Interview with Prakash Karat, CPI(M) general secretary.
PRAKASH KARAT, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in an exclusive interview to Frontline, minced no words in stating that the Congress leadership had gone back on its word and the understanding that was evolved in November last year when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government went for discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretariat.
In the interview, wherein he addressed not only the political dimensions of the stand-off between the UPA and the Left but also the technical aspects of the discussions in the joint consultative committee, Karat held that the going back on a commonly taken decision had practically created the context for the parting of ways between the two sides. Excerpts:
The background of the discussions on the India-U.S. nuclear deal in the coordination committee of the UPA and the Left parties led by the CPI(M) is well known. The discussions have been continuing for many months at various levels, addressing several inter-related issues. There is a general impression that the talks collapsed decisively at the June 25 meeting. How would you analyse the situation after the meeting?
A new situation had developed in the run-up to the June 25 UPA-Left meeting when the UPA-Congress leadership informed us that they would like to go ahead with the text of the IAEA safeguards [agreement] for the approval of the Board of Governors of the IAEA. This was in total violation of the decision of the committee in November last year.
The decision then was that the government would go to the IAEA Secretariat, negotiate the text without signing it or taking the approval of the Board of Governors on it, and bring it back for the consideration of the UPA-Left coordination committee. The committee was to take into account the text to arrive at a final finding. There was also the understanding that till that finding was made the government would not proceed. Now, the Congress leadership wanted to bypass that understanding. We said we cannot agree to that.
So, the situation developed before the [June] 25th meeting. In fact, the meeting was originally scheduled for June 18 and it was postponed because we refused to accept the new proposal. In the period between [June] 18 and 25 the Congress-UPA leadership was trying to give us various compromise formulas but all of them involved going to the IAEA Board for approval of the safeguards text and afterwards doing something about it. This was not acceptable to us because the understanding was that the government would not go to the IAEA Board without the concurrence of the UPA-Left committee.
The leaderships of the Congress and the UPA have gone back on the word they had given and the understanding that was evolved in November last year.
There are indications that the government is planning to go ahead with the deal and is, in that process, taking the safeguards [agreement] text to the Board of Governors of the IAEA. If that happens, what would be the concrete reaction of the Left?
We have spelt out that very clearly. If they go ahead we will break with this government on this issue. We said right after the 123 Agreement was signed that we do not accept this deal and that the government should not go ahead and operationalise it. Subsequently, in December last year, both Houses of Parliament discussed the deal and a majority in both Houses said, do not go ahead with the deal.
For a government that is a coalition minority government, and which is dependent on the support of the Left parties, which cannot get a majority in Parliament on this deal, the only correct and honest thing would have been to say, we believe that the deal is good for the country but since we cannot carry our own Parliament or the supporters of our coalition government we are not going forward.
But, unfortunately, the adamant attitude of the Prime Minister that he should fulfil the commitment made to [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush is responsible for this crisis. This is a non-political approach that harms the Congress and the UPA in the current situation when they face an extremely serious problem of raging inflation.
There was a perception that the November 2007 agreement on allowing the government to go to the IAEA Secretariat for negotiations was a face-saving device of the Prime Minister that would allow him to have an honourable exit from the deal...
We thought, at that point, that the government had realised that they cannot carry the Left or all the other political parties outside the UPA on this issue and therefore there was a realisation to put this on the back burner and not proceed with it the way they had planned. But that does not seem to be true.
Were there any specific terms of reference set out for the UPA-Left committee?
When the committee was constituted [in September 2007] it was only going into the impact of the Hyde Act on the 123 Agreement [and] on our foreign policy and security affairs. In November 2007, after its sixth meeting, the committee decided to include a discussion of the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement on the India-specific IAEA safeguards agreement that was to be negotiated. It was agreed that the government will hold talks with the IAEA and the outcome will be presented to the committee. The findings of the committee will be taken into account before operationalising the agreement.
At some point the committee is supposed to have been presented a summary of the text of the safeguards agreement
Summary means they gave the salient features of the agreement
Did it indicate what kinds of fuel supply assurances have been obtained or what kind of corrective measures are being envisaged?
Nothing. It was all very vague. It said article such and such provides for corrective measures; under such and such we have got this done. But what these articles are we do not know because the committee has not seen the text. So we have not been able to come to any opinion or conclusions about the safeguards agreement because we have not even been shown the text.
As you mentioned, besides the safeguards agreement, the earlier agenda of the committee was the set of issues concerning foreign policy, national security and the emerging strategic alliance with the U.S. What was the outcome of the committees deliberations on these matters?
Up to November, in the six meetings that we held, I think we exchanged five sets of notes. We gave a note initially spelling out our view on the provisions of the Hyde Act; what do they imply for the 123 Agreement and the overall nuclear cooperation. I think we had covered this ground in quite a lot of detail and the government also responded.
