Elders behaved like neophytes during the Rajya Sabha debate on the India-US nuclear deal, which stood out for its belligerence and lack of accommodation for the contrarian view.
Ironically, the debate, listed as a short duration discussion, saw about a dozen of the 30-odd speakers taking their turn in the initial six hours. Verbal duels, interruptions and arguments with the Chair over time allocation and shuffling of the speakers’ line-up had the clock ticking away without meaningful discourse on the deal they acknowledged as complex and critical for the country.
Barely had the House recovered from the sparks that flew between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Yashwant Sinha that Ram Jethmalani (Independent) relit the flames by his open declaration of love for the United States and the deal. This gave his opponents a reason to suspect his promotion in the speakers’ line-up with the backing of Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.
In fact, Jethmalani’s praise of the US evoked sneers and jeers from the CPM’s Brinda Karat, Samajwadi Party’s Shahid Siddiqui and National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah. Amid the din, even the usually soft-spoken Bimal Jalan (Nominated) was provoked to protest the change in the pecking order. Pointing out that nominated members should have been asked to take the floor first, he said: “I thought there were certain rules in the House… I will never put my name again (as a speaker)”.
This was shortly before SP member Amar Singh walked into the Well to protest the time given to his party despite its higher presence in the House. All this while, presiding officer P.J. Kurien kept pleading for order. It was left to Deputy Chairman K. Rehman Khan to restore order in the House.
In the initial hours, the three major parties — the CPM, BJP and Congress — reaffirmed their stated positions through Sitaram Yechury, Yashwant Sinha and Abhishek Singhvi, respectively. Yechury also let it be known that his party hadn’t gone soft on the deal by agreeing to let the government talk with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said the government has been asked to come back to the UPA-Left coordination committee before initialling on the safeguards agreement, primarily because the IAEA agreement would put the process in auto-pilot mode.
The Samajwadi Party (Amar Singh) and CPI (D. Raja) endorsed the Marxist line that the deal defied Indian sovereignty and was a trap laid by the US.
But the DMK — which fielded M. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi to deliver her maiden speech in the House — clarified that it was never opposed to the deal. “We just wanted consensus. We have always supported it (the nuclear deal),” she said.
Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule also extended the Nationalist Congress Party’s “wholehearted” support for the nuclear deal.
The BSP’s A. Rajan was mostly ambivalent while speaking about the need for building a consensus and addressing concerns over the deal. He said his party would be free to decide its stand in the absence of a satisfactory response from the government.
K. Kasturirangan and Shobhana Bhartia (both nominated) spoke in favour of the deal. The former Indian Space Research Organisation chief said all the concerns of Parliament had been addressed by the government in the last two years and the deal was in the scientific and developmental interest of the nation.
Bhartia exhorted all parties to bury their differences and back the deal. It was a pact between two equal partners that would place India at par with China. “It will bury the ghost of Tarapore and assure India access to nuclear technology and fuel,” she said.