As the opposition and leftist allies of the government continue to attack India's civil nuclear pact with the US, former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh has said the deal is better than what China has got and a failure to push it through before early next year will "hurt" national interests.
Mansingh also sought to allay anxieties about the contentious Hyde Act, saying that the government of India is only bound by the 123 agreement, which will be America's supreme law after it is passed by the US Congress and will govern nuclear commerce between the two countries.
Saying that the deal was critical for India's energy and high-technology needs, Mansingh said a failure to push this deal would lead to the "gradual shutdown of our civilian nuclear facilities."
"Our nuclear reactors are running at below 60 per cent capacity due to the shortage of the fuel. The deal is critical for India's energy sector," Mansingh, a former ambassador in Washington, told IANS in an interview.
"If the deal doesn't go through, it will hurt us," he said, adding that the decades-old technology denial regime has impaired India's technological advance.
Clearing the air in the controversy surrounding the Hyde Act, Mansingh said: "If there is a clash between a national law and an international treaty, the international or inter-governmental treaty will be accepted as the supreme law of the land."
"Once the 123 agreement is passed by the US Congress, it supersedes the Hyde Act and becomes the law of the land," he added.
"Each party shall implement this agreement in accordance with its respective applicable treaties, national laws, regulations and licence requirements concerning the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," says clause 1 of Article 2 of the 123 agreement.
The Left parties and the chief opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have seized upon this clause to argue that the Hyde Act, which contains many objectionable portions like the termination of civilian nuclear cooperation with India in the event of the latter testing a nuclear device, impinges upon India's sovereignty and independence of foreign policy.
The 123 agreement contains multi-layered safeguards on fuel supply and consideration of circumstances preceding a nuclear test by India, Mansingh said.
"Political consensus which has all along characterised India's foreign policy is sadly breaking down," said Mansingh, whose tenure as New Delhi's envoy in Washington saw a dramatic improvement in India-US relations.
Mansingh said he was hopeful that the government and the Left parties will be able to resolve differences in time so that next steps in implementing the nuclear deal - India's safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group - are completed before the end of the year and before election fever grips the US.
"As we inch closer to the end of the year, anxiety will start heightening up. Once the US gets into election mode in early January next year, the nuclear deal will start getting diminished attention from Congress and the White House," he said.
Saying that the 123 agreement, which re-opens doors of global nuclear commerce for India after nearly three decades, is "one of the best agreements we have managed" and New Delhi, the veteran diplomat underlined that India has got a better 123 agreement than China.
"The Americans haven't conceded so much to any other country," he said.
"China's 123 agreement with the US requires all exports of nuclear technology and materials to be subject to the UN rules and regulations. In China's case, its 123 agreement requires the US president to certify about China's non-proliferation record before exports of nuclear technology takes place. In India's case, there are no such conditions."
"China has accepted American inspections of its safeguarded nuclear facilities. We have not. China has no fuel supply assurances from the US. We have an elaborate layer of safeguards for the uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel," he said.
"Most importantly, the US has granted India in-principle right to reprocess spent fuel. China has not been given reprocessing right."
"People should not forget India is a partner of the US and not an ally. When India was economically and militarily weak, we still stood up and criticised the Americans on the Vietnam issue he said," said Mansingh while countering anxieties about the 123 agreement impinging on India's independent foreign policy.
"Why should India succumb now? We are economically stronger - Indians are acquiring companies abroad. That sense of independence is in our DNA," he said.