Vajpayee targets nuclear task force, slams US’ Hyde Act


New Delhi : Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee Friday charged that the government's decision to set up a task force on non-proliferation was aimed at "bringing India's policies in conformity with the Hyde Act" passed by the US Congress and which would impact upon New Delhi's freedom to conduct a nuclear test.

Support TwoCircles

Vajpayee also stressed that the government should not conclude any bilateral agreement with the US "unless parliament has had a chance to discuss it thoroughly in order to ensure that it conforms to the assurances" given to parliament by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year.

"The ostensible purposes for which task force has been set up and its timing arouse apprehensions that it would be used to change our long-held policies on these issues so that they conform to the Hyde Act which is to govern the Indo-US nuclear deal," the senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader said in a statement.

The statement was released to the media by BJP leaders Yeshwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.

"The setting up of this task force at this juncture is nothing more than a thinly veiled move towards reversing our nuclear related policies with a view to bringing them in conformity with many of the highly objectionable provisions of the Hyde Act; and then to pretend that the changes have been undertaken by us autonomously," Vajpayee said.

The government last month set up a task force that "will evolve a uniform, informed position on non-proliferation and disarmament and fissile material," say the officials. It is chaired by strategy expert K. Subrahmanyam and includes former Indian foreign secretary and Prime Minister's Special Envoy Shyam Saran and former ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Arundhati Ghosh as its members.

Vajpayee's critical statement comes at a time when India and the US are trying to finalise a bilateral 123 civil nuclear cooperation agreement that will pave the way for resumption of global civil nuclear commerce between the two countries.

The Hyde Act, permitting peaceful civil nuclear cooperation with India and passed last year by the US Congress, has attracted severe criticism from some sections as it contains several clauses, albeit non-binding ones, seeking to shackle India's strategic autonomy. The government has, however, taken a position that India's civil nuclear cooperation with the US will be bound by only the bilateral 123 pact, and not the Hyde Act.

The former prime minister also said that, "The confidence of the US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice that the Indo-US nuclear deal would be concluded before the end of this year, may also be linked to the review of India's policies."

Vajapyee provided a detailed critique of the Hyde Act which he said, is designed to stymie the development of India's nuclear weapons capability. The two provisions which will have the greatest adverse impact on national security are those pertaining to the ban on nuclear tests by India and its "working actively with the United States for the early conclusion" of a "multilateral" Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty (FMCT).

"Once the nuclear deal comes into effect, the Hyde Act will ensure that India loses forever its option of conducting a nuclear weapons test, even if any other country tests," the former prime minister said.

Meanwhile, Sinha charged the Left parties, specially the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), with exercising tokenism while opposing Indo-US nuclear treaty. "All of us jointly decided to force the government to accept a parliamentary resolution reiterating the government's commitment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's earlier statement. But then the CPI-M backed out at the last minute and agreed to a mere statement reiterating the old position by the prime minister," Sinha said.