Sunday, September 2, 2007

Interview with Kapil Sibal, Prakash Karat and Yashwant Sinha

‘Their opposition is ridiculous’


Interview with Kapil Sibal, Union Minister.


Kapil Sibal, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology.

UNION Minister of State for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal rubbishes the Left parties’ opposition to the India-United States nuclear deal as “politically motivated”. According to him, there are no real reasons for the Left parties to oppose the deal as all their concerns, which they had voiced in the course of the past one year, had been accommodated in the final draft. “Now that the draft is out in the open, they are once again raising a hue and cry. First it was an objection to the text, but once the text has been amended to incorporate their concerns, they have an objection to the context. Their opposition to the deal is ridiculous,” says Sibal.

Excerpts from an interview:

The Left parties’ objection to the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal has been well known. Why then was it that they were not taken into confidence during the course of the negotiations, especially in view of the fact that the government is dependent on their support for survival?

It is wrong to say that the Left parties were not taken into confidence. They had been kept in the loop all through the year when the negotiations were progressing. The Prime Minister himself took care that all their concerns were entirely met in the final draft.

Our negotiators actually went out of their way to force the U.S. to address the concerns they had voiced in the beginning. I can confidently claim that all their concerns have been met entirely in the final draft.

In that case, why do you think the Left parties are objecting now?

Let the Left parties answer this question. They are in a better position to do so. But to us it seems that their motives are entirely political. It is no longer the nuclear deal alone now; they are now playing their own brand of a larger political game. Shockingly, while we went out of our way to meet their concerns, they have entirely changed their position now.

Initially their objection was about the text of the deal. Now, when we have ensured that the text accommodates all their concerns, they are objecting to the context of the deal. This is not fair. Their opposition to the deal is ridiculous. Let them point out even a single line from the text of the 123 deal that they are objecting to. They have none. They are talking about other things now. Now they have brought in the Hyde Act, they are talking of joint Indo-U.S. defence exercises and such other things, which are not part of the 123 treaty.

But is it not true that the gains for India are not as huge as those for the U.S.? That once this treaty is made operational India would be under pressure from the U.S. to support its larger strategic planning across the world? That India’s independent foreign policy would be tilting heavily in favour of the U.S., undermining its political sovereignty?

We have already seen an example of this last year when India was forced to vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency and at that time, the negotiations for the deal were progressing.

These are all hypothetical ghosts of a fear generated by the Left parties’ inherited opposition to a partnership with America and are no longer valid in the present-day political scenario. It is nothing but their traditional anti-America policy that is taking centre stage now. It is not true to say that India does not gain as much from the treaty as America. Our gains would be tremendous.

Besides things like getting access to the most modern technology and equipment in not only the energy sector but in various other related sectors, the biggest advantage for us would be to break free of the suffocating restrictions that were so far imposed on our peaceful nuclear programme. If nothing else, the gains in the energy sector alone would be huge. This will catapult India’s growth rate to unimaginable heights. And imagine, all this along with our nuclear weapons programme not being impacted in any way.

For years we have been trying to get recognition as a nuclear power and now that we have got it, the Left parties are upset. The gains to the U.S. also are immense as India is the largest market available to them and it is more trustworthy than anybody else because its political credibility is impeccable, its democratic credentials are unblemished and its economic growth is more stable and reliable. It is a partnership of mutual benefit to both India and the U.S. and that is what the Left parties are not liking. Their anti-America feeling has taken hold of them.

But is it not true that we gain merely a 4 per cent increase in energy generation? Nuclear power contributes 3 per cent of the total energy generation, and by 2020, if all projections regarding nuclear power go well, it will go up to only 7 per cent of our total energy generation. Why go in for such a long-range strategic alliance with the U.S. for this petty energy gain when it can be substituted by other sources of power generation, and also why make our strategic autonomy a hostage to the U.S.?

Even if the contribution to nuclear power generation is not all that huge, there are other massive advantages which we have listed out time and again. As for the strategic alliance with the U.S., what’s wrong in that? Isn’t China doing it? U.S. investment in China is much more than it is in India, their joint defence exercises are even more than what the U.S. has with India at present. Has all that made China subservient to the U.S.? How can anyone in his right senses accuse us of compromising our political sovereignty or strategic autonomy?