It was actually like this: we would give a note and they would respond to that. We would then give a rejoinder and they would again respond to that. So the first area was full civilian nuclear cooperation. This is what the Prime Minister promised in Parliament in August [2006 and 2007]. What does this full civilian nuclear cooperation mean and have we got this in this 123 Agreement? We pointed out that the Hyde Act makes it clear that we cannot get it; whether it is access to technology for reprocessing or enrichment.
The second is the whole question about energy security; what is the projection that the government has? How much nuclear power can meet our energy requirements, etc. The third was, of course, the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement provisions regarding fuel supply. What happens when there is disruption of fuel supply? There is no assurance of guaranteed fuel supply for the light [water] type of nuclear reactors again promised initially by the Prime Minister. And the provisions for the right of return of equipment, etc. If there is a breakdown, does the one-year period of notice and discussions allow for arbitration?
We had compared all other 123 agreements. We went into all aspects of the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement. That took us three months. The governments position was that the 123 Agreement as it has been now drafted and adopted has taken into account all those provisions of the Hyde Act which were contrary to the earlier framework set out by the joint statement of 2005. And the 123 Agreement has overcome the problems of fuel supply assurances, full civil nuclear cooperation, etc.
Then, the foreign policy issue. We pointed out that the Hyde Act has set a certain direction to the U.S. administration to see that India comes on board on certain of their key foreign policy interests, Iran being the most important. We then linked it to the subsequent Indian behaviour on the IAEA Board of Governors. Similarly, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), etc.
In the civilian nuclear cooperation discussions in the U.S. Congress, the U.S. administration made a big pitch saying that this was not only about nuclear commerce but also about stakes in defence acquisitions. So foreign policy, security-related matters, getting into defence cooperation with the U.S. after all, the defence framework agreement preceded the India-U.S. joint statement on civilian nuclear cooperation. The Americans are more interested in the larger strategic tie-up, and nuclear cooperation is one way to cement this. So, all [the things] that would come as a result of the defence framework agreement are also areas that we covered.
You mentioned the defence framework agreement. That has already begun in various forms, including joint military exercises. Whether or not the nuclear deal goes through, this will still be operational and so would be the other agreements that have been entered into after the joint statement. What would be the partys position on these other agreements that are being implemented or being shaped?
I think that putting a halt to the nuclear deal will have an impact on the overall strategic cooperation alliance. The defence cooperation agreement sets out a number of things that would be done, but [they have] not yet been done. The Logistics Support Agreement is being finalised by the Indian government. There are interconnections in all these. If we had signed the nuclear deal, the defence cooperation agreement and other areas of strategic cooperation would have got a big boost and fillip.
That is why we are looking at this strategic alliance as having three aspects: one is military, the second is nuclear and the third is strategic economic cooperation (which was firmed up during Bushs visit). We have to carry on our struggle on all three fronts. So if you make progress in one front, it helps the other fronts. Of course, [halting the nuclear deal] wont stop those completely. But we are definitely looking at the totality of the strategic relationship that is being sought to be developed.
So, from your perspective, what exactly should constitute the findings of the committee?
We have not entered into that exercise yet. In fact, it was we who suggested before this meeting that after this there was no point in further interminable discussions. We know our positions; we have got all the material, we have studied it, we have analysed it. Let us start the business of arriving at the conclusions. So, if the government decides not to go to the [IAEA] Board now and enter this exercise, we would be glad to do it also. Let us see. I am not sure whether we can have common findings or conclusions on everything. But since we have done a lot of work I think that we will be able to come up with our idea of what should be the set of findings. Let them come up with theirs, and then we will see whether we can meet or match or reconcile and say finally that we have common findings or we have different sets of findings. That process can begin. It all depends on whether the government decides to go ahead with the Board approval.
You must have entered into this committee with some kind of expectations. Are you satisfied with the outcome?
We went into this committee precisely because we did not want to have a break with the government just on the nuclear issue in August last. This was more a political process rather than a technical one. We felt that in the process we would be able to convince the government and the UPA that it was not worthwhile to proceed with this deal.
Between August and December we succeeded in rallying the entire political spectrum, except for the UPA, which came around to the view that we should not go ahead with the deal. So, for us it was more of a political mechanism to put out our case and rally support and to get the government to agree that the apprehensions and reservations about this deal are genuine and widespread. I think we have succeeded in that though we spent a lot of time on that, but we have been able to generate a debate on this in the country; in the media, in the scientific community, and in intellectual circles. We have disseminated a lot. Now a lot of people know what the Hyde Act means. We have been able to achieve that in the last six months.
There were signals from the Congress as well as from certain partners of the UPA that midterm polls were not good for the government. Their point also was to go slow on the deal and save the government. Where do the advocates of this view stand now?
I think there is a widespread feeling within the Congress as well as among other UPA constituents that they should not rush into elections when the country is facing such a serious price rise and inflation. I do not know what still motivates the Prime Minister and the Congress leadership to push ahead with the deal and precipitate a fall of the government or at least a situation where early elections would have to be held.