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Intellectual dishonesty of the highest order

Print edition : Sep 07, 2007 T+T-
Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha.-V. SUDERSHAN

Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha.-V. SUDERSHAN

Interview with BJP leader 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. Sinhas 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 Indias 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 cant 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 Lefts 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.