There are innumerable instances from the past to prove our credentials. Did we not stand up to the U.S. in 1971, when Bangladesh was created? Did we not stand up to the U.S. when we first tested the nuclear bomb in 1974? Have we lost our political sovereignty by participating in the WTO [World Trade Organisation] talks? Our prime motive in reaching this treaty is the national interest and there is nothing in the treaty to suggest even remotely otherwise.

But is it not true that India has not been granted the full nuclear cycle and that there is no reprocessing right available to us? We don’t have the right to reprocess spent fuel. Is it not true that the U.S. can prevent other countries too from supplying fuel and equipment to us if India goes in for another nuclear test and the U.S. terminates the treaty? Is it also not true that the Hyde Act envisages India to play the role of a supporter and accomplice to U.S. designs on Iran and elsewhere and that we will be forced to do so because of the strategic alliance?

These are false misgivings. We have been granted the full nuclear cycle, including the reprocessing right, which even China does not have. We have the guarantee of assured fuel supply for the lifetime of our reactors, which even China does not have in their treaty. The only technology, which we do not have at present, is for the production of heavy water, but the treaty allows the U.S. President to go back to Congress for an approval.

Moreover, there is a non-hindrance clause in the treaty, which specifically bars the U.S. from hindering our other nuclear programmes, including the military programme, where the material is sourced from elsewhere. In the unlikely or extreme event of termination of the treaty, we have a one-year notice period and we also have the right to get compensation, which is not available to China. What else or what more should we demand? Even if we decide to test a nuclear bomb, for which there is no need anymore, the U.S. cannot terminate the treaty just like that because it will have to prove that there was no change in the security scenario, which will be very difficult for them to do.

This is a historic opportunity for us and we should grab it with both hands, because we will never have such an opportunity again.

But if the treaty is actually so good for us, why did the Prime Minister not try to convince the Left partners? Why did he have to give such a provocative statement, which has fuelled this political crisis now?

I cannot comment on what the Prime Minister has said, but the Left, let me assure you, has provoked him enough to make him react like this. Besides, what is there to convince them about? Their objection has nothing to do with the 123 treaty now, it is about other things, about their historic anti-America stand. It is their politics which has now overtaken the 123.

What would you like to tell the Left parties so that the crisis could be eased a bit?

Only one thing – that we are long-standing partners and as secular parties we need to be together because the future lies in cooperation, not collision.

Do you think the government would fall on this issue?

No way. I’m sure the Left parties will come around after the debate in Parliament. In fact, I fail to understand why the Left had to precipitate the issue like this when a debate in Parliament was lying ahead. They should have waited at least for the debate.


Also read the Interview with Prakash Karat, CPI(M)

"The deal should not be seen in isolation"


Interview with CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat.

PRAKASH KARAT, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is viewed as the man standing in the way of the UPA government’s strategic embrace of the United States. Karat has articulated the Left parties’ opposition to the 123 Agreement. With the Congress, particularly Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, not in a mood to reconsider or even delay the operationalising of the agreement, a serious political crisis that can even lead to midterm elections is unfolding. Karat says that the crisis can only be resolved satisfactorily if the UPA government desists from operationalising the deal.

Excerpts from an interview:

Does the CPI(M) still insist that the government should not start talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the nuclear deal?

The Left parties have made it clear that the government should not proceed further with the nuclear agreement. The next step for the government is to go to the IAEA for the nuclear safeguards agreement. There are large-scale objections, and when Parliament debates the issue it will becomes clear that the majority is opposed to the agreement. The right thing for the government to do will be to keep the agreement on hold. We are asking them not to proceed with the safeguards agreement. Only after this will they be able to go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The issue is that the negotiations should not take place now.

Why is the Left so opposed to the nuclear deal? How convincing are the government’s arguments that the deal will radically transform the energy scenario in the country?

The nuclear deal should not be seen in isolation. It should be viewed as part of the strategic alliance being forged with the U.S. There is the defence agreement. There are the shifts in foreign policy that have taken place since then. The nuclear agreement was announced in 2005 and there is the increasing adjustment of our economic policy to implement the blueprint for American capital in India. As for the argument that the nuclear deal is essential for our energy security, I feel that this view is exaggerated. The government has not come up with any techno-economic survey which can tell us about the cost-benefits of nuclear power. By 2020 we hope to produce 20,000 MW of nuclear power. This will be only 7 per cent of our total energy production. The nuclear agreement with the U.S. is too big a prize to pay. We will be under constant pressure to fall into line with U.S. strategic designs.

