On Board Air India One, July 22: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is getting ready for the storm ahead over the nuclear deal with the US. The first draft of Singh’s suo motu statement to Parliament was ready even before he boarded the flight home from Geneva.
Over the next few days, he is likely to phone or meet predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other leaders who have apprehensions about the deal.
Singh’s strategy is to be sincere and transparent.
First, he will tell them that the agreement will in no way cramp India’s nuclear weapons programme ' on the contrary, it will preserve it.
Second, he will emphasise that India’s problem is not buying civilian nuclear reactors from abroad alone, but also ensuring fuel for its nuclear power reactors ' not only for Tarapur. Nuclear fuel availability has fallen so low that more wind than nuclear power was generated last year.
Third, he will tell them that whatever obligations India has accepted will be implemented in a phased manner with reciprocal interlocking of obligations with the US. If the US does nothing, India does nothing.
Fourth, he will impress upon them that the agreement will give India greater manoeuvrability with other nuclear suppliers. India can now legitimately tell France and Russia that if the US is willing to cooperate, so can they.
Singh is likely to spend considerable time briefing political leaders on how the deal evolved. When he met President George W. Bush in Moscow in May, he had told him that given the trend of hydrocarbon use in the Indian economy, there was no way its commercial energy needs could be met from coal and oil.
He is believed to have told Bush that if the US did not want to supply fuel for the Tarapur plant, which produces electricity at a reduced capacity of 320 Mwe, India could even afford to shut it down.
“We have survived for 5,000 years. We can perhaps survive like this for another 5,000. We are a very patient people,” he apparently told Bush.
Singh is believed to have spent a sleepless night on July 17 on the eve of the Bush meeting. Till that time, the deal was uncertain. Not a terribly religious person, he apparently prayed that night that he should not do anything which would provoke the charge of harming national interest.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice met him the next morning, on July 18, and said the paragraphs on nuclear co-operation proposed by India in the joint statement were unacceptable. She asked what else could be done. Seeing the deal fall through, Singh apparently opted for fuel for Tarapur in the first instance and if not even that, he wanted the US to ask its nuclear friends to supply the fuel.
This was the situation when he met Bush. The President told Singh that he wanted to conclude a civilian nuclear co-operation deal. Once the order was given, the agreement became possible.