Before we launch into the topic of the day ( and something that is taking my a considerable amount of my net bandwidth), let me state that the article I reference was published in The Hindu, authored by Prakash Karat. I stumbled across it however, while reading one of my favorite blogs – Recursive Hypocrisy. Reading this blog is a little like watching Bill Maher’s show on HBO – it picks on a number of esoteric serious topics and offers some of the most mature opinions laced in this very unique sardonic humor ( among other silly but equally funny posts). Now, only if I had that kind of sense of humor…but then….:)

So not to deviate from the intent of the post – the reason why I write this is because I have been getting a lot of emails about how I essentially am a Left Hater, some kind of American stooge (made immensely worse and almost non-defensible by the fact that I happen to reside in America) – so I decided, having stumbled on this article – to try and deconstruct some of the Left’s stance and see what they are really opposing – and by logical extension, is it right to intellectually debunk some of their 123 specific concerns. The original article can be found here.

Why the CPI(M) and the Left oppose the nuclear deal


Prakash Karat



The Left parties continue to accord priority to having a secular government and keeping the communal forces at bay. But this cannot be taken by the UPA government as licence to go ahead with a long-term agreement that has such serious implications for India’s independent foreign policy and sovereignty.


The Left parties have called upon the United Progressive Alliance government not to proceed further with the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. The bilateral agreement arrived at between the two governments in the end of July 2007 has resulted in a political crisis. At no time has an external agreement negotiated by the Indian government raised such a political storm as the nuclear cooperation deal with the United States. The last time there was strong opposition was during the negotiations for the Marrakesh treaty, which led to the setting up of the World Trade Organisation.

Without going into the complex and technical issues concerning civilian nuclear cooperation, it is necessary to take a wider look at the implications of the agreement. Is this only a nuclear cooperation deal or is it part of a wider agreement? If so, does it protect our capacity for an independent foreign policy and how will it affect our sovereignty? One can legitimately question whether India should partner the United States in the global democracy enterprise. “Regime change” and the implanting of democracy have yielded horrific results in Iraq.

Yes, regime change in Iraq has yielded horrible results. Mr. Karat talks about India being involved in what he calls ” a global democracy enterprise” as a result of the nuclear deal and immediately co-relates it to one specific example of Iraq – something that is widely debated in America internally as the worst foreign policy blunder – so to take that as an example and extend that to any deal’s perceived repercussion seems intellectually egregious. Also, note his language – he talks about ” protecting our independence in foreign policy and sovereignty” – and immediately launches into the “global democracy enterprise”- he might as well have said – “global war on terror” like Fox and CNN – just that he is a secular communist.

So logic? Deal = Lose Sovereignty = Support next Iraq war.

The nuclear cooperation deal is only one part of the wide-ranging alliance that the UPA government has forged with the United States. This was spelt out by the Indian Prime Minister and the American President in the joint statement in July 2005 in Washington. This agreement covers political, economic, military, and nuclear cooperation. This alliance entails not just nuclear cooperation but talks of the two countries promoting global democracy, revamping the Indian economy to facilitate large scale investment by the United States, and a strategic military collaboration.

The focus in the preceding paragraph is how progressively close we are getting with the United States. Lets deconstruct each area Karat mentions.

Political – because we share the same governance systems, economic – primarily because we need access to US companies and they need access to our markets, military because both the US and India essentially face the same primary threats and finally nuclear – but much has already been opined.

Prior to the joint statement of July 2005, the UPA government signed a ten-year Defence Framework Agreement with the United States. It is evident that without the defence agreement, the Americans would not have agreed to civilian nuclear cooperation. This seems part of a quid pro quo.

Evident? From where? It seems to me from the preceding statement that Karat wants to convince his readers that the US “agreed” to the 123 deal. It was a two year discussion Mr. Karat – and some very astute negotiations. Not as if India were begging and the American “agreed” -absolutely no deductive logic here.

Repeated assertions that India’s foreign policy will not be subject to external pressures have not evoked confidence after the Iran episode. Spokesmen for the Bush administration have often cited India’s attitude on Iran to be a test. Even before the nuclear cooperation agreement was finalised, the government responded by voting against Iran not once but twice in the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I agree with this. Not sure if I heard Bush officials “citing” – and I follow beltway politics very closely – and not just the India specific news – but I agree. India did vote against Iran.

My only point is India voted against Iran because it was in India’s long term strategic interest to secure the deal – rather than vote for Iran’s own Nuclear program. What would we rather have? India voting for Iran’s program at the expense of its own? At any rate, like I have always re-iterated, mature nations’ foreign policy is based on purely one imperative – its own interests. If China and Russia voted for Iran – it is because China and Russia are major nuclear equipment suppliers to Iran. India is not. Hence India voted against.

Again, my point is, Mr. Karat’s point is more based on ideology than pragmatism. And we saw in the last 50 years of India’s governance what ideologically driven policies can lead to.