The Left had reacted strongly against the military exercises involving Indian, U.S., Australian and Japanese warships to be held in September.

Since they are being held in the Bay of Bengal, we are going to conduct two jathas, which will converge on Visakhapatnam, where we have our naval base. This is not just an Indo-U.S. naval exercise. This is part of the Quadrilateral exercises. The U.S. wants India to join this group.

The Japanese Prime Minister, during his recent visit to India, virtually called for the creation of an Asian NATO.

It is part of the American plan to induct India into the security and military pacts, which include Japan and Australia in the East and Israel in West Asia. More steps are being taken to strengthen the military collaboration. In the pipeline is the logistics support agreement which will allow the U.S. to use our bases.

There are accusations that the Left is trying to sabotage the deal at the behest of China.

Anyone who knows the history of the CPI(M) will know that we have carved out an independent policy. But our party maintains that it is important for India and China to have good relations and cooperation. On the nuclear issue, suppose China supports India’s nuclear deal in the NSG, we would still be opposed to India’s nuclear agreement with the U.S.

How serious is the BJP in its opposition to the nuclear deal?

It was during the six-year rule of the BJP-led NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government that the talks for the nuclear adjustment began. Ever since the Pokhran tests, the Vajpayee government was secretly seeking an accommodation with Washington in the unequal nuclear global order. From there began the descent to become a subordinate ally of the U.S. Our position on the nuclear agreement is not the same [as that of the BJP]. One of our important critiques is that through this agreement we are giving the go-by to our long-standing commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Is there any mechanism being set up to defuse the political crisis precipitated by the Indo-U.S. deal?

We are prepared to consider any mechanism to deal with the objections on the agreement, particularly on the implications of the Hyde Act and the Bilateral Agreement. Such a mechanism or a committee should be set up subject to the government not proceeding with the next step in operationalising the agreement. What is the point of having a committee to discuss matters if the government proceeds with the agreement and makes it a fait accompli.

What are you predicting? A long winter or an early spring?

It is up to the Congress leadership and the government. If the crisis is not resolved, they will have to explain to the people why there has been a breakdown because of the commitment to the United States. This is not acceptable to the majority in Parliament.

Will it be for the first time that a government has collapsed on a foreign policy issue?

I can’t predict what is going to happen in the future. But we must all hope that reason will prevail.

The Congress is saying that the CPI(M) is trying to scuttle the nuclear deal at the eleventh hour.

It is true that the Prime Minster gave assurances to Parliament in August 2006 on the nine points raised by us. But that was before the Hyde Act was adopted in December 2006. Our stand has been that India should not proceed with bilateral negotiations on the 123 Agreement without their amending the provisions of the Hyde Act which adversely affect us.


Also read the Interview with BJP leader Yashwant Sinha

"Intellectual dishonesty of the highest order"


Interview with BJP leader Yashwant Sinha.


Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha.

FORMER External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha has consistently raised his voice against the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, though many of his party colleagues have refused to share his view on the issue. Sinha’s familiarity with international issues on account of his long experience as a career diplomat imparted an extra dimension to his interventions on the issue in the debates in Parliament and outside.

Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

As the principal Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party has raised its voice against the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. However, there is an impression in political circles that large sections in the party leadership are not keen on opposing the deal.

There is a misunderstanding or misconception, which has been deliberately spread by the government, that the BJP, when it was in power, was about to cut a similar nuclear deal with the United States. This is absolutely incorrect. We never made any proposal to the U.S. for separation of civil and military nuclear set-ups, we never made a proposal to the U.S. about concluding a safeguards agreement with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. So, the deal as we see it today is entirely the handiwork of the United Progressive Alliance government.

We have nothing to do with this theme. We were discussing a partnership with the U.S., which included civilian nuclear cooperation, but this was confined to regulatory oversight. It did not mean what it has come to mean today.

What are the points that the BJP finds objectionable in the present deal?

We started opposing the deal not after the Hyde Act, not after the 123 Agreement, not after the separation plan was brought about, but immediately after the July 18, 2005, agreement, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finalised the contours of this deal with President [George W.] Bush. In the first debate in Parliament after the 2005 agreement, my party colleague Sushma Swaraj stated that this was a blunder committed by the Prime Minister. Our basic contention then was that the interpretation of the deal by the Americans and us were diametrically opposite. For the Americans the whole purpose of the deal was to bring India within the framework of the nuclear non-proliferation network. But we were told by our government that it was for energy. This difference in approach has persisted and it got more heightened during the formulation of the separation plan in March 2006 and now with the Hyde Act. And we were the first party to point out, after the 123 Agreement was finalised, that it was not in the national interest.

