ALTHOUGH the international media has highlighted the opposition of the CPI and the CPM to the attempt by Manmohan Singh to sign a nuclear agreement with the US that would contain the severe restrictions imposed by the Hyde Act, the reality is that the two communist parties are just a sideshow. And today, with Beijing too backing the Bush-Singh deal, both the CPI and the CPM have visibly moderated their earlier opposition to the proposed agreement, once again allowing the Sonia-led UPA to discuss the deal in both houses of Parliament without a formal vote being taken. This means that future generations will have no way of determining just which MPs stood by the country'sinterest, and who for Sonia?s. While the communist parties oppose the deal because of the boost that its operationalisation would give to technical cooperation with the US, Japan and the EU, nationalist elements are against it because of the one-sided nature of the Hyde Act, that places India in a supplicant position without any binding US assurances that the bureaucrats in Washington will not do to this nuclear deal what they have done to almost every other agreement reached with India on space, defence and technology cooperation. Which is to unilaterally withdraw from its obligations, because of changes in the domestic political weather, or the need to coddle military dictators in Pakistan and others who seek the ruination of India. Even as far back as 1963, the ?non-aligned? Jawaharlal Nehru was ready to become a US military ally, but was told to first surrender the residual two-third of Kashmir to Pakistan. Today, what is being demanded is the downgrading of India'snuclear deterrent in a context when rivals are improving theirs. Angela Merkel of Germany was careless enough to admit that what was sought by the NATO powers was the devaluation of India into a non-nuclear weapons state, a demand that was met by silence by an indulgent Sonia Gandhi and her Man Friday, Manmohan Singh
Should the Hyde Act be the template for the proposed agreements between India and the NSG and the IAEA, the country would pay a fatal price within decades. Around 2045, at most, known international supplies of uranium are calculated to fall sharply, to very low levels by 2055 at the latest. By that time, thanks to the agreement sought to be entered into by the Sonia team, the country would be saddled with several expensive foreign reactors, all of which would need substantial quantities of imported uranium, the price of which is rising even faster than that of oil. The cost of the reactors and fuel would place such a financial burden on the exchequer that it would not be possible to devote resources to the thorium programme, which as a consequence would slow down from the present crawl to a helpless stagger. With the death by slow strangulation of the three-stage thorium programme, India'shopes for nuclear-based energy independence would disappear. That successive governments in India have succumbed to outside pressure is clear from (a) the half-hearted way in which uranium exploration and exploitation has been carried out in India from 1992 onwards (b) the refusal of the authorities to source uranium from the (uranium-rich) countries that are outside the NSG and hence legally enabled to supply the mineral to India and (c) the refusal to re-process the huge and in the present form hazardous nuclear wastes from the Tarapur plant. There is no international or bilateral agreement whatsoever that prevents the re-processing of this toxifying material, except cowardice. With all their drawbacks, a reading of history makes it clear that both Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi could have found the confidence to go ahead with this essential measure. By refusing to permit re-processing of Tarapur fuel, successive governments are exposing millions of citizens to a health hazard, as well as denying them electricity through fuller use of the nuclear plants already operational
That Sonia and her team are even more susceptible to outside pressure than previous governments became clear with Manmohan Singh'srefusal to sign an agreement with Moscow for the supply of four new nuclear reactors, because of the fear that this would?understandably?cause anger in Washington and Paris, both of which are seeking to generate substantial profits through nuclear trade with India. Even at this late stage, the country can still be brought back from the brink of the disaster that the Hyde Act has in store for it, if the Sonia-led government insists on a just deal from the NSG and the IAEA. According to those aware of the needs of the Indian nuclear industry, the minimum conditions that agreements with the IAEA and the NSG have to meet are:
* The right for India to maintain a stockpile of fuel to be used in contingencies related to disruption of supplies. Otherwise, the country'sdevelopment will be hostage of foreign capitals for the indefinite future.
* The ratification by the IAEA and the NSG of the Separation Plan in a way that ensures that all facilities designated as military will not be subject to any inspection or outside control.
* In view of the fact that civilian reactors are to be placed under international safeguards in perpetuity, these should be given permanent assurances of fuel supply, whatever be the course of circumstances in the military programme.
* All India-built reactors, including the entire fast-breeder programme, should be outside the scope of international inspections, so as to prevent the dissemination of original research to other states.
Although it is a fact that some compromises were considered during the time when the NDA was in office, especially during the one-sided dialogues with the India-baiting Strobe Talbott, the fact remains that the Vajpayee government was prepared to make far fewer concessions than is the case with the Sonia brigade. Had the NDA been in office, for instance, it is hard to imagine that fully 14 reactors would have been offered up for international inspections and safeguards. The outer limit would probably have been 10. And there is no way that the present moratorium on testing of a nuclear weapon can continue, in case there comes up clear evidence that a rival has significantly upgraded its capacity to rain death on Indian citizens through a nuclear attack. Chaos and in other cases ambiguity in the dynamics of some nearby nuclear states may make testing mandatory, and in such an eventuality, the civilian reactors under international safeguards should not be forced to shut down because of the withdrawal of supply of fuel. Should the IAEA and the NSG follow the Hyde Act, India would destroy its strategic future by agreeing to the cage prepared for it by an international community that has sought to destroy India'snuclear industry for nearly four decades
That India and the US need to work together is a given. Both countries need each other, and a just partnership would unlock synergies that would be to the benefit of both peoples. However, this has to be on the basis of equality of advantage and sacrifice. Now that the CPI and the CPM have apparently decided to follow Beijing'slead in allowing the Bush-Singh nuclear pact to proceed towards fulfillment, the only recourse for nationalists is to make transparent the conditions under which they will agree to continue a deal. Should the US and other NATO countries recognise the centrality of India in their future security calculus, they would appreciate that the conditions mentioned above are reasonable, agreeing to which by the NSG and the IAEA can result in the nationalist community backing an India-US nuclear deal that is just and realistic.