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HVK Archives: 'Where is the scope for negotiations on CTBT

'Where is the scope for negotiations on CTBT - The Indian Express

Neerja Chowdhury ()
June 7, 1998

Title: 'Where is the scope for negotiations on CTBT, with whom
will you negotiate?' (Interview with Pranab Mukherjee)
Author: Neerja Chowdhury
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: June 7, 1998

Pranab Mukherjee has held almost all important portfolios -
including finance and external affairs - at the Centre. As the
nation debates the impact of the nuclear tests and the BJP
Government's maiden Budget, Neerja Chowdhury speaks to the
veteran Congress leader. Excerpts:

What do you think of the signals that the Budget sends out?

The enhancement of the customs duty by 8 per cent almost across
the board sends a protectionist signal. But they have also put
370 items in the OGL and that is a signal of liberalisation. So I
would say it is a mixed bag. But there is no clear direction and
that is the defect of this Budget. The earlier Budgets have had
a philosophy and focus, whether you liked it or not.

Your party has spoken against the Budget saying that it failed to
take into account the impact of possible sanctions. Don't you
think they are, reluctant to talk about sanctions because it may
create panic and send the rupee down?

The rupee has already been affected adversely. The finance
minister has not taken advantage of the fundamental strength of
the economy today, though there have been a slippage during the
last one year. With the improved foreign exchange reserves, the
relatively lower rate of inflation and a little push, the sayings
rate can go up to 26 percent.

After Pokharan I in 1974, (Y.B.) Chavan was the finance minister.
The DA was halved dividends were restricted, the rate of
inflation was at 24 per cent. It was at this time that a change
of guard took place in North Block and (C.) Subramaniam took over
as finance minister and I as revenue minister.

In Subramaniam's Budget speech in 1975, he also talked about
focussed priorities that I am advocating today. By 1976, there
was a negative rate of inflation and for the first time, India
had a surplus international trade.

I am not saying that 1975 is comparable to 1998. Today the basic
fundamentals of the economy are strong, then there was the great
political advantage of a strong political executive. But Yashwant
Sinha should have identified some key sectors instead of being a

Do you feel we should sign the CTBT?

So far as the CTBT is concerned, we shall have to recognise the
ground realities. Where is the scope for negotiations? With whom
will you negotiate? The treaty is open to signature till 24,
Sept. 1999, and we had time till then. The pressure has increased
now. Forty-four countries, including the five nuclear weapon
states, three threshold states and 36 others will have to sign to
make it operational. If these countries do not sign, then the
signatories would meet to see what measures could be taken under
the International law.

Would you say that if we had not exploded a nuclear device, we
might have still faced sanctions?

I would not put it that way. It is simplistic to formulate it
like that. We did not sign the NPT and what happened? India did
not become an outcast. The skies did not descend on us. Remember
India was one of the co-sponsors of the CTBT. In 1988, Rajiv
Gandhi made the point that India could very easily graduate from
a nuclear threshold state to being a nuclear weapon state, but he
said, 'you give me a time frame by which you would dismantle your
nuclear weapons.' They did not agree but could not ignore it, not
even the US.

Did the Government make any diplomatic mistakes after Pokharan

They could have taken vigorous diplomatic initiatives. It is no
use patting yourself on the back. After 1971 and 1974, Indira
Gandhi took such initiatives. She wrote to (Z.A.) Bhutto and the
world community took note of it, even if he did not at the time.
Vajpayee could have telephoned Nawaz Sharif and said something
like, 'don't get upset, we had to do it.' What you do now may pay
dividends later on.

Some senior leaders should have been sent to Russia. The Prime
Minister could have sent Gujral. He has after all been
ambassador there and then the country's foreign minister and
prime minister.

Do you feel the Government should have adopted a low-key

If they had to do it, they should have done it silently. They
should have described the explosions as just patakhas. A dog that
bites does not bark. But instead, there were so many people
talking. The Prime Minister should have put his foot down. No
one else had any business to say anything on the subject. It is
Atal Behari Vajpayee who will be accountable to history and not
all these Johnnies.

What about Advani's statement on Kashmir?

A: He should have restrained himself. He is a balanced and a
sober man. It was unusual for him to talk like this. I think he
may have been under strain to talk like this. It is an illusion
that jingoism will give you a constituency. We have given an
advantage to Pakistan by talking of Kashmir.

And China?

I may know a lot of things as a minister but can I tell them? We
have full diplomatic relations (with China) George Fernandes
called it a potential threat number one. Why say it?

But George would say it is true.

It may be true, and if he wants to say it he should leave the
Government. After all, there are diplomatic nuances. Did
Chamberlain or Churchil call Hitler enemy number one before the
declaration of war?

It took us 36 years to build these diplomatic relations from the
time they were snapped. They have been built brick by brick.
Unless you make a concerted effort now, it is going to be very
difficult (to rebuild these relations with China).

Are you making an exploratory exercise for forming an alternative

There is no serious exploration. Maybe I have no knowledge of it.

How long do you think this government will stay?

It depends on the numbers. They have three human bombs in Mamata,
Jayalalitha and Samata.

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