Recent developments in the matter of implementing the US-India civilian nuclear agreement leads one to believe that some sort of silent emergency has been imposed on India'sscientific community that spells danger for India'sfuture security. The matter needs to be cleared at once if the Congress-led UPA Government wants to continue in government.
The only silver lining in the political sky is that the Republican front-runner to succeed President George Bush as US President, Senator John McCain has been quoted as saying that the US legislators are not particularly enthused over the energy agreement and it is unlikely to be cleared by the US Congress this year. This gives enough breathing space for a proper debate to be conducted on what the agreement signifies and whether it would be in India'slarger interests to go ahead with it.
From what one understands, the nuclear scientists have been told not to engage themselves in a public debate. This is a national disgrace. Is India going to play a role that Pakistan had played for the best part of half a century only to learn that when it comes to US interests it has to swallow every humiliation heaped on it? What is the benefit that India hopes to reap by playing the role of America'sjunior partner? Have we lost all our self-respect? If the UPA government is so sure that it is doing the right thing, it must allow an open debate and let involved Indian scientists speak out their minds freely and openly.
Presently word is going round in scientific circles that contrary to the statements made by Shri Shyam Saran on national television, the predominant purpose of the proposed agreement, still to be ratified by the US Congress, appears to be ill-conceived and primarily engineered to curtail India'sdevelopment and autonomy in key sectors, thus adversely impacting national security. Under no circumstances can this be allowed.
In private conversations, senior scientists are saying that many general areas of deep concern exist for which adequate reasons or explanations are not forthcoming. The decision by the Government of India to close down CIRUS and relocate the APSARA core is being dismissed as whimsical?and rightly so.
The framework in which the current ?agreement? is viewed is a drastic change over the Department of Atomic Energy'sconsistent stance of self-reliance. It is shocking to learn that in drafting that so-called Agreement scientists have not been consulted and the views of those who had dared to speak have been dismissed as irrelevant. This is demonstrated by the fact that against their advice, all reactors (both fast breeder and indigenous) will be ?civilian? after 2014 and subject to ?safeguards?. India is thereby allowing itself to be bossed by the international?in essence American?policy-makers, for no valid reason. The word ?civilian? can easily be misused. Would fundamental research institutes and centres of excellence fall in this category? If they do, would they be subjected to scrutiny as well, leaving India entirely at the mercy of inquisitive foreigners who would like to see Indian science crippled and not allowed to grow? Where do we stand in this regard?
A large number of serving and retired scientists have offered their views in private but do not find themselves in a position to express their fears openly. Are we having a democracy in this country or are we going the way of dictators? The framework in which the current ?agreement? is seen is a drastic change over the Department of Atomic Energy'sstance of self-reliance. Prior to this understanding, even in the face of sanctions, India was assured of the right to independently assess science, technology and define underlying scientific temper so critical to development.
Fear is now being expressed in scientific circles that this right is going to be surrendered for doubtful gains. Given the various developments over the past many months, the present position seems to be that India may be agreeing under pressure to much more than was initially indicated through the first Indo-US joint statement made on July 18, 2005.
When India has avoided signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the grounds that it is unequal, do the limited gains which may accrue through the proposed deal fully vindicate the position India is now forced to accept?a non-weapons state subject to worse constraints and discrimination than any sanctions regime could have achieved to date?
One thing is clear: India should not enter into any negotiations when treated as a non-weapons state. It would be below our dignity to do so. Either we are treated as equals or we stay out. We should not be a beggar country under any circumstances. To be relegated to the status of a non-nuclear weapons state is an insult to our national pride. We are not Pakistan to be treated with such disrespect. In the field of nuclear energy we have done well. We have mastered the closed-fuel cycle in the face of nuclear apartheid and have much better technology than all except four other nations. Let the world know that.
The United States is an unreliable friend. Since independence Washington openly associated itself with Pakistan for its own strategic reasons and made life difficult for India. It looked the other way when Pakistan stole technology from European powers and when its scientist A.Q. Khan openly sold knowledge of nuclear technology to other countries.
When it suited its purpose it glorified the Shah of Iran but when he was dying, he was not even allowed to enter the US for medical help. It was the US, which helped Saddam Hussain and gave him weapons of destruction only to turn against him when it suited its purpose.
Presently the United States wants to castrate Indian scientific development when it is at its take-off stage. The Government of India, instead of muffling expert opinion, must permit open debate. Let the country know the pros and cons of signing the Indo-US civilian Nuclear Agreement, so that whatever is ultimately decided upon becomes a truly national decision. Otherwise the UPA will go down in history for betraying its own Common Minimum Programme (CMP) which clearly promises to ?pursue an independent foreign policy keeping in mind past traditions? and pledges to ?maintain the independence of India'sforeign policy position on regional and global issues?. To do anything else would be an act of betrayal.