness that developed between the two countries.”