By now thousands of words must have been written on the 123 Agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), The Nuclear Supply Group (NSG), the obnoxious Hyde Act and the desperate attempts made by the US government and the US Military-Industrial Complex to persuade India to formalise the Agreement.
So powerful is?and in the past has been?the Military Industrial Complex that US President Dwight Eiseinhower had once felt necessary to warn his own people against its dominating influence. That such a figure as a former US President who once had led the Allied Forces to victory in the Second World War should have felt it necessary to caution fellow Americans against the abiding power of the Complex should have been an object lesson to his successors in the White House.
But when it comes to reality, the US Government is not above twisting an arm of a foreign government to get its way. And this is so evident in the matter of the 123 Agreement. Washington wants India to sign it?or else. If India believes it can bypass the US and make nuclear deals with, say, France, it will have to face the consequences. This was made clear on February 29 by the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, at a press conference in Washington.
Amid reports that New Delhi might abandon the US deal to engage in civil nuclear trade with other nations, Burns warned India in no uncertain terms that that would not be possible because the US is ?the leading country? in the Nuclear Supply Group and that the NSG cannot make a separate deal with India without US consent. In other words, if India wants to follow an independent nuclear policy, it will have to reckon with American'sdispleasure. Unfortunately India has no national figure of a stature that can stand up to Washington. True, even under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, India had to pay a heavy price for sponsoring Non-Alignment. Under the current Indian leader ship the US feels it can get its own way, sooner or later, preferably sooner. India'sweakness shows.
The trouble is that the Indian Government presently seems as if it is run by babus, the present-day know-alls. No member of the Indian Foreign Service would have dared to dismiss the media as ?headless chicken? with a Nehru or even an Indira Gandhi as the helm of affairs. The individual would have been promptly pulled up. It must have been under the influence of such diplomats that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh must have been persuaded to support the 123 Agreement. In such matters Indian public opinion hardly seems to count. It would be silly even to think of holding a national referendum on this issue considering how few really are qualified to hold an opinion on so complex a subject. So, in the end, it is a few that ultimately manage to push an agreement through, whatever its consequences. That has always been standard practice and so it will be for all times, unless it be that the Constitution rules that for an agreement to be formalised, it has to be ratified by Parliament.
The reason why the 123 Agreement has become so controversial is that the authorities, for reasons known only to them?and this is a presumption?failed to discuss its contents with, not only its own allies in government but with Opposition parties as well. Not that the Left parties would have been more cooperative. The Congress Party should have known this , going from the CPM's past record. At least the BJP could have been consulted. To the best of one'sknowledge, the UPA Government did not take the BJP into its confidence and is only now seeking Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee'sbenediction.
In the second place, the Prime Minister or some one of high stature could have conducted behind -the-scene talks with editors and media people to sound out their reaction to the Agreement and if possible try to get their understanding it not support. There is such a thing as efficient Public Relations and in this regard the UPA Government failed miserably. Can one attribute this to the thinking in the minds of bureaucrats and their we-know-best attitude towards anything under the sun?
In a democracy, the cooperation of the media is of great help. Whatever may be the shortcomings of the media to treat it as of no consequence is poor judgement. That apart, today'seditorial offices are manned by men of exceptional talent with profound reading habits whose inputs could make a great deal of difference in the acceptability of ideas and concepts. To treat the media casually is self-defeating. But who can tell that to a smug bureaucracy? One wonders whether the Prime Minster discussed the subtleties of the 123 Agreement even with his own party colleagues in the Cabinet. Perhaps no one in office had any premonition of how the 123 Agreement would be received beyond the immediate circle of sycophants.
The result is there for all to see. India may have come to some understanding with International Atomic Energy Agency which is Delhi-specific and acceptable to the United States. The public is largely in the dark. Secrecy shrouds all India?IAEA talks. What cannot, however, be hidden is that India is at the mercy of Washington and there is no point trying to hide it. Meanwhile desperate efforts are being made by government sources to convince the country that signing the 123 Agreement is highly beneficial to it and to their joy there are enough ?intellectuals? willing to argue their case. One can be sure that with the UPA government continuing to stay in power till the end of the year the chances are great that the 123 Agreement will be signed, sealed and delivered according to Washington'swishes.
The Unique Selling Point (USP) is that it is going to be a win-win situation. One supposes that to some extent India will benefit. There is nothing more profitable than subservience to a Super Power. All that we have to give up is Self-Respect. Everything else follows. Yes, the 123 Agreement is not without its positive side. But somewhere down the line, we won'tbe able to look at ourselves in the mirror without hanging our heads in shame. And it is a point worth remembering. The ?ayes? will win, but in the long run it is the country that will have to pay. And who knows, by then the UPA government may be out of power.
(The writer is a highly respected columnist, author and former editor of Illustrated Weekly and chairman, Prasar Bharati Board.)