The first serious conflict with the Left arose when the UPA government did a volte-face on the Iran nuclear issue. The government voted along with the U.S. and other Western countries in September 2005 and was not even prepared to go along with the position adopted by the bloc of Non-Aligned Movement countries.

The Left parties have been watching with disquiet the way the UPA government has gone about forging close strategic and military ties with the United States. The Left came out in strong opposition to the Defence Framework Agreement. According to this agreement, India is taking steps to interlock our armed forces with that of the United States in the name of “inter-operability.” The framework agreement is leading to various steps like the Logistics Support Agreement and the Maritime Cooperation Pact. The Left has been vehemently opposed to joint military exercises such as the one that took place in the Kalaikunda air base in West Bengal. These exercises were held despite the strong protests of the Left parties and the Left Front government of West Bengal. The years 2005 to 2007 have seen a sharp increase in joint exercises between the two armed forces. This is now being extended to the “quadrilateral” exercises as desired by the U.S. with Japan and Australia in the September naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal.

Valid logic for those who are principally opposed to any partnership with the United States.

My personal opinion is that given two realities faced by India – a partnership with the United States makes sense. Of course, that would mean, we would have to disregard the decades old distrust of the United States – and more importantly, would imply disregarding the United States’ rather dismal record of being fairweather friends – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran (Shah regime), Iraq ( Saddam Hussain against the Ayatollah, during the Iran-Iraq war) – are present a dismal picture of the US foreign policy record. On the other hand, India is not Pakistan, not Iran, not Iraq and not Afghanistan. The US has very entrenched economic interests with India which is growing by the day – and my belief is that the US, for its own capitalist interest and under corporate pressure, would not jeopardize a close relationship with India.

The two common interests are:

  • Islamic Terrorism: Too much has been said. Needs no elaboration. But the dangers are common – and frankly, it helps to have the only superpower on your side when one shares common borders with the likes of Pakistan and increasingly Bangladesh. Pure pragmatism.
  • China: Whether we like it or not, China is a hugely powerful country with increasingly global ambitions. Which in itself isnt a bad thing – apart from the fact that its close to being a police state – with a very unilateral vision of things that include close relationships with the likes of Sudan, Pakistan and a very questionable nuclear proliferation record through its partners like Pakistan. China is increasingly increasing its sphere of influence in Indo-China by building naval bases and India can very effectively counter that by a strategic partnership with Australia, Japan and the US without investing even more in its armed forces, which we can scarcely afford.

The United States has been going about stating the obvious strategic and commercial benefits that will accrue from the nuclear deal. Apart from the sale of nuclear reactors, the U.S. is mounting pressure on India for military contracts to purchase fighter planes, naval ships, radar, and artillery. Along with steadily increasing military and security collaboration with Israel, India will find itself entangled in U.S. strategic designs in Asia.

No basis for the argument – when the author says US is “progressively mounting pressure”. Proof? Also when he mentions “India will find itself entangled in US strategic designs in Asia”

Pure speculation. Israel is mentioned – note the increasing of scope of the argument from the pure nuclear deal.

Israel is another argument which has many dimensions. I am, by no means, a wholehearted supporter of Israel’s policies with respect to the Palestinian Arabs, but Israel has no place in this argument.

This is generic digression by the author, based on rigid ideological beliefs.

A major reason put forth being made for the nuclear cooperation agreement is that it will help India meet its energy needs. This ignores the very limited contribution that nuclear power makes to our overall energy generation, which is just 3 per cent and cannot exceed 7 per cent even if the ambitious plans for expansion are implemented by 2020. To make India’s foreign policy and strategic autonomy hostage to the potential benefits of nuclear energy does not make sense except for the American imperative to bind India to its strategic designs in Asia.

Actually, because the share of Nuclear power is 3 % – is precisely the reason why the deal is so important. About not exceeding 7% by 2020 – is cited without references and cannot be validated or disproved.

Energy however is a whole separate discussion – but suffice to say – we can either generate using coal or hydro-power – apart from nuclear. As any close observer of hydropower would know – setting up dams is an immensely controversial field based on the impacts that they have on local ecology. And even if we do – and we do have immense hydropower potential – it is a very long term strategy and cannot be operationalized in years.

And as everyone, save the coal lobby knows, coal is a very polluting way of producing power. There is some talk now of using “gassified coal” – which involves converting coal to coal gas and mining the gas and not the coal itself. Cleaner – but hugely more expensive to mine and transport – would require huge mining and infrastructure investments – again a long term proposition – if proven useful.

So options? The last statement of the preceding paragraph is too entirely judgmental to comment on.

Owing to the consistent pressure of the CPI(M) and the Left parties who had raised a number of questions regarding the draft legislation before the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the Prime Minister gave certain categorical assurances to Parliament on August 17, 2006. At that juncture, these assurances were in line with the concerns raised about protecting the country’s interests on the three-stage nuclear programme we have adopted.

