Manmohan Singh insists on nuclear deal
WHEN a Prime Minister's Press Secretary on his own initiative calls newspapers and TV channels to tell them that he is neither confirming nor denying the PM's resignation, the inference is that there is something wrong somewhere. This is exactly the exercise which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Press Secretary Sanjay Baru went over some time ago. The entire country was ablaze with rumours and the share market was adversely affected.
There is no doubt that Manmohan Singh has put all his weight behind the nuclear deal with America, even to the reported exasperation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The Left is quite right when they say that he alone is bent upon going ahead with the deal.
What surprises me is the abrupt change in the Prime Minister from his earlier observations: his government is not a one issue government; the failure to sign the deal is not the end of the world. Till recently whenever the co-ordination committee, comprising the Congress, its allies and the Left, met the spirit of accommodation was so perceptible that all felt a way would be found to reach a consensus. The Left, which threatened to withdraw its support from the government if it made any move towards the deal, allowed the government to have talks with the IAEA on the safeguards agreement. They feel let down. Now they have said that the Prime Minister's departure for Tokyo to attend the G8 meeting will be considered the government's decision to go ahead with the deal. So why has the Prime Minister taken such a tough stance?
The suspicion is that President Bush's pressure, or for that matter America's, has worked. I do not buy it because Manmohan Singh is not the person who would give in without believing that what he is doing is right. He may be honestly of the viewpoint that the deal is the best thing that will happen to the country. Indian civil society by and large thinks in a similar way. Probably, the Prime Minister believes that it is a historic moment for him to quit, if need be. He will leave in blazing glory, giving the impression that when it came to the country's "interests," he sacrificed his office. The never-stopping taunt by the BJP that Manmohan Singh is a weak Prime Minister may also have spurred him to go ahead to prove that he is not.
I don't know if his stand is correct. One, his party is not with him if the deal means a parting of ways with the Left and facing early elections. The Congress and its allies fall short of a majority if the 59 members of the Left withdraw their support. Two, the nuclear experts, including former Bhabha Atomic Research Centre Director P.K. Iyengar, have said in a statement that the deal was not in the interests of India. They have no axe to grind and they know what they are talking about. Three, the general impression is that America is pushing us hard so that we become dependent on it and hitch our wagon with Washington's, jettisoning our policy of non-alignment.
The evidence of America's pressure is visible in the statements that come from Washington. A US lawmaker, Gary Ackerman, has said this week: "I have very difficult time understanding why India continues to pursue a gas pipeline with Iran and Pakistan..." Not long ago, US ambassador to India David Mulford warned New Delhi not to vote for Iran on a crucial IAEA board meeting and we voted at his bidding.
I do not really understand the government's obsession with the deal.. It has literally stopped the rest of the work. This is the time when all efforts should have been directed to stop inflation and prices rise which have made an average man's life hell. Instead, the Congress has the BJP a propaganda point, which it will use during the elections, whenever they are held.
The Left is also oblivious to the danger the country would face once the secular forces are divided. It has made all the efforts it could to stall the nuclear deal, but throwing out a secular government with the help of the BJP will give a deathly blow to progressive forces. The Left has to realise while stopping the nuclear deal is important, but not allowing the country to go into the hands of the Hindudtva crowd is equally paramount. It's a pity that a CPM representative played the communal card by warning Samjwadi Party, which may support the Congress, that the Muslims from the Samajwadi will go away if it signs the deal which will be seen as a pro-American stand.
The latest statement by the Prime Minister should have mollified the Left. He has said that when New Delhi completes the process of negotiations with the IAEA and Nuclear Suppliers' group, he will "bring it before Parliament and abide by the House." The only point to know is whether the deal has some confidential clauses or not. One thing which New Delhi has to guard against is America casting a shadow over our sovereignty.. If, at some future date, we are obliged to carry out further nuclear tests to upgrade our capability, it shouldn't mean the Americans under the terms of this current deal would have the right to put their experts into our plants like a force of international policemen.
True, the nuclear deal will open up many facilities in technology that developing India badly needs. But we cannot barter away our independence. It took us 150 years to get rid of the British. We should not land ourselves in a situation where we remain sovereign on paper like the present-day Iraq, but actually be subservient to Washington's dictates. The manner in which the US is putting pressure on New Delhi--literally installing officials in the government's different ministries--it gives me the feeling as if they are too anxious for our comfort.
I must confess that a Manmohan Singh of South-South report, warning the Third World against the machinations of the Developed countries, has changed over the years. I am not talking of his policy of globalisation, but of the pressure the World Bank and the multinational companies have come to wield during his regime. The nuclear deal may open the floodgates for such cartels which stand to make billions from the concessions that New Delhi would inevitably make. I wish the Prime Minister, a brilliant economist as he is, had burnt the midnight oil to devise policies which would have uplifted the lower 70 per cent of people who, according to an official report, live on one dollar per day.