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N-powering India

With the signing of this pact, the Congress, after four decades, has dismantled the ‘nuclear apartheid’ against India, writes Jyotiraditya Scindia.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2007 00:30 IST

The adjournment of Parliament, precipitated by the Opposition’s unnecessary stone-walling, has prevented an informed debate in the House on the India-United States nuclear deal. This is a pity. for it has denied people an opportunity to understand what is at stake for the nation.

Of the numerous initiatives taken by our government to enhance India’s stature in the global arena and advance our development agenda, none compares with the 123 deal. With the signing of this pathbreaking agreement, the Congress, after four decades of sustained struggle, has successfully dismantled the ‘nuclear apartheid’ created against India.

The 123 deal is clear. It keeps our military reactors outside the purview of the safeguards to be signed with IAEA and does not affect our ‘un-safeguarded’ strategic nuclear facilities and our indigenous technology programme. As Nicholas Burns, Under-Secretary of Political Affairs, stated, “We work with India on the civil side; that is safeguarded. What India does on the strategic side is India’s business. This agreement doesn’t aid that programme and it doesn’t have an effect.” Clearly, we have retained the freedom to build our nuclear deterrent without fear of inviting any sanctions or succumbing to the NPT.

For India to be granted such a status is unprecedented in diplomatic history. Again, to quote Burns, “I can assure you that the US is not going to suggest a similar deal with any other country in the world. We’ve always felt of India as an exception.” Clearly, this has raised our stature in the world. We’ve been recognised as being a responsible nuclear nation that can be trusted not to proliferate weapons technology, and illegally export any fissile material. Our nuclear record has been praised, and unlike some of our neighbours, we have been found to be trustworthy and a responsible global player. We can now look forward to India’s greater involvement in global affairs.

Simultaneously, we can address the huge challenge of ensuring our energy security. Sustaining 9-10 per cent GDP growth to eliminate poverty requires us to expand our power capacity at nearly 20,000 MW per annum. Here lies the key accomplishment of the agreement — it unlocks the option of tapping nuclear power. Our civilian nuclear programme has been severely constrained for years because of lack of fuel. Our reactors are today operating at 70 per cent of their capacity due to shortage of uranium, as sanctions prevent us from buying this fuel from the tightly controlled club of fuel suppliers (Nuclear Suppliers Group). This is the reason that despite efforts over the last three decades, our nuclear power capacity has stagnated at 3,700 MW and contributes less than 3 per cent to our power generation.

With this agreement, we can now look forward to generating around 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020. The deal allows us to access the latest nuclear technology from anywhere in the world to build the latest generation nuclear power plants for civilian use. The argument that India would be dependent on US technology is patently misplaced as we would be able to buy technology from many other countries, such as France, Japan and Russia.

It is evident that Manmohan Singh and his team deserve praise for their outstanding accomplishment in foreign policy. They have created a one-sided balance sheet. There are only gains, no losses. Yet, we find a rising crescendo of criticism. The government has been charged with bartering our sovereignty, surrendering our strategic programme and our right to test. We have been accused of becoming an unquestioning camp follower of the US. It is being said that our foreign policy will now be dictated from Washington. All these are baseless charges that seek to perpetrate falsehood.

It is worth pausing to look at how some outside our country have reacted to the agreement. An official statement issued after the meeting of National Command Authority (NCA) of Pakistan to assess the Indo-US deal said that it would “enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons from un-safeguarded nuclear reactors”. Pakistan has urged that a similar deal be offered to them. Well, why would Pakistan want a deal that barters its sovereignty, kills its weapons programme and takes away its right to test? It’s because the deal does nothing of the kind. It would, in fact, allow Pakistan all that it allows India to do; namely, continue the strategic programme even while getting access to civilian nuclear technology and fuel from the global market to expand their nuclear power programme.

Indeed, the NCA of Pakistan is merely expressing concern at what the Chinese noted last year. The official news agency of the Chinese Communist Party, Xinhua, said last year that the Bush administration had made “a generous gift — granted India the status of a de facto nuclear power”. And this is why Pakistan wants the deal!

Even neutral observers in the US have argued that the deal is wholly in India’s favour. The New York Times commented that “bringing India in from the cold is not a bad idea. The problem is that the US got very little back. No promise to stop producing bomb-making material. No promise not to expand its arsenal. And no promise not to resume nuclear testing”. It is a pity that critics at home are living in a world of their own, ignoring not just how advanced countries are recognising what India has successfully negotiated, but also how China and Pakistan have consistently opposed the agreement.

We, as a sovereign nation, are only bound by what we have appended our signature to — the 123 agreement. Thus, there is no question of India being bound by any law passed by a foreign legislature. George Bush, while signing the Hyde Act, clearly ruled on the so-called contentious clauses on which the BJP lays such stress as merely advisory. Clearly then, these clauses are non-binding. In any event, once the 123 deal is cleared by the US Congress, it will obviously supercede all other such legislations.

The fact is that there is nothing in the agreement that prevents us from testing a nuclear device, and as the PM has categorically stated, this remains our sovereign right. As for subservience of our foreign policy to US interests, it is worth quoting the PM again: “India is too large and too important a country to have the independence of its foreign policy taken away by any power. There is independence in our thought and independence in our actions.”

Indeed, the negotiations over the deal over the last two years notwithstanding, we have consistently opposed US policies that do not serve our interests. Take the WTO, where we have opposed the US stand tooth and nail. We have not, and will never, surrender the interests of our farmers. We have opposed the US stand on UN reforms and differ on the composition of the Security Council. Based on our interest in securing our oil security, we continue to negotiate on the Iran pipeline. It is all the more surprising that the BJP is criticising us on this account, although it had

almost gone to the extent of signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). We had opposed CTBT then. We did not allow it in the 123 agreement. We are consistent. The BJP wanted CTBT then. It is now worried that we will not be allowed to test. They have always been inconsistent, hypocritical, driven by their greed for momentary gain rather than national interests.

India’s democracy of over a billion people is now too strong to surrender to the dictates of any power, big or small. Equally, a country cannot become strong unless it demonstrates the capacity to successfully secure its national interests through tough negotiations with leading powers of the world. And this is precisely what the present government has achieved with great distinction.

Jyotiraditya Scindia is Congress Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha