123 Agreement: Modern-day Document of Slavery

- Akhilendra Pratap Singh

On August 13, the Manmohan Government reiterated its old statement on the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal - statement aimed at nothing but misleading the Parliament and the people. The Prime Minister uttered not a single word on the Henry J Hyde US-India Peaceful Energy Co-operation Act, which is the most controversial issue regarding the 123 Agreement. The Government’s stand - that since it is an international treaty, it can’t be reviewed in Parliament – even while the Government is in a minority on this issue in Parliament, only shows how weak the foundation of democracy is in our country. Whatever the fate of the 123 agreement or that of the Manmohan Govt.; even if the Nuke Deal does not become a noose for the Manmohan Government thanks to the CPI-CPI(M)’s tactics, it is clear that the country will not accept the Nuke Deal easily.

On this issue, Manmohan Government is completely isolated and the majority, even in Parliament, is against the Agreement. Still, most of the neo-liberal stalwarts are arguing zealously in support of the Agreement. For much of the media, the Prime Minister has suddenly metamorphosed into a brave man daring the Left to do whatever it liked, while declaring that the Agreement was there to stay, there was no question of going back on the Agreement. Now it is worth recalling that these same people have been producing a load of statistics eulogising the country’s development for the last 16-17 years. Now on the 60th anniversary of our independence, we are told that in pre-liberalisation India, there was only poverty and pauperization. While today we are developing rapidly at 8 to10 % rate and India is emerging as a great power in the world. For them, the credit for all this goes to Manmohan Singh. Certainly, this is not without reason. Though the pro-liberalisation wind started blowing in the 80s itself, the balance of payment position further worsened with the intervention of IMF and the Chandrashekhar government had to mortgage even the country’s gold. But till then Indian economy was not restructured for foreign capital. It was Manmohan Singh, darling of the World Bank, who as Finance Minister in the Narsimha Rao government in 1991, followed WB and IMF dictates to introduce structural changes in the Indian economy in the interests of imperialist capital. He informed the nation that there was no foreign currency in the Government’s kitty for the payment of oil imports and so, under compulsion if not by choice, the path of neo-liberal economy was the only one left if the country was to progress. Yesterday’s compulsion has become today’s virtue! The share market is soaring. It is feel good all around. These statisticians of lumpen capital are unable to see the real face of their ‘shining’ India in the unemployment of the youth, suicides of the peasants and starvation deaths of the poor!  

Regarding the benefits for the nation from the 123 Agreement, too, they are serving up a bundle of lies. According to them, it’s now or never. It is said to be an international treaty between two sovereign nations but it is to be guided by a national Act of America, viz. the Hyde Act 2006! In fact the Hyde Act is the soul of the 123 Agreement. However, the Manmohan Govt. has consistently hidden this fact from the nation. Let alone the independent use of the atomic programme in national interest, if America ever finds that Indian foreign policy does not comply with its undemocratic and barbaric world order, then the US can unilaterally terminate the agreement. Everybody knows that as per US doctrine countries are either “with the US” or are branded as enemy states. If one goes through the US Hyde Act, the Atomic Energy Act 1954 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, it becomes ample clear that in case the Agreement is terminated by the US at a later date, lakhs of crores of our capital invested in this industry will become idle, and India may be forced into isolation internationally. It’s worth remembering that this agreement is one where India at the most can offer its opinion while the full right of decision making is reserved with America! Suppose that after 10-12 years, the US takes umbrage, not necessarily in the case of a Nuclear Test by India, but against any foreign policy of India, and the US terminates the agreement, what safeguards does India have? What will happen to such a huge amount of capital invested in the Deal? Those who often preach the example of China, overlook the fact that the Agreement between China and the US is based on equality, whereas the Agreement with India is a shamefully unequal one. Section 102(13) of the Hyde Act says about the Agreement, ‘The United States should NOT seek to facilitate or encourage the continuation of nuclear exports to India by any other party if such exports are terminated under United States law.’ Will nuclear supply from the 45 NSG countries, which India is expecting today, be possible if the Indo-US Agreement is terminated? Does China’s Agreement with US empower America to terminate the Agreement unilaterally? Section 2(1) of 123 Agreement concluded between US and China in 1985 says, ‘The parties shall cooperate in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in accordance with the provisions of this agreement.  Each party shall implement this agreement in accordance with its respective applicable treaties, national laws, regulations and license requirements concerning the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The parties recognize, with respect to the observance of this agreement, the principle of international law that provides that a party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty. ’ The US-India 123 Agreement, in an identical paragraph, omits the last sentence, thus allowing the US the right to terminate the Agreement under its own domestic laws.

Before going into further details, a few words are due about BJP’s opposition to the Agreement. It is quite clear that BJP’s opposition to the Agreement is because of two reasons; first, its immediate political compulsion as the Opposition Party, and second, the fact that US equates India to Pakistan in the Hyde Act. Section 102(7) of the Hyde Act refers to ‘the continuation of the United States’ policy of engagement, collaboration, and exchanges with and between India and Pakistan’. Thus America on the one hand does not accord to India the status of Nuclear Power and on the other hand can sign a similar agreement with Pakistan. This is the basic reason behind BJP’s opposition to the agreement. It has been an established policy of the RSS fraternity that India should go for strategic cooperation with the colonialists and imperialists. They had close relation with British colonialists, and today too they are a major reliable force of US imperialism in India. It was the Vajpayee Government which started the negotiations for India’s ‘Strategic Partnership with America’. Even today when the need of the hour is single-minded opposition to the nuclear deal, BJP is basically targeting the left. They are happy that the PM has dared the Left to withdraw support to the Government. They even congratulated Manmohan for it. They are happy that media-persons are lambasting the Left for not supporting the deal. Their only concern regarding the Agreement is that if India is not allowed nuclear tests, then how to amass a pool of atom bombs, Hydrogen Bombs and Missiles. Certainly their anti-Pakistan and anti-China policy has pitted them against the Agreement, but only time will tell how long they can sustain their opposition. We remember that once RSS had made a big show of opposition to new economic industrial policies in the name of a ‘level playing field’ in favour of India’s big capital. In fact, some of the liberal nationalist intellectuals were taken in by that act, but now everybody knows how hollow their opposition was.

With linguistic acrobatics, the PM has once again told a lie in Parliament on August 13. In his own words, ‘Thus the interests of our three stage nuclear programme have been protected… Forward- looking language has been included for dual use transfers of enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production facilities. We hope transfers will become possible as cooperation develops and expands in the future. It is important to note that no prohibition that is specifically directed against India has been included in the Agreement.’

And then he sells a mega dream, ‘For India, it is critically important to maintain our current GDP growth rate of 8 to 10% per annum if our goal of eradicating poverty is to be achieved… Even if we were to exploit all our known resources of coal, oil, gas and hydropower, we would still be confronted with a yawning demand and supply gap…. Nuclear energy is a logical choice for India. Indigenous supplies of uranium are highly inadequate and hence we need to source uranium supply from elsewhere.’  

He further added, ‘I had specially underlined that… India is too large and too important a country to have the independence of its foreign policy taken away by any power. Today, India stands on the world stage as an influential and respected member of the international community.’

Joining this chorus one newspaper wrote, ‘Left Parties have an unnecessary allergy to America on all matters, and it is neither in their interest nor in the interest of the country. Sectarian politics is ominous for our democracy. Manmohan Singh had said that left parties should learn from China and Vietnam who do not hesitate to cooperate with US or Western countries on the issues of national interest. This Agreement provides us an opportunity to enhance cooperation with US in other sectors as well. The unstable situation in Pakistan has also changed the American attitude, and it is now eager to increase cooperation with India.’

The PM says that no country can take away our independent foreign policy, while the Preamble to the Hyde Act clearly stipulates that India must have ‘a foreign policy that is congruent to that of the United States, and is working with the United States in key foreign policy initiatives related to non-proliferation.’ In Section 105 of the act, the US President is called upon to submit a ‘written determination that … India is fully and actively participating in United States and international efforts to dissuade, sanction, and contain Iran for its nuclear program consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions.’ What is this if not a compromise of India’s independent foreign policy? India’s National Security Advisor has said that if New Delhi continues the gas pipe line project and supports Iran on any level, then only God can save this deal! India is repeatedly being asked to forget the non-aligned movement and terminate gas pipeline agreement between Iran, Pakistan and India. In fact the 123 Agreement is part of a political, economic and military strategic relationship emerging between India and America which is based on inequality and restricts our sovereignty.

The PM informed Parliament that we will have fuel reserves for the life-time of our reactors. And India can reprocess the fuel we get from America. He also said that India can make use of the heavy water production facilities. He said that there is nothing in the Agreement which may adversely affect our strategic programme, three-tier nuclear energy programme or technology development capabilities. Section 103(B) (10) of the Hyde Act says that reactors will be provided only as much fuel as necessary. The US President has to report to the Congress every year in this respect. India has no assurance regarding sufficient fuel reserves. There is also no clarity in the Agreement about second time use of the used fuel. According to Srinivasan, ex-Chairman Atomic Energy Commission, enrichment technology, reprocessing technology and heavy water technology are not parts of the 123 Agreement. Dual use of atomic plants is also not part of the Agreement. The ex-Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of the Govt. of India, Dr. AK Gopalakrishnan has held the PM as well as negotiators of the Agreement including National Security Advisor MK Narayanan responsible for making false statements. He said that nowhere was there any commitment about the supply of fuel for the whole life-time of the reactors. This was out of the jurisdiction of the American administration. The US has only said that a proposal will be placed before the US Congress for sufficient fuel supply, and everybody knows that a similar proposal 8 months back was rejected by the Congress. He said that if a 30000 MWE reactor is imported, then, along with other related expenses, it will cost 15 lakh crore rupees. And if fuel supply is not smooth and adequate, such large capital would become idle. He further added that when such huge capital is involved and America is empowered to terminate the deal in the name of a nuclear test by India or the lack of congruence of India’s foreign policy with US designs, then who will dare to defy the US? In the wake of the concerns expressed by scientists like Dr. AK Gopalakrishnan, why is the Manmohan Government not issuing any policy statement on the Hyde Act? After all, why is the advice of India’s Atomic Energy Commission not being sought on such a major deal? And if there is some advice, why is it not being made public? When the group of topmost scientists is asking for emphasis on three-tier atomic energy, then why is the Manmohan Govt. putting so much pressure for uranium-based reactors? Patriotic scientists are clearly opposed to such reactors from America, because US, France, Britain etc. are not producing such atomic reactors for the last 25 years. America actually wants to dump its old, idle reactors on India. That is why foreign companies in order to sell their old stock to India are trying to create a favorable atmosphere in support of the agreement. From the commercial point of view, this is all a game of big capital. Moreover India has all along been advocating for complete disarmament of nuclear weapons, and that is why India has not signed the NPT and CTBT till date. But after this deal India’s nuclear programme has come under the purview of IAEA supervision. And more importantly, according to Hyde Act even America will inspect India’s atomic programme. Even if the Agreement is terminated in the future, India’s Atomic Energy Programme will remain under the purview of IAEA scrutiny. Can the 123 Agreement be termed anything but a document of modern slavery?

The Prime Minister said in Parliament that India needs sufficient energy for eradication of poverty, as if this Agreement will guarantee sufficient energy for us. However the truth remains that we get 97% energy from non-atomic sources. After this agreement we can get 5% more energy. Why should we not make more efforts for developing hydel, thermal, or gas sources of energy? Why should we terminate Gas Pipe Line deal with Iran? If we really need atomic energy, then why can not we fulfil our energy needs depending on Thorium nuclear fuel instead of Uranium. After US stopped Uranium supply for the Tarapur Power Plant, in the wake of India’s first atomic test in 1974, our nuclear scientists developed thorium reactors and if we fully develop our three-tier Atomic programme, then we won’t need to import uranium from abroad. As natural resource, we have thorium in abundance compared to uranium in India. It is said that India has a pool of 3 lakh tones of thorium, which means India has the third biggest stock of thorium in the world. When scientists tell us that India has sufficiently developed technology to use thorium as substitute for uranium, then why is Manmohan Govt. so emphatic about uranium-based energy? Those who understand the politics of market can better reply to this question.

People who had great expectations that Sonia Gandhi would oppose this Agreement must have been disappointed. Congratulating Manmohan and his team for the deal Sonia Gandhi said that the Government has concluded the Deal after careful thought. Even the fullest backing of UPA to the Deal does not make much difference, as the Government is in a minority in the Parliament and any international treaty by a minority govt. is not only anti-national, it is contrary to parliamentary norms as well. The Government’s claim that there can be no debate under Rule 184 on an international treaty is not acceptable to the country. Imposing the cabinet of a minority government on the country and the Parliament, UPA is giving a new life to the BJP itself against whom it came into existence. Congress must pay its price for this. If there is still any illusion regarding the UPA and its Common Minimum Programme, then not much can be done. Regarding the correct tactics of the left in the Parliament, one must say that Left should emerge as the true champion of nationalism in Parliament and leave the Manmohan Government with no option but to resign. When the CPI(M)-led Left recognises that every international treaty must be ratified by Parliament then why this hesitation regarding a debate in the parliament under Section 184 that entails voting? If the CPI-CPI(M) are of the opinion that this Agreement must not be viewed in isolation but in the context of the Indo-US Strategic Deal in June 2005 and the Joint Declaration on Political, Economic, Military Strategic Agreement in July 2005, then it becomes still more urgent that the Left pulls down the Government. Because in their own words, this action of the Government is not in conformity with the CMP under which the Coordination Committee was formed to advise the UPA-Left Government. To stall the Agreement for the moment and somehow delay its implementation till December in the hope that it dies an automatic death after Bush’s departure – this cannot be a substitute for the decisive political action that is needed now. The CPI(M)-led Left leadership must decide which way it wants to move. As far as our Party is concerned, we are completely opposed to it and regard the 123 Agreement as a document of modern slavery. We are committed to fight against it till it is consigned to the dustbin of history.