National Affairs

The People Are The Ultimate Masters

DR. MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM argues that the nuclear deal with the US is against the vital interests of India, and the people’s actual needs are not addressed by it.

The war hero and founding president of the United States, George Washington, had warned his successors not to take any country as a permanent friend or enemy. The status of a friend or enemy was a shifting category decided purely by national interest.

What the US founding president told his successors is applicable to Indian leaders as well. National interest has to be the first consideration in international agreements. The Indo-US nuclear deal may not pass muster when this principle is applied to it.

Ironically, under intense pressure of the same United States our own Union government wants to stick tenaciously to the nuclear deal that has been hurriedly signed, without taking the people into confidence. According to an intelligent guess if the deal is put to the test in Parliament today, it is sure to be rejected by a decisive two-third majority.

It is not only the Left that would oppose it, but the extreme right BJP too has shown serious doubt about it in the past. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP, Mayawati’s BSP, Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and even some in the UPA would try to bury it quickly. DMK and other regional parties would not like to be seen dead with it.

The point is, if the people and their representatives in parliament do not trust it, how would the government keep it alive, and yet call itself democratic. As of now, nobody is sure whether the deal is on or off. Democracy being a government of the people, by the people, and for the people signing an international accord without their clear consent is a contradiction in terms. The people were never allowed a say on a crucial issue like this.

The ruling coalition has got caught in a cleft stick. It cannot dare to come out with the truth of the status of the deal. That somehow shows it in poor light. After all good governance does not mean hiding behind ambiguities, but firmly sticking to commitments and coming clean on them.

The nuclear deal, as per the American reading of the text, gave them a greater leverage than the Indian reading of the same text. For instance, over a period of time America (according to its reading of the agreement) would be able to demand a more invasive inspection of Indian nuclear installations, including those installations not covered by the agreement. If that was not dilution of sovereignty, nobody could say what else it was.

The bottomline is that even after ten years of the installation of the US-aided nuclear project it would be meeting only seven percent of our energy demands. So, what is the point? As per, the latest statement of US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, India, by dint of its nuclear partnership with the United States, is naturally expected to condemn Iran for its nuclear policies.

Also, there is a faint hint of the “India Shining” philosophy behind the arguments of the pro-deal groups in the country. It has been conceived by a largely urban elite for whom everything looks bright, cheery and colourful. This is the class that has taken the lion’s share of the benefits accruing from globalisation. This class is callously indifferent to issues like continuing farmers’ suicides all over India, persistent starvation deaths in tribal areas and severe economic deprivation of large chunks of society in even urban India.

That is why when these people talk in India-Shining terms they are bound to offend the deprived classes, which means 80 percent of the country’s population. According to the World Bank’s measures people earning a dollar or less a day are reckoned to be living below the poverty line. In India, 80 percent people are still living on a dollar or less a day. For this silent majority basic, immediate needs are far more important than nuclear cooperation with the United States.

As is evident from the above, the deal is part of US foreign policy objectives, which we as an independent, democratic nation are not obliged to fulfill. It is to satisfy the urge for prestige of a small urban-based Indian elite rather the actual needs of the masses. Its advocates peddle the idea that by tying ourselves to the apron strings of the mighty Uncle Sam we would bask in reflected glory. That, sadly, is not the case, as Iran and Iraq, which were close to the US in the post-World War II years, discover today.

We have been the leaders of the entire post-colonial world for half a century just because of our independent, pro-Third World policies. By aligning ourselves closely to the militarist stance of the Bush Administration (one of the most unpopular regimes at home and abroad) we would be losing credibility with the entire Afro-Asian and Latin American world.

India stands to gain little out of this sneaky, ambiguous deal. By avoiding a straight answer to the questions the government is not gaining much. The sooner the ambiguity ends the better for all of us. The people of India would not be amused, and a conscious electorate would surely make its annoyance felt at the time of polls.g

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