The government claim is that the final agreement is in keeping with the assurances given by the Prime Minister in Parliament.

When the Prime Minister concluded his August 17, 2006, reply in the Rajya Sabha, CPI(M) [Communist Party of India-Marxist] leader Sitaram Yechury said that this represented the sense of the House. Even then, I had got up and pointed out that this did not. For, Manmohan Singh had not covered all the issues that the BJP had raised. During that debate, even the Prime Minister had expressed concerns about two prescriptive provisions of the U.S. Congress. At that time, he had also asked us to hold our patience and wait for the final product of the U.S. legislative process. That final product came in the form of the Hyde Act, which contained the worst provisions of the prescriptive conditions that were before the U.S. Congress. The Government of India welcomed the Hyde Act and is now saying it does not apply to us and that it is a U.S. problem. Throughout this series of events, one can see that the government was constantly coming up with postponing tactics and alibis. But now, after the 123 Agreement is finalised, it has no more alibis and has taken recourse to the argument that it is cast in stone, it is frozen and that it cannot be renegotiated. This is intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

But there is the view, even among sizable sections of the diplomatic community, that India cannot go back on the deal now. That it is not renegotiable and that the government would lose face.

Of course, the government would lose face. It should not have let itself reach this kind of a situation. It should have gone about this business in a more mature and transparent way. Having said that, it should also be pointed out that there are no technical factors or matters of principle that deter the government from renegotiating the deal. This is still work in progress. We still have to go to the IAEA for the safeguards, we still have to go the NSG [Nuclear Suppliers Group] and then the U.S. government has to go back to the U.S. Congress for final approval.

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. Congress had at every stage examined the deal and added its conditionalities to it whereas the Indian Parliament was kept completely in the dark about the negotiation process. Admitted that our Constitution does not have mandatory provisions with regard to parliamentary ratification of international treaties, but that does not mean that Parliament has no role to play in important international deals.

But sections of the government maintain that the BJP, as the principal Opposition party, was in the know of the consultation process. There have been reports that the BJP leadership has even commended the Indian negotiators of the nuclear deal for having done a good job.

All these are untruths and misperceptions spread by the government to hide its own culpability. See, I have with me here statements after statements of Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressing his dissonance to the deal, clearly and unambiguously. And these statements date back to July 2005, when the deal was first being formalised. Now, who is the higher authority in the party? Vajpayee, as former Prime Minister and our statesman in foreign affairs, or somebody else? Look at the parliamentary debates on the issue, and again, we have put forth our opposition strongly. And to say, after all this, that we had been briefed and that we had commended the negotiators is undiluted untruth.

A related argument is that the BJP had started talks with U.S. on nuclear energy cooperation and that the UPA was only taking it forward.

One should not lose sight of the fact that the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also asserted, through the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, that India would maintain its autonomy as far as strategic matters are concerned. It was a bold expression of India’s strategic autonomy, in the face of the opposition of some of the most powerful nations of the world, including the U.S. We want that strategic autonomy to remain unaffected. We also believe in the theory of credible minimum deterrent. What should be the credibility of that deterrent is a decision that only the government of the day can make. It cannot be fixed in advance. And more importantly, it cannot be decided for us by an external power. This also means that if we need to test to improve our nuclear arsenal, we should be allowed to do so. We cannot raise the bar to such a level that we give up nuclear testing altogether.

How is the BJP planning to advance its opposition to the treaty, in political and organisational terms?

We will continue with the present strategy. We will oppose the deal inside and outside Parliament. But we are in the Opposition and the government does not depend on us for survival. So, they can disregard what we are saying. But they can’t disregard the Left parties.

It remains to be seen how this tussle between the government and the Left develops and whether it leads to a total breakdown of relationship. Our point is that this government was dysfunctional right from its inception, and now with the Left’s animated opposition it has become paralysed. It is in a minority in Parliament on this issue. The sooner it goes, the better it would be for the interests of the country.

But the dominant feeling in the BJP seems to be one against facing a mid-term poll.

Political parties are always in a state of preparedness for elections all the time. There is some election or the other taking place most of the time. And, the BJP is a much more organised party than others. Hence, we are ready and, in fact, better prepared for midterm polls.


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