| (Left) Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat during the opening of the budget session of Parliament on Thursday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Feb. 16: The government today defended India’s growing ties with the US as it brushed aside criticism from its Left allies to assert that enlightened national interest guided its foreign policy.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament claimed that major initiatives were underway for expanding cooperation with Washington in a host of sectors like trade, technology and defence.
The President’s speech on the first day of Parliament’s budget session is written by the government and is essentially an opportunity to elaborate on its foreign and domestic policies for the financial year.
Kalam said Delhi’s “relations” with Washington “underwent a substantial transformation” last year and the bedrock of these ties was their “reciprocal commitments” to ink a civilian nuclear cooperation deal.
“'We carry forward our strategic partnership based on the July 18” joint statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush, he said, and added that the government expects “to gain access to international cooperation” for its civilian nuclear energy sector based on the commitments.
But Kalam’s address, less than a fortnight before the US President’s scheduled visit to India, made it clear the relationship was not restricted to nuclear energy. It “encompasses” many more issues, he said.
“Major initiatives are underway to encourage the expansion of investment, trade and technology transfers, accelerate cooperation in agriculture, health and human resource development', a framework for defence cooperation and expanding cooperation on key global challenges.”
Kalam did not mention Iran but said the “foreign policy of my government is, as has always been the case, guided by enlightened national interest”. What it indicated was the Congress-led regime would not give in to pressure from allies like the Left, which spit fire at its decision to vote against Iran at a recent meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Referring to domestic political issues, the President said the government had a two-pronged strategy: reach out to disaffected sections while dealing firmly with anti-national forces. The government, he said, has expressed willingness to talk to all political groups to address their grievances, real or imaginary.
“At the same time, my government is steadfast in its resolve to combat terrorism, militancy and extremism and to uphold the rule of law.” He also underlined the Centre’s commitment to carry on peace talks with Pakistan.
The speech attacked the BJP, without naming it, and criticised the previous regime for injecting “the dangerous trend of intolerance” into politics. Kalam complimented the government for replacing this “dangerous trend” with debates on issues of concern to the common man.
On minorities, he said the government was preparing a 15-point programme. “This programme will aim at enhancing the social development of the minorities, especially the poor”.
The BJP dismissed the address as “lifeless, dull” and “directionless” besides being partial to minorities.