People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 33

August 13, 2006



Why Avoid Sense of Parliament?


Prakash Karat


THE Indo-US nuclear agreement has been at the centre of a major controversy. Serious problems have arisen in the manner in which the nuclear cooperation deal is sought to be implemented. From the time of the July 18, 2005 nuclear cooperation agreement and the first statement made by the prime minister to parliament on July 29, the course of negotiations have resulted in the United States seeking to change the terms and conditions contained in the joint statement. These warning signals became more explicit when the US Congress took up for consideration the bill to amend the US Atomic Energy Act to exempt certain provisions to facilitate the Indo-US nuclear agreement. Two versions of the bill processed through the committees of the US Senate and the House of Representatives have added on various unacceptable conditions and reframed important provisions of the original agreement.


The House of Representatives adopted the draft bill (HR 5682) which is exactly the same as what was approved in the House Committee. The US Senate is supposed to take up its version of the bill in September.


The statements of policy contained in the bill are highly objectionable as they seek to bind India not only on nuclear issues but broader foreign policy goals. It requires the United States to secure India’s full participation with the United States so as to “dissuade, isolate and if necessary sanction and contain Iran.” It also requires the United States to secure India’s active participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) which contravenes international laws. 




Taken along with the Senate version of the bill, there are a number of points of departure from the July 18 framework agreement. They concern the full civilian nuclear cooperation, the nature of the additional protocol to be signed with the IAEA, the sequence of the additional protocol coming after the US adopts the agreement into law, the guarantee of fuel supply from the Nuclear Suppliers Group countries in case the United States backs out from its commitments and India’s stand on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. 


It is not necessary here to go into the specific details of these issues and how the goalposts have been shifted compared to the original July 18 agreement. They have been adequately covered in innumerable articles appearing in these columns and other media.


What should concern us is the way the issue is being dealt with by the UPA government and the role of parliament in this regard. 


On July 22, before the UPA-Left coordination committee meeting, the Left parties met and decided that the nuclear deal must be raised in parliament and it is necessary for parliament to express its opinion on the matter. In the coordination committee meeting, it was agreed that there would be no voting resolution on the matter. The Left parties however insisted that there has to be a discussion and a statement which would express the sense of parliament.


After the meting, on behalf of the Left parties it was announced that “the sense of parliament should be expressed so that the parameters on which the agreement can proceed can be spelt out”. 


Subsequently, the government has been adamant in refusing to accept any proposal which would lead to the sense of parliament being expressed. Either, through a statement by the prime minister on which a discussion can take place, or, by the reply of the prime minister following a discussion in parliament. The key question is whether the statement would respond to the developments which have taken place since the prime minister’s first statement in parliament on July 29, 2005. The issues which have arisen from the bills being pursued through the US Congress and the reports of the negotiations so far have thrown up doubts in seven areas. The sense of the House through a statement of the prime minister should reflect India’s stand on these issues based on the prime minister’s own exposition in parliament on what the July 18 agreement stood for. The points that need to be addressed are given in the accompanying box.


So far the government has not gone beyond making a general statement on the floor of both Houses in answer to questions. They are confined to assuring the House that there would be no going beyond the parameters of the July joint statement and an assurance that there will be no compromise on the issue which will affect our nuclear technology development. 


This does not serve the purpose of parliament’s views being expressed in a situation where the US Congress has deliberately moved to rewrite and reframe the terms of the agreement. 




The CPI(M) is of the firm view that the Indo-US nuclear agreement is being utilised to serve the purpose of the United States harnessing India as an ally in its wider strategic interests in South Asia and the international plane. Condoleezza Rice has stated that the nuclear deal is a “strategic achievement”.


The UPA government seems oblivious of the wider purpose behind the Bush administration’s push for the nuclear cooperation agreement. More disturbingly, there is evidence of how the Manmohan Singh government has begun to adjust our foreign policy to the strategic partnership.


The volte face undertaken on the Iran nuclear issue in the International Atomic Energy Agency was the first major instance. On the eve of the passage of the House of Representatives Bill, the Bush administration issued a formal statement in support of the legislation. In that, it is stated “India has agreed to support international efforts to limit the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies including to states such as Iran.” Has the Manmohan Singh government decided that Iran has no right to reprocessing technologies being a member of the NPT? There is no refutation of this statement by the government. 


On the contrary, India is acquiescing with the USA on measures against Iran. Recently the US imposed sanctions on two Indian private companies on the charge that they are passing on technology to Iran which can be used for developing “weapons of mass destruction or missile systems”. The two Indian companies are Balaji Amines and Prachi Poly Products. The Balaji Amines has stated that they supplied only three products that are used for making life-saving antibiotics. According to the Commercial Director of Balaji Amines, the Indian government had as early as December 2005 verbally conveyed to the company that they should stop exporting to Iran. It is only after the Asian Age, on August 6, carried the news of how these two companies have been unjustly targeted and the exposure that the Hyderabad based company had already been asked not to export to Iran that a belated statement has been issued by the ministry of external affairs on August 7 stating that the sanctions are unjustified.


The efforts to obfuscate the issue by stating that the conditions set out in the US legislation are “non-binding” have also been exposed. The policy statements, in the legislation passed in the House of Representatives are to be pursued and annually reviewed through Presidential certification. There is ample proof and experience on how the so-called non-binding clauses in US legislations are sought to be implemented. The Jackson-Vanick amendment passed by the US Congress in the early 70s when the Soviet Union existed concerned restrictions on Jews emigrating to Israel. The amendment prohibited sale of hi-technology to the Soviet Union as long as Jews could not freely emigrate. That amendment still remains in force – twenty years later, even after the Soviet Union ceased to exist and Jews have freely left the country. So the clauses added on as amendments to the US legislation should not be brushed aside as “non-binding” clauses.




The argument that we should wait for the “final product” to emerge from the US Congress before discussion in parliament also does not hold water. Step by step, the goalposts are being shifted and India will find itself boxed in, if corrective steps are not taken at every stage. For instance, how the negotiations on the IAEA protocol should proceed will depend on the understanding of the sequencing of the steps in the agreement. The reality is parliament will have no effective say on the agreement if most of the major decisions become a fait accompli. Everyone knows parliament in India has no powers for ratifying international treaties and agreements.


What the people of India would like to know is why the UPA government is unwilling to have the nuclear bill discussed in parliament so that a common viewpoint emerges which can be the sense of parliament. When the US Congress can discuss legislations which vitally affects India’s security and foreign policy interests, what is the purpose behind not agreeing to such an intervention by parliament.


Certain circles in the government and the Congress leadership have sought to project the demand for arriving at a sense of parliament as the lining up of the CPI(M) with the BJP. This is being raised only to sidetrack the vital issue. The Indo-US nuclear agreement can have far-reaching implications. We have seen how the BJP-led government between 1998 and 2004 made major changes in our foreign policy and security matters without taking parliament or the people into confidence. The nuclear agreement has aspects of India signing up on treaties “in perpetuity” and this should be seen as a national issue. Every effort should be made to work out a common stand through parliament. If the nuclear deal, as the UPA government claims, is in national interests, surely, parliament can weigh the issues involved and convey its opinion. This would be the natural way by which the government can fortify its position in working out an agreement on such a crucial national question.