| Manmohan Singh in Tarapur. Picture by Gajanan Dudhalkar
Aug. 31: Manmohan Singh has sprung the Mahatma on the Marxist.
“Nuclear renaissance” on his lips and perhaps Prakash Karat on his mind, the Prime Minister today quoted Mahatma Gandhi to articulate his world vision and scotch speculation that he is backing off the US deal.
“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any,” Singh told a group of science graduates and engineers at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Barc) in Mumbai.
A few hours earlier in Tarapur — home to two reactors built with US help — Singh had put up a spirited defence of nuclear energy. He said India cannot afford to “miss the bus” of “nuclear renaissance” after three decades of isolation.
“India is now too important a country to remain outside the international mainstream in this critical area,” he said at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station.
The references to the Mahatma and the “importance” of India dovetail well with the “national interest” slogan the Congress is working on to counter imperialism, which the Left has made its core concern.
The professor-turned-Prime-Minister’s lecture at Barc was for young graduates but the choice of advice suggested he wouldn’t have minded if some of his Left associates had turned up to listen to him.
“In facing this brave new world, show the courage of your convictions, demonstrate your self-confidence, and be not afraid to strike out on new paths,” he said.
During his engagements in Mumbai, Singh more or less set out the schedule that will take the 123 Agreement forward. Among the audience in Tarapur were national security adviser M.K. Narayanan and atomic energy chief Anil Kakodkar — part of the team that covered the last-mile talks in the US.
“We need to pave the way for India to benefit from nuclear commerce without restrictions,’’ he said, adding: “Once these and other steps are taken, India can commence civil nuclear cooperation with all the 45 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.”
He also underscored the need for going ahead with steps to operationalise the deal. “Our international cooperation… cannot become effective until the NSG adapts its guidelines to enable nuclear commerce with India. The NSG itself has made it clear that they will not do so till the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA is finalised,’’ Singh said.
In Delhi, Congress leaders said that if a committee set up yesterday to placate the Left did not come up with a consensus by September end, the party was “ready to face all consequences”.
A leader bluntly said “setting up the committee did not mean that the Congress was ready to put the nuclear deal on hold”.
The only likely concession is that after negotiating an agreement with the IAEA, Delhi might defer signing it. But officials said the deal would have to get past the US Congress by April 2008.