However, the situation changed after the U.S. Congress adopted the final legislation to give a waiver for nuclear cooperation with India. This legislation known as the Hyde Act runs contrary to most of the assurances given by the Prime Minister in August 2006. The Act includes provisions imposing restrictions on transfer of technology and barring access to dual use technologies, thus denying India a full nuclear fuel cycle. The U.S. President has to report to the Congress every year on how India is complying with the provisions set out in the Hyde Act. The Act enjoins on the administration the prevention of fuel supplies and equipment from other countries to India if the U.S. terminates the bilateral agreement. The argument that the bilateral text overrides the clause cannot be accepted, as the text also states that “national laws” will prevail. To say that the Hyde Act is not binding to India is irrelevant. The point is that it is binding on the United States.

Agreed on all points. But the moot point is – that the treaty can – and I repeat, can, only be repealed if India conducts a nuclear test. But as I have been repeating for the longest time – Nuclear capable countries do not test anymore. The US, UK, France, China – none of them test nuclear weapons anymore. Israel and Japan have never tested – and both have nuclear capabilities.

North Korea, however tests. And if Iran could, possibly, Iran would as well. See the distinction?

Its a great slogan – the nuclear deal takes away our ability to test – only that no mature nuclear power tests nuclear weapons anymore. It is extremely important to recognize the distinction – its not as if we were planning to do something and it was taken away from us.

Outside the sphere of nuclear cooperation, the Hyde Act contains directions on India’s foreign policy and other security-related matters. There are nine references to India’s role having to be one of support and complicity with U.S. designs on Iran.

No point of reference. Cannot merit a response. I will re-read the Hyde Act and update

After the Hyde Act was adopted in December 2006, the CPI(M) stated that it contained provisions that were contrary to the assurances given by the Prime Minister to Parliament on August 17, 2006. The CPI(M) repeatedly asked the government not to proceed with the bilateral negotiations for the 123 agreement until this matter was cleared up. But the government did not heed this advice.

The United States is already moving for another round of sanctions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council. Indian companies have been warned not to export to Iran even non-lethal materials. The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will not proceed if this nuclear agreement is put in place, despite the government’s protestations to the contrary. It will be unwise and shortsighted for India to spoil its relations with Iran and other West Asian countries, given the vital role these countries play in fulfilling India’s energy needs.

One, The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline will run through Pakistan. A country that is barely even governable. And that line is our strategic energy? A line that runs through a country that possibly has the largest number of per capita Islamic fundamentalists?

Other West Asian countries? Is Karat delusional? This is a classical example of factually inaccurate and morally egregious argument. The largest reserves of oil in West Asia, indeed the world is in Saudi Arabia – which is the US’ closest ally in the Middle East – Incidentally, good relationships with the United States would give it a lot more leverage over the Saudis – a country that has a marked Islamic tilt in its relationships with Pakistan.

Among other oil producers, UAE has very close relationships with the US. Iraq is a mess. And will be for the conceivable future. Iran does not have enough oil drilling to produce enough for its own needs.

And even if the presumptions of the argument were true – is that to say – we would let our own strategic imperatives be secondary – so we can maintain good relations with another foreign country or a loosely aligned block – without any empirical evidence of how a bilateral deal with the US would “spoil” our relationships with the Arabs.

Dont the Saudis have a pro-Pakistan tilt? Dont we have relationships with them?

When the UPA government was being installed in 2004, a Common Minimum Programme was drafted. When the Left was consulted, we insisted on the deletion of a reference to “strategic relations with the United States.” There is no mention of strategic ties with the U.S. in the Common Minimum Programme. But soon after, the government proceeded with forging a wider strategic alliance with Washington.

Doctrinal argument. Does not merit a response.

The Left parties have, after carefully assessing the implications of the 123 agreement, demanded that the government should not proceed further to operationalise the agreement. The objections to the deal have been spelt out in detail in the statement issued by the Left parties. The Left is clear that going ahead with the agreement will bind India to the United States in a manner that will seriously impair an independent foreign policy and our strategic autonomy.

A wise and expedient step for the government will be to acknowledge that there is widespread opposition to the agreement. The question is not whether it should be put to vote in Parliament or not.

It is clear that a majority in Parliament is opposed to the agreement.


The best course would be for the government not to proceed further with the operationalising of the agreement. Till all the doubts are clarified and the implications of the Hyde Act evaluated, the government should not take the next steps with regard to negotiating the IAEA safeguards, which are to be in perpetuity, and proceed to get the guidelines from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

This sage and prescient advice from the party that in the late 80’s saw computers and automation would lead to massive joblessness and hence immediately thereafter banned computer education and office automation in West Bengal.

And yes, computers were labeled as a ” capitalist conspiracy”

The Left parties continue to accord priority to having a secular government and keeping the communal forces at bay. However, this cannot be taken as licence by the UPA government to go ahead with a long-term agreement that has such serious implications for India’s independent foreign policy and sovereignty.

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[Prakash Karat is general secretary of the CPI(M).]

The italicized comments are entirely mine.