With vision and statesmanship


With vision and statesmanship
By H.K. Dua

In a world full of cynics, sceptics and petty politicians, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush chose to be statesmen, looking ahead to building a new relationship between India and the United States meant for the 21st century.

They had begun their search for the new relationship in Washington last July when they signed an agreement on nuclear energy cooperation which when fully implemented ensures India the supply of fuel and technology for its present and future nuclear reactors without compromising India’s strategic nuclear deterrent. The July 18 agreement, indeed, had far-reaching implications for both India and the United States and evoked varied reactions.

Dr Manmohan Singh faced criticism from the Left and the Samajwadis that he was giving away too much to the Americans losing the independence India had sought to exercise in its foreign policy in the past, as also autonomy of its nuclear weapons programme. On the other hand, President Bush was accused by non-proliferation fundamentalists at home of letting India get away with its self-acquired status of a nuclear-weapon state, free from international constraints.

The statement they signed at Hyderabad House on Thursday morning tackles the fears both in India and the United States and shows how vision and statesmanship at the highest level of leadership can evolve a new relationship between the two countries – one, a super power, and the other, an emerging power and silence critics of all hues.

The joint statement stipulates that India will get both fuel and technology for its present and future nuclear power reactors. The much-talked about differences over the plans to separate civilian and military nuclear facilities have been sorted out to the satisfaction of Indian negotiators.

Only 14 of the 22 Indian reactors will be placed on the civilian list and the remaining eight on the military list. Which facilities will be used for civilian purposes and which for military will be decided by India and none else.

Even for the 14 civilian list reactors, a set of India-specific safeguards will be negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is because India is not a signatory to the NPT but has developed its own nuclear weapons programme. The Fast Breeder Reactor, which has lately been in the headlines, will not be subjected to international inspection.

In effect, the Manmohan Singh-George Bush agreement means that India can access nuclear fuel and technology without diluting its existing nuclear deterrent or its right to develop more nuclear weapons by using its eight military facilities. It can set up more nuclear power reactors, both civilian and military.

This provision, when explained to Parliament, should help Dr Manmohan Singh set at rest the lingering doubts of the Left and the sundry Samajwadis who have been going overboard in their criticism of the government’s approach and emerging policy.

The scientists who thought that their years of labour to develop an independent nuclear programme was coming to nought because of the July 18 agreement should now feel assured that their fears were misplaced and that Indian negotiators have after all worked out a deal which is in wider Indian interest and in a way implies acceptance of India as a nuclear-weapon state.

The scene will now shift to Washington. India certainly hopes that President Bush will be able to push the nuclear deal through the Congress. He must have done his sums right, before leaving for India.