The disruption of parliamentary proceedings by the BJP, preventing a discussion on the India-United States nuclear deal, is not merely unfortunate. It constitutes the deliberate negation of the expression of the people’s will through their elected representatives on such an important matter that has far-reaching consequences for India’s sovereignty. The specious plea that the BJP invoked to affect such a disruption was the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to examine this deal.
Now, the very same BJP had accepted the ruling of the Speaker and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha that a discussion on the nuclear deal under any rule that requires voting is not permissible under the present constitutional provisions. Therefore, a discussion was permitted under rules where voting is not mandatory. Having accepted this, the demand for a JPC examining the deal simply does not arise. The right course would have been to have a proper structured discussion in the House and establish the fact that the majority in Parliament is opposed to such a deal.
This is precisely what the BJP prevented. There are, of course, compelling reasons for the party to not want a debate as it would have exposed their double-speak on the issue. After all, the architecture for the present strategic alliance with the US was detailed under the BJP-led NDA rule. Though defence cooperation with the US began under the Narasimha Rao government, the impetus for developing the strategic alliance came during the six years of BJP-led NDA rule.
Following the May 1998 Pokhran II episode, eager to have the US lift the imposition of sanctions, prolonged secret negotiations took place, in eight rounds, between Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh. Following this, in 1999, India for the first time participated in the international military exchange training programme of the US. Following the visit of Bill Clinton in 2000, this alliance deepened, with India becoming the first country to welcome the US national missile defence programme.
In fact, AB Vajpayee articulated the desire of his government that India be treated as the US’s “natural ally”. Following the 9/11 attacks, Vajpayee promptly wrote to President George W Bush offering India’s military facilities in the US’s war against terrorism. The fact that the US chose Pakistan, instead, was bemoaned by Advani as a result of the “logic of geography”. To drive home their eagerness, Advani not only visited Washington but also the CIA headquarters to discuss security cooperation.
In 2002, the Bush administration set out its national security strategy. This stated: “The US has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India based on a conviction that US interests require a strong relationship with India.”
Following this, in 2004, under the Vajpayee government, the next steps in the strategic partnership round of talks started that extended cooperation in space, nuclear, high technology and missile defence fields.
A discussion in Parliament would have brought out these and many other aspects of the strategic relationship with the US that the BJP was seeking. This would have completely exposed its current ostensible opposition to the nuclear deal. This is the real reason for sabotaging the discussion.
The UPA government unfortunately followed these developments with the June 2005 defence agreement and the July 2005 Manmohan Singh-Bush joint statement, ignoring the serious implications and consequences.
The Left has always been critical of these developments and opposed the efforts by the Indian ruling establishments to replace Pakistan as the strategic ally of the US in the region. It is, therefore, only natural that the Left would not be a party to the UPA government’s efforts to carry forward and complete the tasks that the NDA government had begun.
In order to examine the Left’s objections and the grave implications of this deal on India, a UPA-Left committee has been constituted. This, ironically, met for the first time on the anniversary of 9/11. The exchange of notes has begun and only time will tell how sincerely these concerns will be addressed. The UPA, on its part, has committed that the committee’s findings will be taken into account before proceeding to operationalise the deal.
Among the many serious implications that will be discussed by this committee, consider a couple of them. As regards the issue of uninterrupted fuel supplies to India, Article 5.6 (a) states, “... the United States is committed to seeking agreement from the US Congress to amend its domestic laws and to work with friends and allies to adjust the practices of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to create the necessary conditions for India to obtain full access....”
Clearly, therefore, the US is obliged under the 123 agreement to amend its existing laws, including the Hyde Act, within which this 123 agreement is anchored, to ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies. Should India not wait till this happens in the US? Why is there such a hurry to operationalise this agreement even before the US fulfils its commitments?
Second, the 123 agreement clearly states that its implementation will be in accordance with national laws and regulations [Article 2(1)]. For the US, this means the Hyde Act. Contrast this with the US-Japan 123 agreement where, in the event of a dispute not being settled mutually, a provision has been made for referring such disputes to an arbitral tribunal. The US-China 123 agreement explicitly incorporates a principle of international law that no party may invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.
Should India not have negotiated such safeguards rather than be at the mercy of US domestic laws? Particularly since India has had its own bitter experience with the earlier 123 agreement with the US in 1963. The US, through a new national law, promulgated subsequently 15 years later, nullified the 1963 agreement and stopped supplies to Tarapur reactors. Must we not protect ourselves from a repeat of such an experience?
While these and other such matters will be discussed in the UPA-Left committee, it needs to be repeated that nuclear energy would be the most expensive energy option that India has. According to the estimates made by eminent scientists, the cost per megawatt of electricity would be around Rs 11.1 crore from imported nuclear reactors. The Prime Minister has announced a target of generating 40,000 MW of nuclear power in the future.
Of this, assuming that 10,000 MW would be generated from domestic reactors, the remaining 30,000 MW would cost us Rs 330,000 crore. Now the same 30,000 MW, if produced through coal, would cost us at best Rs 120,000 crore. Using gas and water, this would cost Rs 90,000 crore only. By using the nuclear option, India would be spending anywhere beyond Rs 2 lakh crore more than by using the available alternatives.
Can India afford such an expensive option? Imagine, this cost difference can build nearly 20,000 fully equipped 100-bed public hospitals, or 2,50,000 schools like the Navodaya Vidyalayas with full boarding facilities for 100 students. Who says, therefore, that the nuclear deal does not affect the common man? Apart from all other serious implications, this deal actually denies us the opportunities, very dearly, to improve the livelihood of the aam admi.
Sitaram Yechury is a Rajya Sabha MP and member, CPI(M) Politburo