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Left?s turn on nuclear deal not the right course

when the left set out to oppose the nuclear deal, they became the instrument of maximizing the India's nuclear arsenal, writes Manoj Joshi.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2006 02:17 IST

There is something about opportunism that leads to unintended consequences. Few Left leaders would have imagined that when they set out to oppose the Indo-US nuclear deal, they could in fact, become the instrument of maximizing the Indian nuclear arsenal. Initial reports that India will keep at least 6 power reactors and the prototype fast breeder reactor out of the safeguards proposed by the Indo-US nuclear deal could destabilize the subcontinental nuclear equation.

This is because Pakistan, which always views developments in India in the "worst-case-scenario mode", will assume that India is now going for a huge arsenal, rather than the credible minimum deterrent it vowed to pursue after its Pokhran II nuclear tests which were, of course, bitterly opposed by the Left.

This is not merely an apprehension; it is contemporary history. After the Pokhran I test of 1974, Pakistan left no stone unturned to achieve nuclear weapons capability and overcame all difficulties to match India's May 1998 tests, bomb for bomb. After the first test of Prithvi in February 1987, Pakistan assumed the worst, and acquired ready-to-use M-11 missiles for Pakistan, and simultaneously began to work on the North Koreans for the No-Dong or Ghauri technology.

But now, the Pakistani and presumably the Chinese assumption, will be that those reactors kept out of the civilian list are being used for military purpose. There is ambiguity because Indian reactors are designed so that its rods can be withdrawn for reprocessing weapons grade plutonium, without disrupting its power generation cycle.

Those who have followed the Iran controversy will know that Pakistan now has mature uranium enrichment technology which it can expand at will, as well as a new research reactor at Khusab through which it can also follow the plutonium route for making additional weapons. In the case of delivery systems, Pakistan is actually ahead, fielding a range of missiles that can strike at targets in any part of India. In contrast, our Agni II has barely had three tests, and there are few signs of its operational deployment.

In all likelihood, India will not use the power reactors to make weapons grade plutonium because it probably has enough. According to Prof R. Rajaraman, a physicist from JNU, it should -- or ought to have-- a stock of weapons grade plutonium to make 80 odd weapons, and reactor fuel waste that can make another 1000 bombs. This would mean that India already has enough material to have the third largest arsenal in the world, ahead of even China, France and Britain.

By giving the government a hard time for putting too many reactors under safeguards, the Left has been instrumental in ensuring that so many have been left out that they could yet emerge as the principal, if inadvertent, catalyst for a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent. As Rajaraman, a strong backer of the nuclear deal puts it, " Even in our own enlightened self-interest we should not give the impression we are going in for a much larger arsenal. The fact that the prototype fast breeder reactor is being kept on the military side, partly on grounds of national security, reinforces this feeling."

First Published: Mar 04, 2006 00:58 IST