Feeling betrayed

Published : Aug 01, 2008 00:00 IST

Left party leaders D. Raja and A.B. Bardhan of the CPI, Prakash Karat of the CPI(M) and Debabrata Biswas of the Forward Bloc release a book on the Left stand on the nuclear deal, in New Delhi on July 10.-R.V. MOORTHY Left party leaders D. Raja and A.B. Bardhan of the CPI, Prakash Karat of the CPI(M) and Debabrata Biswas of the Forward Bloc release a book on the Left stand on the nuclear deal, in New Delhi on July 10.

Left party leaders D. Raja and A.B. Bardhan of the CPI, Prakash Karat of the CPI(M) and Debabrata Biswas of the Forward Bloc release a book on the Left stand on the nuclear deal, in New Delhi on July 10.-R.V. MOORTHY Left party leaders D. Raja and A.B. Bardhan of the CPI, Prakash Karat of the CPI(M) and Debabrata Biswas of the Forward Bloc release a book on the Left stand on the nuclear deal, in New Delhi on July 10.

The Left parties feel cheated by the governments conduct over the deal and by the extent to which it deviated from the CMP.

THE July 9 decision of the Left parties to withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was precipitated by the unilateral and obdurate insistence of the Congress-led coalition to go ahead with the India-U.S. nuclear deal. The draft text of the safeguards agreement between the Indian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) being kept a secret from the Left parties and the coalition partners of the Congress proved to be the clinching factor.

The sense of betrayal ran deep among the Left parties even as a meeting of the UPA-Left committee on the nuclear deal was scheduled for July 10. The breaking point came before that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared in Japan, where he was attending the G8 meeting, that the government would be going to the IAEA Board of Governors very soon.

Subsequently, the Left parties decided to launch an all-out attack on the UPA governments policies, which, they are convinced, have harmed the common man immeasurably and contributed to strengthening the hands of communal forces. The campaign will be launched in Delhi by the four Left parties and taken to all the States. We cannot be party to a government which is so callous that it wants to fulfil its priorities to President George Bush rather than to its people, said Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The Left had maintained all along that once the IAEA Board of Governors approved the text of the safeguards agreement, the Indian government could do little but sit and watch the United States take the next major step, which was that of moving the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries for a waiver and then placing the 123 Agreement before the U.S. Congress. Therefore, it is critical for the country that the IAEA safeguards agreement is discussed with full transparency and not kept secret, read a joint statement of the Left parties.

The Left parties, who have stressed that the deal was inimical to Indias vital interests and compromised the countrys sovereignty, felt cheated not only by the manner in which the government conducted itself over the deal but also because it had deviated drastically from the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) that had been agreed upon four years ago.

The government refused to take serious cognisance of any of the concerns raised by the Left parties, particularly those relating to the demand for universalisation of the public distribution system, control of the double-digit inflation, ending of forward trading in essential commodities, reduction of tax on petroleum products and the imposition of taxes on private refineries.

The sense of shock among the Left parties was because of the utter lack of transparency shown by the Congress in the entire exercise, which eventually led to the withdrawal of support on July 9. The UPA-Left committee, constituted after the Left parties expressed strong reservations on the 123 Agreement signed in July 2007, was not taken into confidence for the past few months. In fact, in the seventh and eighth meetings of the committee, the Left parties were told that the text of the safeguards agreement was a classified document. Who has declared this as a classified document, the UPA or George Bush? Karat asked at a press conference.

On July 8, the Left parties wrote to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the convener of the UPA-Left committee, reminding him of the decision taken on November 16, 2007, that the government will proceed with the talks and the outcome will be presented to the committee for its consideration before it finalises its findings. They said that the outcome of the talks, that is, the text of the safeguards agreement negotiated with the IAEA Secretariat, had not been made available to the committee and that minus the text the committee could not come to any conclusions.

Their decision to sever ties with the UPA was vindicated on July 10, a day after they withdrew support, when it was learnt from a press release accessed on the Internet, and not from the government, that the IAEA had circulated to the members of its Board of Governors the draft of an agreement with the Indian government for the application of safeguards to civilian nuclear facilities.

This was after Pranab Mukherjee clearly indicated on July 8 that the government would send the safeguards agreement to the IAEA Board only after it won the trust vote in Parliament. He also indicated that he had consulted the Prime Minister, who was away in Japan.

Addressing mediapersons in New Delhi, along with leaders of the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Forward Bloc (FB), Prakash Karat said it was a shocking betrayal of commitment to the people and the country. The Prime Minister owed an answer to the people and the country, read the joint statement of the Left parties. A.B. Bardhan, general secretary of the CPI, noted that Pranab Mukherjees position had become untenable in the context of the latest developments.

