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Tripping up on energy

A misinformation campaign has been unleashed against the Left on its nuclear deal stance, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2007 11:02 IST

Bashing the Left for its opposition to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal has, indeed, become the flavour of the month. I have the prerogative to be the sole exception to this among those occupying this column space. While it would be a pleasure to meet the arguments of our detractors, much of the attack on the Left has, unfortunately, been based on age-old prejudices and not reason. A substantial section of the media continues to conduct a malignant disinformation campaign.

In this context, I am reminded of the following joke told originally by my maternal uncle. The Pope once decided to send a bishop on a goodwill mission to the US, warning him to be careful of the American media given their reputation. Upon arrival in New York, the bishop, besieged by the media, was asked if his itinerary included a visit to a nightclub. Recollecting the Pope’s warning, he dodged the question retorting, "Are there nightclubs in New York?" The next morning, the papers screamed, "Arriving Bishop’s first question: Are there nightclubs in New York?"

B Raman, a former senior officer of India’s intelligence apparatus, slanderously wrote on this page (The Manchurian candidates, August 21) that the Left’s campaign against India’s nuclear deal is “driven by China’s concerns”. He alleges that I, personally, had forced this government to order the issue of visas to 1,000 Chinese engineers. This allegation bears not an iota of substance, and nothing can be more preposterous. He further wrote how on the walls of Calcutta, the Marxists painted ‘China’s Chairman is our Chairman’ as graffiti. Now, everyone knows that it was the slogan of the Naxalites at the height of their campaign against the Marxists. With such disinformation guiding our intelligence apparatus in the past, it is no wonder that we lost two Prime Ministers to assassins and continue to pay a heavy price due to intelligence lapses, the latest being the recent terrorist blasts in Hyderabad. Thanks to small mercies, this gentleman has now retired.

Be that as it may, those who know of the CPI(M)’s birth and history will know that for nearly two decades both the international Communist giants — the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China — opposed the CPI(M)’s policies from different perspectives. The CPI(M)’s policy directions are always determined by its own perceptions of what is in the interest of India and its people. Those who are willing to eagerly surrender India’s sovereignty to US imperialism will do well to refrain from offering unsolicited advice and certificates of patriotism. If our detractors are worthy of character and substance, then they ought to meet our arguments on their merits, not through perfidy.

It was aggressively argued in these very columns that any attempt to cap India’s nuclear strategic capabilities will immensely benefit both China and Pakistan. Who, may we ask, is vigorously pursuing this Indo-US nuclear deal which, we are told, will limit India’s strategic capacities, thus, providing advantage to our neighbours? Could I, then allege that those advancing this deal are acting at the behest of China and Pakistan?

Such slander apart, we are charged with preventing India’s energy augmentation by opposing this deal. India’s current power generation is 127 gigawatts (gw). At the current rates of GDP growth, this needs to grow to 337 gw by 2016-17. There is no doubt that if this is not achieved, India’s pace of development would be severely restricted. The moot question, however, is whether nuclear energy expansion is the only or the best option that we have today?

In 2006, 3.9 gw of nuclear power was generated, 3 per cent of India’s total power generation. In the most optimistic scenario, after the operationalisation of this deal, this would grow, at best, to 20 gw by 2016, or just over 6 per cent of the projected generation.

Further, is nuclear power cost-effective? On the contrary, it is the most expensive option. As compared to coal, it would be one-and-a-half times more expensive. Compared with gas, it is twice as expensive. So is the case with hydro-electricity.

Given the abundance of coal reserves in India, the Planning Commission estimates that thermal energy would dominate power generation in India. As far as hydro-electricity is concerned, given the potential of nearly 150 gw, only 33 gw has been installed as of 2006. In addition, over 55,000 MW could be imported from Nepal and Bhutan. The tapping of such huge hydro-potential will not only augment our energy capacities at half the cost of nuclear energy, but will also tame these rivers, which regularly consume the lives of thousands. This year’s floods according to the United Nations, are ‘unprecedented’ in human memory.

Thus, the government’s argument that the Indo-US nuclear deal is to augment our energy resources sounds untenable. Huge commercial orders running into thousands of crores of rupees for the purchase of nuclear reactors would be placed on the US. The profit bonanza to multinational corporations is there for all to see with the attendant benefits to sections of corporate India. Recollect that for more than three decades the West has not installed new nuclear power reactors. Is India then actually going in for this deal to bolster US economic interests? If the same amount of resources were to be spent on generating power through hydro, thermal, gas, clean non-renewable and solar electricity, India’s energy augmentation would be many times higher. Thus, the nuclear deal not only exposes India to greater vulnerability, it drains a huge amount of our scarce resources.

Apart from drawing India into the US strategic military alliances in the region like the forthcoming joint military exercises with the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore, and the effort at pressurising India’s foreign policy positions, this deal does not even guarantee full and complete access to civilian nuclear technology as assured by the Prime Minister in the Rajya Sabha. In fact, the 123 agreement forbids the transfer of dual-use technologies. The assurances of uninterrupted fuel supplies also break down if the 123 agreement is terminated. The 123 itself explicitly states that the national laws will prevail upon termination, meaning, the Hyde Act. India would be subjected to international safeguards in perpetuity even after the 123 is terminated.

These have substantive implications for India’s sovereignty in the future. Instead of meeting these issues, a web of fabrications based on so-called extra-territorial loyalties of the Left is woven. It should be remembered that the Left, on many occasions, set the agenda for modern India. Apart from many others, militant peasant struggles at the time of our independence brought the issue of land reforms on to the centrestage. Like also the issue of linguistic re-organisation of the states, through the movements of Vishalandhra, Aikya Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra.

In this current conjuncture in the post-bipolar Cold War world, the natural tendency in international relations is for the movement towards multi-polarity. US imperialism seeks to subvert this by imposing a unipolarity under its tutelage. India’s role in the comity of nations will be determined by its championing of multi-polarity and its traditional leadership role of the developing countries. Any alignment with US imperialism to impose unipolarity will dissolve India’s distinctiveness in world politics. This is precisely what the Left seeks to prevent in the interests of India and its people.

Meet us on our arguments as we return to our beleaguered bishop. Badly bruised by the media, at his first public lecture, he appealed to mediapersons that his repertoire of anecdotes is limited as he comes from a small Italian village, hence, these should not be reported. He was happy that the media agreed. Only to be aghast, the next morning to read, "Bishop tells many stories, all unprintable!"

Sitaram Yechury is a Rajya Sabha MP and member, CPI(M) Politburo.