People's Democracy

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


No. 28

July 20 , 2008


A Report on Anveshan Panel Discussion

Nuclear Deal And National Interest

Shouvik Chakraborty

IN the backdrop of the current developments with regard to the India-US nuclear deal, Anveshan, a Delhi-based forum organised a panel discussion on “Nuclear Deal and National Interest” on July 07, 2008 at the Muktadhara Auditorium, New Delhi. The panellists were Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Professor at the School of International Studies, JNU, Achin Vanaik, Professor of Political Science, Delhi University, Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies, Centre for Policy Research, B S Chimni, Professor of International Law, JNU and Prabir Purkayastha, Energy Analyst, Delhi Science Forum. Senior independent journalist and documentary filmmaker, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, moderated the discussion.

Initiating the discussion, Professor Chenoy explained the background of the India-US nuclear deal in detail. He robustly argued that it would be erroneous to view the deal in isolation. Rather it was part of a broader geo-political strategic alliance, some of the other elements of which are the India-US military agreement of June 2005 and the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative. Therefore, this deal is primarily to bring India into the US ambit. He refuted the argument often put forward by some government officials and ministers that the Hyde Act is independent of the 123 agreement, arguing that the Act lays down the conditions under which the 123 agreement can be operationalised. He also emphasised that, Manmohan Singh, who is now talking about the importance of nuclear energy, during his tenure as finance minister and now as prime minister under-funded the civilian nuclear programme in India. In his concluding remarks, Professor Chenoy alleged that both the print and the electronic media have been spreading confusion about this nuclear deal, whose only beneficiaries in India would be some big business houses.

Professor Achin Vanaik pointed out that there are three dimensions to this India-US nuclear deal - namely, the strategic-political alliance, the nuclear weapons dimension and the nuclear energy issue. He took the position that this deal is “bad” with respect to all these dimensions. According to him, the US has embarked on an imperial project of establishing its global domination, for which it needed to stitch together a whole set of regional alliances. India is sought as a partner for such a regional alliance due to its geo-political position. On the nuclear weapons dimension, he claimed that the US is the most irresponsible nuclear state in the world. He warned that a legitimisation of India as a nuclear weapon state might spark off a nuclear arms race in the rest of the Central and South Asia. He strongly attacked the Indian government for voting against Iran in the IAEA, since it was a well-known fact that Iran did not have any nuclear weapons. While discussing the issue of nuclear energy, Professor Vanaik made a strong case that given the major safety issues associated with nuclear power generation, some conditionalities must be placed in front of the government before there is any attempt to develop civilian nuclear energy in the country. These conditionalities should include the separation of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board from the Department of Atomic Energy, a proper jan sunwaiyi, legislations regarding transparency and accountability and proper emergency measures about evacuation.



Professor Brahma Chellaney argued that a large section of the Indian population, and even a section of the government, is still not aware of the intricacies of the deal and have not understood the long-term implications and legal obligations imposed on our country by this deal.  He stated that this deal is being pushed through not on the basis of parliamentary debate or informed national debate, but rather through media management. The media has become the vehicle to push this deal. He recalled that Manmohan Singh had promised in Washington itself and even in the Indian parliament in August 2006 and in 2007 that the nuclear deal can only be accepted after a broader political consensus is evolved. He said that Manmohan Singh had not only failed to build any such political consensus, he did not even take his own political allies into confidence. Rather he has opaquely decided to carry forward this deal on his own. Professor Chellaney was of the view that Manmohan Singh is showing an extreme rush to sign the deal only because no significant achievements were made during his tenure as prime minister. He also said that it is unlikely that the deal can be concluded within the term of the existing administrations in both countries. Thus, the urge for the deal is more about its symbolism than about any substance. He also agreed with Professor Chenoy that the India-US nuclear deal is a part of a broader strategic alliance with the US and that Manmohan Singh had under-funded the civil nuclear programme in India. He strongly argued that this deal would provide US tangible, strategic and commercial benefits vis-à-vis India.

Commenting on the legal aspects of the nuclear deal, Professor B S Chimni discussed the relationship between the Hyde Act and the 123 agreement. During his prefatory comments, he spelt out that the government had not undertaken sufficient consultations with legal experts about the legal complexities of the nuclear deal. Recollecting from the past experiences of the Uruguay Round negotiations, he argued that such attitude of the government had often led to situations where the country had to subsequently pay a heavy price. He further argued that even if one accepts the various interpretations of the relationship between the 123 agreement and the Hyde Act, on any occasion where the two nations have contradictory interpretations, it is the view of the super power, namely the United States, and its allies that would prevail. Professor Chimni took a clear position against the government's interpretation of the relationship between the Hyde Act and the 123 agreement. He made three points in this regard. Firstly he said that the Hyde Act is the parent legislation under whose authority the 123 agreement can be signed. Secondly, he quoted article 2.1 of the 123 agreement, which clearly states that the agreement will be implemented in accordance with the national laws of the US (which include the Hyde Act). Thirdly, he contrasted the US-China 123 agreement, where there is an explicit clause that the international law prevails over the internal laws of any nation, while the India-US 123 agreement does not contain this provision. Professor Chimni also warned that the US might attach further conditionalities with the 123 agreement in the coming days, and even then the government might argue that it is too late to withdraw from the negotiations. Agreeing completely with the previous speakers, he pointed out that the preamble of the 123 agreement speaks about strategic relations between the two nations. In his concluding remarks, he suggested that the Left parties need to give more concrete meaning to the term “imperialism” for an effective campaign.



Explaining the political context of the nuclear deal, Prabir Purkayastha argued that Manmohan Singh, backed by a large section of the media and corporate houses, has a bigger agenda to push forward. The bigger agenda was that of pushing forward the anti-people neoliberal economic policies and also other strategic policies on which there is an agreement between the UPA and the NDA, but to which the Left parties had been the principal impediment. He said that the US is interested in the deal not only because it wants to strengthen a strategic alliance with India, but also because it wants to sell military hardware to India. Since India is neither a signatory to the CTBT nor the NPT, the US domestic laws prevent the sale of military hardware to India. Therefore the effort is to bring India into the purview of the non-proliferation regime through the nuclear deal. Speaking on the issue of nuclear energy, Purkayastha criticised the previous governments at the centre for the power shortage in the country, since it was lack of public investment in that sector which was the root cause of the shortage. From the commercial point of view, too, he argued that nuclear energy is not a viable option for India. According to his estimates, the cost of producing nuclear energy is around Rs 16 crores per mega watt, whereas the cost of thermal power plants is Rs 4 crores per mega watt. He also reminded the audience that the US has breached an earlier agreement on fuel supplies to the Tarapur nuclear power plant by enacting new internal legislations after Pokhran-I. The US could very well repeat that in relation to the existing agreement, he warned. He strongly criticised the Indian government for not pursuing a foreign policy, which is against colonialism and in favour of national liberation movements and non-alignment.

The panelists' comments were followed by a lively question answer session, which witnessed discussion on the various aspects of the India-US nuclear deal. While summing up the discussion, chairperson Paranjoy Guha Thakurta emphasised on the need of organising more such discussions to create awareness among the common people.