The minister for external affairs was proceeding to Tehran to represent the country at the week-long anniversary celebrations of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. A young journalist in New Delhi put across a question to the minister: was he carrying a message from the United States of America to the Iranian government concerning Tehran’s insistence on having an independent nuclear development programme' The minister flared up. How dare the journalist ask such an impertinent question' He was minister of a sovereign country, India, and he does not act as post-bearer for other nations.
Such show of bile was, to say the least, intriguing. When Jawaharlal Nehru was both prime minister and external affairs minister, personalities like V. K. Krishna Menon and G. Parthasarathy would constantly travel, as India’s official envoys, to mediate between countries having adversarial relationships, for instance, the US and China, or the US and the Soviet Union. They played this role during the hostilities in Korea, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and carried messages back and forth between quarrelling parties. All this was part of the obligations of international diplomacy. India’s emissaries, representing a country which was one of the principal architects of the alliance of non-aligned nations, were proud to undertake the role of peace-brokers among those at the moment at loggerheads with one another. They also had the moral stature crucial to the success of their assignments.
The journalist, therefore, was, by no stretch of imagination, speaking out of turn. The minister had no business to lose his cool either. The fact that he did lose it invites the suspicion that perhaps a guilty conscience was at work: the minister was, in fact, carrying an unsavoury message about which he himself conceivably felt awfully sheepish. His reaction to the innocent question betrayed his loss of nerve.
That this was actually the case has been confirmed by subsequent news reports not yet contradicted by official quarters. The main objective of our minister’s trip to Tehran was to ‘counsel’ the Iranian government to meet its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran must immediately dismantle its nuclear arms development programme and must remain within the four corners of the inspection and regulatory system set up by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
No need to even bother to read between the lines. The message the Indian external affairs minister carried, there is enough ground for suspicion, is a first step towards implementing the nuclear agreement our prime minister signed in August, 2005, with the US president. That agreement has been rendered into a thick 41-page piece of legislation vetted by the American Congress, spelling out the conditions under which the US would provide nuclear fuel for India’s civilian nuclear plants. In terms of one of these conditions, the Indian authorities must act as a close partner of the US to coerce Iran into desisting from its ambition to develop a nuclear weaponry system of its own; should it be necessary, India, the US legislation suggests, must agree to joint military operations with the US to coerce Iran to fall in line.
Leaving, for a moment, the other issues, merely consider the ridiculousness of the matter. The government of India itself has refused to sign the NPT because it would not like any outside interference with its nuclear development strategy. This same government, though, in its anxiety not to jeopardize the nuclear deal it has signed with the US, proceeds to warn Iran not to breach the provisions of the NPT. Coming in the wake of India’s voting twice at sessions of the IAEA against Iran at the behest of the American administration, this is both stupid and insolent. In the circumstances, the Tehran regime was perfectly within its rights to tell our minister to mind his own business and go home.
But there it is. A one-and-a-half-page statement jointly signed by the heads of government of the US and India is transformed into an American statute. It does not have the endorsement of the Indian parliament; yet we are supposed to comply with all its conditions. In lieu of the nuclear fuel the US would generously sell to India, the latter must act as hukumbardar of that country and, on its behalf, brow-beat Iran.
As soon as the nuclear agreement act received the final approval of the US Congress, a group of Indian scientists had commented that even signing the NPT would be more honourable than such an abject surrender to the US. Some of them had a session with the prime minister; a quietus followed, obviously on the basis of a number of assurances given by the prime minister. Since the uproar over the signing of the treaty has since simmered down, the time, the authorities in New Delhi might have concluded, was opportune to hasten to furnish proof to the US authorities that they need nurture no fear. Our government would abide by each clause or sub-clause of the statute despite misgivings expressed by India’s citizenry, including its scientific community.
Is it not, therefore, time for the scientists and, alongside them, the political parties, who would not like the country’s sovereignty to be compromised, to re-ignite the issue' What exactly are we getting out of the nuclear deal apart from earning the sobriquet of being the world’s leading American vassal' In lieu of the surrender of an independent foreign policy and control over the country’s non-civilian nuclear programme, we are supposed to obtain from the Americans a quantity of processed uranium for new nuclear plants to be set up in the country, that are to be activized by reactors again imported from the US. Because of intense protest by American citizens, no new nuclear power plants have come up in that country over the past three decades; quite a few plants, previously operating, have been shut down; several nuclear reactors are lying idle. On account of as much the high cost it involves as its environmental hazards, nuclear power generation is now strongly disfavoured in the US.
Poison for the Americans is, however, regarded as delicious meat for Indians. The per unit cost of generation of atomic power, most analyses indicate, is far higher than what it is for thermal or hydel power. The Americans may be eager to palm off their near-obsolete nuclear reactors to us; there is no reason for us to be as eager to accept them. Besides, only imbeciles will treat lightly the environmental problems attendant on an extensive nuclear power generation programme. Memories, after all, should not be that short. Only a few years ago, a number of American economists, bent on programming a global economic optimum, had advocated a policy of shifting relatively more pollution-prone industries to poor, under-developed countries: the lives of people infesting such countries were, in their judgment, of lesser worth than those of prosperous Americans and Europeans.
The economist, Prabhat Patnaik, has recently protested against the purposive attempt launched to destroy politics in the name of development, as if development can be independent of, and detached from, the reality of class-relations and class-conflict. Are we in the process of witnessing the emergence of a parallel phenomenon: the destruction of the preroga- tive to craft our own foreign policy in the name of nuclear energy development'
There should be a stirring of conscience in some native quarters. In case there is none, we then richly deserve the fate that awaits us. George W. Bush still has nearly two more years to go. Once he embarks on the next war on his agenda, he might demand that India must contribute to the cause of global peace by despatching combat troops to Iran. We would lose our sovereignty, but come to belong to the free world.