The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- The Indo-US nuclear deal has cast the left into indecision

Scientists in the country’s defence establishments, reports suggest, are seething with increasing resentment even as they become more and more aware of the details of the nuclear agreement the prime minister has signed with the American president, George W. Bush. They cannot articulate their protest given the code of discipline they are subject to. However, the gentleman who headed the team of scientists credited with the explosion in Pokhran in 1974 has spoken up: the provisions of the agreement, in his judgement, are so unfavourable for India that we would have done better by signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty instead. This senior scientist, now in retirement, has obvious reasons to unburden himself in such a forthright manner. The American administration, he and his colleagues do not have the least doubt, would use the provisions of the agreement to bring about a quiet and quick death to India’s nuclear deterrent programme. Their fear is not without basis, for the draft bill submitted to the American Congress for ratifying the agreement is silent on the crucial issue of ensuring India’s energy security.

On the other hand, it has plenty to say on the necessity to 'sustain' and 'strengthen' the implementation of the NPT and halt the production of nuclear weapons in India; it seeks a unilateral moratorium on India's production of fissionable material for nuclear weaponry within a specific time frame; it enjoins the American president to report to Congress annually on the rate of production of fissionable material in India for this proposal, along with his assessment whether uranium imported under the agreement could effectively augment India's capacity to produce nuclear weapons. The bill further directs that India must agree to the application in perpetuity of the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards for its civilian nuclear facilities, and, at the same time, also agree to place a ceiling, within a definite time interval, on its ability to produce fissionable material.

This, however, is hardly the end of the matter. Much, much worse is a particular insertion in the draft bill, which states explicitly that the US 'expects' India's full and active support to the American position on the Iran nuclear issue, including Washington's efforts to 'dissuade, isolate and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran'. A copy of the bill must have been formally forwarded to New Delhi. Even otherwise, since the entire world has come to know about it, it would be fatuous for our government to claim that it is unaware of this provision. To assume the stance that the 'expectation' of the US Congress and the US administration is their business and the government of India cannot be held responsible for it would be equally untenable. Since our government is in the know of this provision in the bill, it is its duty to inform the US administration immediately that, should what has been spelled out be the official American understanding of the implications of the nuclear agreement, India would have no part of it and would rather opt out. Till today, our government has not transmitted any such communication, and, unless faced with an impossible domestic situation, it is unlikely to send any. The Sanskrit adage mounam sammati lakshanam has a universal applicability; the Americans will be one hundred per cent within their rights to interpret India's official silence as acquiescence in the detailed provisions of the bill.

What would that mean' The answer to the query has no ambiguity. India would in no time be bullied to slip into the status of a vassal of the US. Along with all the other things that it implies, our foreign policy would henceforth be subject to the whims and fancies of the US administration.

Consider the asymmetry of the situation. The agreement reached by our prime minister and the American president has to go through the drill of the American legislative process. What the prime minister has signed on behalf of the government of India has however been operational from the moment he appended his signature; no parliamentary sanction is called for. The only way therefore we can still save our sovereignty is by persuading our government to renege on the agreement the prime minister has signed, and, in case it declines to do so, to ask our parliamentarians to vote it out. Those amongst our MPs who adhere to the belief that the nation's sovereignty and the dignity that goes with it are still worth fighting for must know where their duty lies.

This is where the left face an acute dilemma. They have the strength in parliament to throw out the government. Mulayam Singh Yadav has gone on record that he would follow the left's lead in the matter; if they turn against the government, he too would. The parties on the left are, however, frozen into indecision. They would certainly not like the country to become a stooge of the US. At the same time, they are most reluctant to bring down the United Progressive Alliance regime, for then the Bharatiya Janata Party, they fear, would walk back to power. The left cannot though any longer avoid meeting the challenge of the awesome question: are they so fearful of the return of the Bharatiya Janata Party that they would not mind the country being turned into a banana republic under the hegemony of the US'

True, there could be yet another possibility. Fresh negotiations between the Congress and the left might end in a deadlock, and the nation could be forced to go for a fresh poll. Despite the fall-out of the serial blasts, given the state of total disarray the BJP is in at the moment, it would be an extraordinary feat for it to even retain in such a poll the number of seats it holds in the current Lok Sabha. So what is the apprehension about'

The left have a mandate from the people. That mandate did not commit it to watch listlessly from the sidelines even as the country was being handed over to George W. Bush, on the ground that to do otherwise could mean the return to power of religious fundamentalists. The hypothetical logic the left leadership is at present putting forth convinces nobody ' one suspects, not even them. But that is the way a Greek tragedy proceeds.

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