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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 28

Sonia Gandhi has to take the Political Call

Editorial

Monday 30 June 2008, by SC

In the wake of the failure of the UPA-Left committee on the nuclear deal to break the deadlock over taking the India-specific safeguards agreement worked out with the IAEA to the atomic watchdog’s Board of Governors for approval, it is necessary to dispassio-nately analyse the subject. If one undertakes such an exercise, it would become transparent that the PM’s plea that the nuclear deal would ensure energy security for the country is vastly exaggerated. In fact the contention of Manmohan Singh and his team backing the deal has been effectively punctured by three distinguished scientists—Dr P.K. Iyengar, the former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, the erstwhile Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, and Dr A.N. Prasad, the former Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. According to them,
Analysts have convincingly shown that... (the) additional power will come at a much higher cost per unit of electricity compared to conventional coal or hydro power, which India can generate without foreign imports.
Once the deal is in place, it is also clear that India’s commercial nuclear interactions with the US, as well as with any other country, will be firmly controlled from Washington, via the stipulations of the Hyde Act, 2006, enforced through the stranglehold which the US retains on the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.

The real issue facing India, therefore, is whether or not we want this mythical extra ‘energy security’ through this deal, paying almost thrice the unit capital cost of conventional power plants, with the additional burden of subjugating the freedom to pursue a foreign policy and indigenous nuclear R&D programme of our own.

The government is unable to rebut the points highlighted by the scientists beyond saying that the deal would end the longstanding isolation of India in the nuclear field, and help to break the ‘nuclear apartheid’ the country has been subjected to for decades for not having signed the NPT. The moot question is: at what price? To that they have no reply.

Before the Left allowed the government to go ahead and hold talks with the IAEA, the government had promised to show the text of the safeguards agreement prior to getting the committee’s sanction to proceed further. However, subsequently the government went back on the assurance by flatly denying any such promise on its part. There are strong reasons to suspect that the safeguards agreement has several clauses which are totally at variance with our national policy and jeopardise our interests in the long term. Hence the “extreme secrecy” shrouding the document, which is why no informed debate on the subject is possible, as the scientists have complained.

In the circumstances the Left was well within its right to adopt the stand it has taken. For which reason it is being attacked and baseless accusations are being hurled on it from all those who themselves have axes to grind. The Congress’ allies in the UPA have made it explicitly clear that even as they are supportive of the nuclear deal, they are not prepared to face the electorate by antagonising the Left. This applies also to the Samajwadi Party-led UNPA which is to shortly make public its stand against the deal.

The matter has now been left to the Congress President-cum-UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, to take the final political call. She has to act fast keeping all views and, above all, the country’s supreme interests into account overriding every subjective consideration.

June 26 S.C.

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