Today's Paper

Signing 123 Agreement amounts to accepting American hegemony opinion

M.P. Veerendra Kumar

If the 123 Agreement is not bound by the overarching Hyde Act, then what else is its purpose?

“At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom...” Thus spoke Nehru at midnight on August 14, 1947. Sixty-one years later, as India slept in the wee hours of July 9, 2008, the Congress-led government bartered away our sovereignty in the Japanese scenic town of Tôyako. On the sidelines of the G-8 summit, the repudiation of the Nehruvian principles of foreign policy found its culmination before the American President George Bush, with the brokering of the nuclear deal.

Legacy traduced

The legacy of the Congress party, which under the helmsmanship of the Mahatma delivered us from British colonial enterprise, stands traduced. Earlier, Dr. Manmohan Sigh confessed, at Oxford, to an admiration of certain aspects of colonial subjugation all of which “we still value and cherish,” and which were the result of India’s meeting the “dominant empire of the day.” Here it is pertinent to remember the recent observation of Nicholas Burns, the former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, that had Nehru been alive, such an agreement would have been inconceivable.

The ‘123 Agreement,’ so-called because it will amend Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954, (titled “Cooperation With Other Nations”), which establishes a basis for cooperation as a prerequisite for nuclear agreements between the U.S. and any other country, aims at translating the India-U.S. nuclear deal into reality. The implication of the Hyde Act, signed into legislation by President Bush on Dec. 18, 2006, on the 123 Agreement has not been acknowledged by our government. If the 123 Agreement is not bound by the overarching Hyde Act, then what else is its purpose?

The Act envisages India formulating “a foreign policy that is congruent to that of the U.S., and is working with the U.S. on key foreign policy initiatives related to non-proliferation.” In addition, the U.S. President is required to annually report to Congress whether India is fully and actively participating in U.S. and international efforts to dissuade, isolate, and if necessary sanction and contain Iran if it pursues indigenous efforts to develop nuclear capabilities. These stipulations in the Act constitute an intrusion into our independent decision-making and policy matters.

Threat to sovereignty

Certain clauses even threaten our national sovereignty. Article 14 grants the U.S. a unilateral right to require the return by the other party of any nuclear material, equipment, non-nuclear material of components transferred under this agreement, and any fissionable materials produced through their use. The “right of return” mentions “the removal from the territory or from the control of the other Party” (Article 14.5) of this equipment and materials rather than their return. Have we publicly debated enough the nuance of this wording, which can even be interpreted as sanctioning military intervention?

The Prime Minister’s assurance that the IAEA safeguards agreement would be “India-specific,” and that we would secure assurances of uninterrupted fuel supply, and the rights to build a “strategic fuel reserve” and take “corrective measures” in case of an interruption in supplies, has also been challenged. The agreement circulated among the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency does not feature these in the main text. It occurs only in the preamble, which does not have any legal force.

Moreover, the body of the text is quite similar to the wording of the standard safeguards agreement the IAEA signs with non-nuclear weapons states. This has invited informed criticism that it fails to defend India’s strategic autonomy as a de facto nuclear weapons state, as Dr. Singh promised. The nature of the ‘corrective measures’ is also unknown. There is no explicit guarantee of uninterrupted fuel supplies — a role the IAEA cannot fulfil as it is not a fuel supplier — and is the preserve of the NSG. In the current international scenario, both these bodies are amenable to American influence. That such doubts have been raised by nuclear scientists of proven integrity like Dr. P.K. Iyengar, Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, and Dr. A.N. Prasad calls into question the claims of the government.

Beyond these diplomatic and technical affairs, to those who value democracy the most disquieting aspect is the entry of crony capitalism into the hallowed portals of our Parliament. The government’s efforts to cobble together a simple majority to win the vote of confidence are tainted by brazen pandering to the demands of corporate interests. Invariably the agenda of corporates will be in conflict with the aspirations of the masses that have elected us. If instead of reverberating to public issues, were Parliament to be turned into an arena for the promotion of the mega-business agenda, it would be a betrayal of the ideals of the martyrs of our freedom struggle as well as of the sagacious framers of our Constitution.

Reckless zeal

It amazes the nation that the Prime Minister and his party should exhibit such reckless zeal in pursuing the 123 Agreement in the realm of foreign policy, superseding domestic dal-roti issues, to the point of staking the very survival of the government on a single throw of the nuclear dice. What could be the motivation behind taking into confidence America and not our own people and their elected representatives? On the contrary, can the sincerity and patriotism of those who suspect the government and its supporters of misleading the nation be doubted? Especially in the context of various organs of the government talking in different tongues, betraying a blatant lack of transparency. Here we have to pay tribute to our vigilant media that shamed the government into putting on their website the IAEA safeguards agreement, which till then was misleadingly termed as “classified.”

Reneged on CMP

Such shenanigans in keeping in the dark even allies led to the disintegration of the UPA. Through sundering its covenant with the Left, in its unseemly haste to pitch our tent in the American camp, the Congress has reneged on one significant aspect of the National Common Minimum Programme evolved in 2004. It was eloquent in the matter of this government striving to build a multi-polar world order. Signing this agreement amounts to accepting American hegemony in the ‘unipolar moment.’

An issue that calls for debate is the very rationale of nuclear power, which is costly. Hence, we need to review nuclear power as an energy option. After devoting a substantial portion of energy allocation to the nuclear sector, a measly 3 per cent of our needs is met by this sector. Moreover, worldwide it has been proved to be a discredited mode of energy generation, given the health-risks, environment damage, potential for hazards, and waste disposal problems associated with the industry. We should not allow our country to be turned into a dump of nuclear waste.

A possible scenario could be the emergence in another 10 years of technology to unlock energy from frozen methane, which can last for tens of thousands of years. Wind power, solar power, and tidal energy are other cleaner forms of power that should be encouraged.

We should conscientiously resolve to look at this vote not as an expedient means to tide over a temporary crisis, but as one that will have a bearing on our future generations, who will be yoked to the neo-imperialist design. Our billion-plus population expects us to be led by the spirit of non-alignment in this respect. Our rage at this indecent burial should reflect their anger.

My appeal to fellow parliamentarians is that when the final hour of democratic reckoning comes, we should stand tall and summon the courage to forsake narrow political differences. The House of the People should not be degraded into a mere reporting body to ratify agreements of such epochal import. As B.P. Jeevan Reddy, former Supreme Court judge, wrote in this newspaper on August 10, 2007: “There is no such thing as a ‘prerogative power’ of the executive, immune from parliamentary scrutiny.” Were it not so tragic, we could have appreciated the delicious irony that the Hyde Act mandates that the American Congress should be in 30 days of continuous session to consider the agreement, while here we dismiss it through voting on a one-line motion debated over just two days!

(M.P. Veerendra Kumar, Member of the Lok Sabha, is the Leader of the Janata Dal (S) Parliamentary Party.)

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