The UPA-Left committee met nine times between September 2007 and June 2008. Throughout this period, the Left parties maintained that the nuclear cooperation agreement could not be seen in isolation from the overall strategic tie-up with the U.S. We raised substantive issues on the nuclear deal and submitted six notes to the government. The UPA responded with five notes, Karat told newspersons.

A publication brought out jointly by the Left parties explains their stand with details of the correspondence exchanged in the committee and makes clear that at every step the Left raised substantive issues. The Left documents, says the introductory part of the publication, show how the 123 Agreement does not ensure full civilian nuclear cooperation or provide for guaranteed fuel supply assurances or lift the technology denial regime.

In the committees meeting on November 16, 2007, it was decided that the government would go to the IAEA Secretariat for negotiations on the draft of a safeguards agreement. The exact words read: The government will proceed with the talks and the outcome will be presented to the committee for its consideration before it finalises its findings. The findings of the committee will be taken into account before the operationalisation of the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

At the committees seventh meeting, in March 2008, the outcome of the talks was reported to the Left parties but the text of the safeguards agreement was withheld; instead a brief note was given to the Left and then taken back. Thereafter, the Left parties submitted two more notes asking for details and clarifications. The government did not feel the need to respond to these notes.

The Left parties held that the committee needed to study the draft text of the safeguards agreement as the experience of the 123 Agreement had shown that the governments claims made before the negotiations were not borne out by the text.

What were the major issues? The first one related to the possibility of the U.S terminating civilian nuclear cooperation with India for any reason in the future (it happened once before when the U.S. suspended nuclear fuel supplies to the Tarapur Atomic Power Station in 1983, reneging upon a 30-year-old contract signed in 1963); secondly, the 123 Agreement claims that the U.S. would join India in negotiating with the IAEA an India-specific fuel supply agreement it was known for some time and pointed out earlier as well and borne out by the text of the safeguards agreement that the IAEA had nothing to do with fuel supply but only with the imposition of safeguards on nuclear equipment and material.

The Left parties raised other concerns as well: One, in case the U.S. or other countries in the NSG reneged on fuel supply assurances for imported reactors, would India have the ability to withdraw the reactors from IAEA safeguards? Two, if they reneged on fuel supply assurances, would India be able to withdraw its indigenous civilian reactors from IAEA safeguards? Three, if India had to bring nuclear fuel from the non-safeguarded part of its nuclear programme for these reactors in case the fuel supply assurances were not being fulfilled, would it have the ability to take it back again? Four, what were the corrective steps that India could take if the fuel supplies were interrupted by the U.S./NSG countries? And lastly, what conditions would India have to fulfil if the corrective steps were to be put into operation?

The Left parties received no reply to these queries. D. Raja, national secretary of the CPI and a Rajya Sabha member, said the Left parties had not precipitated the current crisis. He said the Left had been feeling for some time that the time had come to review the performance of the government.

The immediate issue is the nuclear deal, but we are going to also expose the mismanagement of the entire economy by the Congress government, he said.

He said the support of the Left to the UPA had been on two factors: one, it wanted to keep communal forces at bay, and two, it wanted the UPA to confine its policies to the CMP. As for the first, it was entirely owing to the policies of the Congress that communal forces had come into power in some States and secondly, the Congress had deviated from the CMP in every possible manner. The Left parties, he said, would now go to the people with issues like inflation, the agrarian crisis and the nuclear deal.

Abani Roy, Central Committee member of the RSP and a Rajya Sabha member, concurred that the Congress had drifted away from the CMP and said that was one major reason why the Left could not continue supporting it. He said that instead of implementing the CMP in the areas of health, education or employment, the government was going ahead with something that was not even a part of the CMP.

Brinda Karat, Rajya Sabha member and Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M), said the Left parties were not against individuals in the UPA but were against the policies and the policy direction of the government, which indicated a very clear right-wing shift in every sense of the word. As long as the Left was supporting the government, we were able to prevent it from introducing several pieces of anti-people legislation and measures. The government is now going to show its true face on economic reforms, she said.

The Left supported the UPA because of its commitment to fight back communal forces, to protect and strengthen Indias secular heritage, to defend peoples unity and the rights of the minorities, which had got severely eroded in the NDA regime. We feel that by going ahead with this nuclear deal, which is intrinsically linked with the governments neoliberal framework, will only strengthen communal forces, she said.

Clearly, the Left support to the UPA government emerged out of its concern against the policies of Shining India, pursued by the previous government. That was also one reason why it insisted on a CMP, which it felt would be in the interests of the majority in the country.

The Left is clearly going to chart its own course; whether or not the nuclear deal becomes an election issue is irrelevant. But the Left has successfully driven home the point that the country has a right to know what it is getting itself into. It has triggered a process of questions and answers and in the next few weeks the Congress will have a lot of answering to do.

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