Amidst uproar in parliament, PM defends nuke deal


New Delhi : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday stoutly defended the India-US civilian nuclear deal amidst an uproar in parliament, even as the Left parties that support his government walked out in protest, saying his statement did not satisfy them.

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Vociferous slogan shouting by opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Samajwadi Party members did not deter the prime minister from soldiering on with his 28-minute statement in the Lok Sabha, assuring the house the pact was a “good deal for India and the world” that will provide the country much-needed energy security without compromising on its strategic autonomy or independent foreign policy.

However, when the noisy scenes and a walkout by the opposition and the Left parties continued in the Rajya Sabha as well, it led to Manmohan Singh stopping in mid stride and laying the statement on the table of the house as Chairman Hamid Ansari, on his first day in office, adjourned the session for the day.

What was notable about Monday’s proceedings was that the Left was relatively quiet after two days of verbal sparring with the prime minister over the nuclear deal, their walkout from the two houses notwithstanding.

Both houses of parliament will now debate Manmohan Singh’s statement on Tuesday and Thursday.

In a robust defence of the deal, the prime minister, in his suo moto statement, stressed that the 123 bilateral pact “does not in any way affect India’s right to undertake future nuclear tests” and provides New Delhi rights to reprocess used nuclear fuel. It also provides permanent fuel supplies for nuclear reactors New Delhi plans to put under international safeguards.

Allaying apprehensions of the opposition and critics of the pact, Manmohan Singh said the 123 pact did not require regular American certification and did not affect either India’s military nuclear programme or its indigenous three-stage nuclear programme.

“I had given parliament my assurance that the government will make every effort so that the vision of the joint statements of July 2005 and March 2006 becomes a living reality. I believe that we have redeemed that pledge,” Manmohan Singh maintained.

“The agreement does not in any way affect India’s right to undertake future nuclear tests, if it is necessary in India’s national interest,” stressed Manmohan Singh, while alluding to apprehensions expressed by a section of the opposition that the 123 pact, which is silent on the issue of testing, deprives India of its sovereign right to do so.

“Let me hence reiterate once again that a decision to undertake a future nuclear test would be our sovereign decision, one that rests solely with the government,” the prime minister said.

“There is nothing in the agreement that would tie the hands of a future government or legally constrain its options to protect India’s security and defence needs.”

The 123 agreement, however, acknowledges the US’ right of return of nuclear material and fuel sold to India in case of termination of nuclear cooperation with India. It provides for a consideration of the circumstances, including a change of security environment, before taking the extreme step.

“If I might sum up, this agreement does not in any way inhibit, restrict or curtail our strategic autonomy or capabilities. Our rights to pursue our three-stage nuclear power programme remain undiluted,” Manmohan Singh emphasised while reacting to the BJP’s criticism that the 123 pact robs India of its strategic autonomy.

In the Lok Sabha, Samajwadi Party and BJP MPs advanced to the speaker’s podium and kept chanting slogans till the end of the prime minister’s address, terming the nuclear deal a US “trick” and a fraud on the people.

The slogans exhorted the government to scrap the pact and warned against becoming “stooges of America”. The din made it nearly impossible to hear exactly what the prime minister was saying.

The protests had forced two adjournments of the house in the morning and they continued even after Manmohan Singh concluded his address. Speaker Somnath Chatterjee then adjourned the house for the third time – till Tuesday morning.

Stressing that India’s nuclear weapon programme was outside the purview of the 123 pact, Manmohan Singh said: “In concluding this agreement, we have ensured that the autonomy of our strategic programme is fully maintained, and that Dr. Homi Bhabha’s long-term vision remains our guiding principle.”

In an oblique reference to the objections of the Left parties that have expressed fears that the deal may dent India’s independent foreign policy, the prime minister said: “Thus, there is no question that we will ever compromise, in any manner, our independent foreign policy. We shall retain our strategic autonomy.

“Let me end by saying that we have achieved an agreement that is good for India, and good for the world.”

Underlining that the specifics of the accord had fulfilled all assurances made by him to parliament on several occasions over the last two years, he said the deal has ensured uninterrupted fuel supplies for the lifetime of safeguarded nuclear reactors by providing for development of a strategic fuel reserve and granted India the “permanent right” to reprocess spent fuel.

Saying that New Delhi negotiated this deal as “an equal partner” with Washington, the prime minister also stressed that the India-US nuclear agreement was one “between two states possessing advanced nuclear technologies, both parties having the same benefits and advantages”.

The Rajya Sabha adjourned within minutes of meeting around 4 p.m. for Manmohan Singh’s statement.

As the house met, opposition MPs led by the BJP, and the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), as well as the Left members were on their feet, protesting the nuclear deal.

Leader of Opposition Jaswant Singh too rose to speak but Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Suresh Pachauri immediately objected, saying the agenda covered only the prime minister’s statement.

As Manmohan Singh started reading his statement unmindful of the sloganeering, the entire opposition and the Left staged a walkout.

At this, the prime minister turned to Ansari and said: “Since the house doesn’t allow me to make the statement, I place it on the table of the house.”

Ansari immediately adjourned the house for the day.