Brave new words
by Sandhya Jain on 16 Sep 2008 0 Comment

In the heat and dust raised by the manner in which India secured a questionable waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna on 6 September 2008, many opponents predicted the nuclear deal would mean only what the Americans said it would mean. A former Indian ambassador to Turkey revealed that a Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, a NATO ally of Washington, used to say: “Mr. Ambassador, you cannot trust Americans on even what they have given in writing.”


That pretty much sums up the situation, for there seem to be myriad words and meanings as Americans expound upon the deal. In the process, the Indo-US nuclear deal has acquired an admirable plasticity hitherto witnessed only in our famed plastic arts (dancing, singing), a kind of Hinduisation its worst critics could hardly have imagined.


Thus it comes as no surprise that Washington has quietly diluted the fuel supply assurances contained in the ‘123 agreement’ in President George Bush’s formal message to the US Congress, which avers that all American commitments to India are not “legally binding.” Mr. Bush is seeking Congress support to rush through the legislation necessary to implement the nuclear deal, for which he submitted the text of the 123 Agreement with a covering note and a separate memorandum with seven ‘determinations’ that India has conformed to non-proliferation commitments made in July 2005.


In the impugned covering note, Indian correspondents discovered a “sting” on the question of fuel assurances, which India has long projected as an essential component of an interlocking set of commitments and obligations undertaken by both sides since 2005. President Bush’s statement to Congress made a mockery of mutuality: “In Article 5(6) the Agreement records certain political commitments concerning reliable supply of nuclear fuel given to India. [The] Agreement does not, however, transform these political commitments into legally binding commitments because the Agreement, like other US agreements of its type, is intended as a framework agreement” (emphasis added).


This triggered an ‘explosion’ in the Indian nuclear establishment, where officials struggled to insist that the assurances were intended to be legally binding, though in the absence of an arbitration clause, ‘legally binding’ has no enforceable meaning. Still, officials persisted with the now obvious lie that the Indian 123 cannot be treated like “other US agreements of its type,” as only the Indian agreement includes fuel supply assurances. Legally binding fuel assurances were needed because India, which is not obliged to place all reactors under safeguards or withdraw them once placed, unlike other countries with which US has agreements, was voluntarily accepting IAEA supervision.


These arguments amount to the stirring of spittle. It is evident that the Bush Administration has taken the Indian ruling establishment for a massive ride, and the country will suffer incalculably if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh persists on this ill-fated road. His government has lost its legitimacy on account of the cash-for-votes scam, he himself has lost the aura of being ‘a good man on a hard seat,’ and the vocabulary of this contentious deal means completely different things to both sides. The Union Cabinet, Parliament, and the people of India have been denied basic information about what he is colluding with the Americans, and Washington daily denies what New Delhi claims about the nature of the deal.


In these circumstances, Dr. Singh would do well to cancel his proposed visit to America on 23 September 2008, to sign the deal. Both regimes are lame ducks, and should ideally leave the matter to the respective administrations that will actually implement it. Moreover, as the Congress party has less than one-third seats in the present Lok Sabha, Dr. Singh owes the nation an explanation why National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured Washington that it would get its share of nuclear commerce with India.


Even as Indians ponder why an illegitimate regime is rushing to complete the deal, Americans are clear that economic manna is coming their way. The Washington Post has urged US lawmakers to hurry with the legislation so that American business houses can rake in the moolah. It specifically warned against French and Russian competition. It would seem that in the post-Second World War era America not only took over Britain’s role as the leading colonial aggressor on the globe, but also its identity as a nation of shopkeepers!


Countries like North Korea, Iran and Pakistan will continue their nuclear journeys. Though Pakistan has been guilty of proliferation (late Benazir Bhutto reportedly told journalist Shyam Bhatia that as Prime Minister she personally carried the know-how CDs to North Korea), Islamabad received the initial know-how through the magnanimity of the CIA. North Korea has stopped the unwinding its nuclear programme, and will doubtless get help from Beijing. Similarly, Russia has increased its presence in Teheran, and the sharply declining crude oil prices indicate that US aggression on Teheran has been averted.


New Delhi has failed to resume talks on the gas pipeline which was to extend to China, thus eliminating fears of possible Pakistani sabotage. Natural gas can meet our energy needs on an immediate and abiding basis, yet India is neglecting viable energy options for pie-in-the-sky options like the Indo-US nuclear deal.


India’s current power generation is 127 gigawatts (GW), and we need 337 GW by 2016-17 to sustain current GDP growth rates. Nuclear energy was only 3.9 GW in 2006, and can rise to a maximum of 20 GW by 2016, at prohibitive costs. The large power deficit would still have to be met from indigenous thermal, hydro, gas, wind or solar energy generation.


Contemporary debate has ceased to mention our indigenous thorium-based nuclear programme. Our known thorium reserves can generate 400,000 MW annually for the next four centuries. India alone has the technological expertise for thorium-based reactors and a 300 MW reactor is under regulatory clearance; production can begin in just seven years.


In these circumstances, India urgently needs a Constitutional Amendment to ensure Parliamentary ratification of international treaties as the era of one-party dominance is over and coalition (even minority) governments are becoming the norm. Yet a ruling coalition with no moral authority is denying Parliament a say on a treaty governed by US laws which stipulates several conditions binding upon India.


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