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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 29

Risky Gamble for a Paradigm Shift at the Policy Level

Editorial

Friday 11 July 2008, by SC

In the December 1, 2007 issue of this journal there was a specific reference in these columns to the ‘deal’ over the Indo-US nuclear deal struck by the Congress and CPM leaders essentially to ensure the survival of Manmohan Singh as the PM (for he had threatened to resign if the Left did not allow the UPA Government to go to Vienna for talks on the safeguards agreement with the IAEA). Pointing to the Left leaders’ assertion that the final safeguards agreement with the IAEA “will have to come to the UPA-Left committee on the N-Deal for approval, implying that they still hold the key to reject the 123 Agreement”, a pertinent query was raised:

... having made a major retreat, tactical or otherwise, in the first place on the issue of allowing the government to negotiate with the IAEA, what is the guarantee that they will not do the same when the time comes to sign the safeguards agreement?

Fortunately that has not happened. The Left has remained firm on its position that the UPA Government cannot be allowed to proceed any further on the N-deal. Additionally, the Left leaders were fully justified in putting their foot down since the government side went back on its firm commitment to show them the text of the safeguards agreement worked out with the IAEA. Prakash Karat, A.B. Bardhan, Chandrachoodan and Debabrata Sarkar deserve compliments for doggedly refusing to compromise on national interest and opposing any further movement on the part of the government to operationalise the N-deal.

However, the government was in a tearing hurry to go forward in implementing the 123 Agreement. Once it became clear that the Left would not budge from its stated position and withdrawal of Left support (in the event of the government taking concrete steps to effectively operationalise the deal) would result in the fall of the government, hectic moves were afoot to rope in the Samajwadi Party regardless of the price to be paid for the purpose. And that worked. No doubt there were compulsions on both sides, but that was also the reason for them to come together and go for the risky gamble to save both the N-deal and the government at the Centre. Some industrial houses lent them the helping hand in “defence” of the government and the deal. Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was also drawn into the exercise. True, he is for the N-deal and he is definitely entitled to his opinion on the subject. But if the Samajwadi Party was really interested in getting the views of both sides of the divide, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh should have also listened to the views of other distinguished nuclear scientists opposing the N-deal. Only then could they have formulated their own, independent opinion in the matter.

But that was not to be. It was all a one-sided affair. The N-deal was essentially a ploy. Mulayam and his Man Friday had already decided to join hands with the government in ‘mutual interest’. They are least bothered about principles or the allegation of ‘political opportunism’ that their action has invited. Other considerations took precedence in their case.

The PM has finally had his way. Yes, the deal is just a ploy; as has been explained in these columns quoting distinguished scientists, it will barely ensure energy security. If the objective is to break the ‘nuclear apartheid’ the country has been subjected to for long, that will come at an enormous cost which no country, least of all India of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, can afford to bear. However, even that is not the primary aim. The fundamental goal of the PM and those around him is to effect a paradigm shift in India’s foreign and strategic policies. And the N-deal is a mere instrument in carrying out that vital task to unveil a future that is completely different from whatever we did and the causes we espoused in our post-independence past. And, of course, to safeguard the interests—political, commercial and strategic—of Washington and the White House.

Keen observers of the international scene have also not failed to note how belated and laboured efforts are being made to renew ties with Iran and the Muslim world—all to camouflage this paradigm shift.

But there is no mistaking the fact that the first concrete step in that direction of effecting the paradigm shift has been or is being taken.

Nevertheless, one needs to reiterate: what is being experimented at present is a highly risky gamble also because it is based on patent opportunism. And this will not reap any electoral dividend especially when people are groaning under the weight of mounting inflation and rising prices. Let us not forget the Congress’ performance in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls when P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh sought votes on the plea of enhancing FDIs and came a cropper.

July 3 S.C.

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