When the debate on the India-US nuclear deal took place in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, it saw the Left, BJP and the Congress defend their ground stoutly and unwilling to spare each other while keeping the level of discussion quite high.
The Congress was careful to ensure that the BJP – and not the Left - remained the target of its counter-offensive while its allies, the DMK and the RJD, backed the government and praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even though they had recently shown their displeasure against the government for losing the Left’s support on the issue.
Keeping with its strategy to show that the deal concerned India’s future, the Congress fielded young MPs – Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot – who asserted that the deal was a key step to meet India’s energy needs and would ensure its growth rate.
Pact unacceptable: Advani
Leader of the Opposition L K Advani did not lose an opportunity to criticise the government. He contended that the deal barred India’s right to test, treated New Delhi as a “junior partner” and could lead to American inspectors oversee Indian reactors. “The 123 agreement as it stands today is unacceptable,” Advani said, adding, “No self-respecting country can agree to it. There is no flip-flop by us and we are not anti-American in our approach like the Left.”
Advani said “Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee would not have agreed to this kind of encroachment of sovereignty” before declaring that, if they came to power, it would “renegotiate” the deal to delete “adverse” provisions, failing which it would reject it.
PM says N-test possible
The PM intervened during Advani’s speech to say that all that the government had done was only to reiterate what the NDA government had done by committing itself to a unilateral moratorium on conducting nuclear tests. “If a necessity for carrying out a nuclear test arises in the future, there is nothing in the agreement which prevents us from carrying out tests.”
When Advani said the deal was not about energy needs of India as much about the US trying to secure its interests, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee drew his attention to the preamble of the 123 pact, which spoke about the global goal of procuring “clean energy.”
Left rejects pact
CPI(M) member Rupchand Pal, who initiated the six-hour-long debate, did not mince words in articulating the Left’s opposition. “The deal has a serious bearing for the country. To our dismay we found that under the Hyde Act most of the assurances given by the Prime Minister were trampled...We are not going to take it lying down.”
Rejecting the charge his party acted at the behest of China, Pal questioned the “very basis” of a nuclear renaissance mooted by the Prime Minister and said the deal would benefit the ailing American nuclear industry.
“During the past 30 years, no fresh nuclear plant had come up in the US. The deal has other aspects. The Americans need India to maintain a balance of power in South and East Asia. They are getting isolated in the world due to their policies. Is it in our interest if we be a party to it?" Pal also asserted that nuclear power would be costly.
Pal said the Hyde Act negated the PM’s assurances and the entire deal was vague about various sensitive issues like technology transfer and uninterrupted fuel supply.
Deal good, says Jyotiraditya
Countering Advani’s fear that the US inspectors would inspect Indian plants, Jyotiraditya Scindia (Cong) said the deal would give India the freedom of building nuclear weapons without the fear of inviting sanctions under the NPT. He said the deal raised the stature of the country in the global arena and there was no question of the agreement affecting India’s foreign policy.
“The deal is based on mutual respect for sovereignty. India’s entry into the agreement is as a sovereign, equal nation and not as a subordinate nation,” Scindia said. “For the first time in the history of global diplomacy, the 123 agreement obliges the US to understand the context in which India would -- if ever-- conduct a nuclear test.”
As he listed how India’s nuclear deal with the US was better than what China got, Scindia criticised the BJP as they had shown willingness to sign the CTBT but at present raising a hue and cry about the N-deal.
Scindia said, “The BJP is always inconsistent and is driven by momentary greed. The Hyde Act is advisory in nature and cannot determine the US foreign policy. We have not comprised with the US on any issue, including the WTO issue because we stand by our responsibility towards farmers. Those who are opposing the deal are doing disservice to the nation and the generations to come. We must show courage and stand up to what we believe in.”
While Ramgopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party) said the government must remove apprehensions about the deal, UPA’s allies – DMK’s Venkatapathy and RJD’s D P Yadav – praised the PM for his negotiation skills. BJD’s Bhartuhari Mahatab wanted a Joint Parliamentary Committee to discuss the deal. C K Chandrappan (CPI) said India could meet its energy requirements by developing its own technology for tapping vast hydro and thorium reserves.