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The questions PM did not answer

The questions PM did not answer

Author: Yashwant Sinha
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: August 20, 2006

For some of us who have been striving to ensure that the one-sided India-US nuclear deal does not pass muster in Indian Parliament, August 17, 2006 when the Rajya Sabha debated the issue, was a day of partial satisfaction, of partial victory. I have no doubt in my mind that if we, in the various political parties, other writers, commentators and editors, and the nuclear scientists had not expressed our reservations against the deal, the Prime Minister would not have been compelled to offer the clarifications he offered in Rajya Sabha on that day. Let us not forget that when the House of Representatives of the US Congress passed the Bill, there was no official response from the government of India. In fact, through background briefings of a section of the media which is blindly supporting the deal, the government sent out a message that it was happy at the outcome.

August 17 is a victory of sorts because the Prime Minister has been forced to dismount from his high horse. But a large number of questions remain, which the Prime Minister deliberately ducked that day. Even when I put some of these questions to him directly and pointedly at the end of the debate, he decided to remain glued to his seat and chose not to respond to them. If we want an equal and mutually beneficial deal with the US, these questions must be answered satisfactorily. And until that happens, we must not give up.

The Prime Minister reiterated once again that there will be no shifting of the goalposts from the July 18, 2005 statement. I had, in my intervention in Rajya Sabha, made the point that some of the goalposts had already been shifted from July 18. I even listed them point-wise. But the Prime Minister chose to ignore these questions. The following is the list of questions asked to the Prime Minister and which he deliberately chose to ignore in his reply:

1. I challenged the basis of the deal, namely energy security. I quoted facts and figures to prove how the approach was fundamentally flawed. I asked the Prime Minister to share with the House his understanding of the economics of nuclear energy compared to other sources of energy. He did not reply to this point. I also asked him to state the kind of investment which was needed even to have a meagre 20,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2020. He again did not reply.

2. I asked him to share with the House the financial cost of the separation of our nuclear facilities between civilian and military. I reminded him that at no stage has the government taken Parliament into confidence with regard to this cost which some have estimated at US $40 billion. He once again chose not to share this information with Parliament.

3. He did not explain why his interpretation of the deal and the US interpretation of the deal have remained so diametrically opposed to each other all these 13 months.

4. I asked him why we have accepted a water-tight separation plan which does not apply to nuclear weapon states. As is well known, nuclear weapon states accept only voluntary, revocable safeguards while perpetual inspections by the IAEA apply solely to non-nuclear weapon states. He kept quiet.

5. I asked him why the fast breeder programme, which is based entirely on our own technology, has been offered for safeguards in future in the separation plan when he had assured the nation that it will not be brought within the safeguards. He kept quiet.

6. I asked him why the Cirus experimental reactor, which as Arun Shourie said, produced a third of our weapons grade plutonium, had been included in the list of civilian facilities and the fuel core of Apsara was being sought to be shifted from its present location. He ducked this question.

7. I quoted the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 5, 2006 where she said, "We have been very clear with the Indians that the permanence of the safeguards is permanence of the safeguards, without condition. In fact, we reserve the right, should India test, as it has agreed not to, or should India violate in any way IAEA safeguard agreement to which it would be adhering, that the deal from our point of view would at that point be off." The Prime Minister told the House that India would not accept any obligation in the bilateral agreement not to test. Secretary Rice has said the opposite and has asserted as highlighted earlier that we have already agreed not to test. Who should we believe?

8. I asked the Prime Minister specifically whether the US actually opposed the supply of fuel for Tarapur by the Russians recently despite their commitment in the July 18 agreement to facilitate such supply. He did not reply.

9. My colleague Arun Shourie asked him pointedly about the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. In the July 18, 2005 statement, we have agreed to "work with" the US for the conclusion of this treaty. The question is has the US agreed to work with us or does it expect us to toe whatever line it enunciates? This is exactly what has happened. Reliable verification is a key issue of this treaty.

Our consistent position has been that observance of obligations under the treaty must be verifiable. Yet, the draft which the US has presented to the Committee on Disarmament does not contain any such provision. Arun Shourie wanted to know what government of India's position on this issue was. It was met with resounding silence.

The principles of reciprocity, parity and sequencing of the various steps as enunciated in the July 18, 2005 statement have already been violated by the US with impunity. Thus, based on what has already happened, not on what is likely to happen, the July 18 statement is in tatters. What is going to happen to it when the final Bill is adopted by the US Congress is horrendous from our point of view. And yet, we choose to bury our head in the sand in the face of the gathering storm and pretend that all is well.

I was disappointed when Sitaram Yechury rose in Rajya Sabha at the end of the Prime Minister's speech, even after I had expressed my reservations about it, and suggested that the Prime Minister's reply should be taken as the Sense of the House. I immediately disagreed with his suggestion. But I must note here that there is a fundamental difference between our position and the position of the CPI(M). The CPI(M) had criticised the 1998 nuclear tests. They are against India becoming a nuclear weapon state. So, their concerns did not include concerns relating to the weapons programme, which incidentally is our basic concern. The CPI(M) also accepts the July 18, 2005 statement about which we have reservations. They are also reconciled to the deviations and departures which have already taken place from the July 18 statement.

I began my speech in Rajya Sabha with these words, "I propose to approach this task not in a partisan manner, but in as objective a manner, as fair a manner as possible, and I expect that those who will respond from the government's side will also keep this in mind and respond to our concerns taking this as an issue of supreme national importance." I was disappointed, therefore, when the three speakers from the Congress Party including the minister of state for external affairs, Anand Sharma, indulged in "tu tu main main."

But the Prime Minister was even more disappointing. He gave the House an overdose of his biography which was entirely unnecessary because nobody had attacked him personally. Was he responding to his friends in his own party? His remark that he inherited a bankrupt economy from me in 1991 was in poor taste. Dr Manmohan Singh was the economic adviser to the then Prime Minister, Mr Chandrashekhar. In that capacity he used to not only attend all Cabinet meetings but was also fully involved in economic management. Nobody, therefore, should know better than him what we had inherited when we came into office in November 1990.

His mentor and the famous economist I.G. Patel in a lecture delivered at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore on October 28, 1991 had this to say: "If the present crisis is the greatest that we have faced since independence … it is because successive governments in the Eighties chose to abdicate their responsibilities to the nation for the sake of short-term partisan political gains and indeed out of sheer political cynicism." He went on to blame the Rajiv Gandhi regime directly for this crisis. He called the Chandrashekhar government feckless but added that, "The Chandrashekhar government began to behave more responsibly than most people had expected." It would have been better, therefore, if the Prime Minister had shown greater intellectual honesty than he did while making this entirely uncalled for remark.

We have only partially succeeded in dissuading the Prime Minister from treading the dangerous path of the India-US nuclear deal. The struggle is far from over. I hope Lok Sabha will keep up the pressure when it debates the nuclear deal. I hope the scientists who issued the statement will keep up the pressure when they meet the Prime Minister on August 26, 2006. I have already said in Rajya Sabha that if the deal goes through in the shape that the Americans have given it and even if this government accepts such a deal, it cannot bind India in future.

Yashwant Sinha is a former Union minister for finance and for external affairs

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