Posts Tagged ‘Atomic Energy Act’

Countdown to ‘nuclear’ vote : Fusion or Fission of body polity.

21 July 2008

272 to 123.

Shekhar Gupta has refreshingly justified his reputation as a journalist in his OP Ed article of 19th July in Indian Express – ‘It’s not about 272’. He has contended that notwithstanding all the murky & cynical goings on to win or defeat the motion, which will be debated on 21st & 22nd July in the Loksabha, the real fight is between the three world views represented by Congress, BJP & CPI(M). He has articulated the 3 views as he sees them in a fashion that is as free of bias as possible within his limitations. Congress, he says, recognized the implications of uni-polar world in the post cold war era & found merit in hitching our cart to USA in national interest to counter threat from both China & Pakistan and to secure economic progress. Congress does suffer however from the past baggage of legacy foreign policy – a relic of Nehruvian era, which gave birth to non-alignment movement. BJP, he claims, suffers from no such infirmity on account of ideological stickiness & considers USA a natural ally of India – a view otherwise not dissimilar to that held by Congress. BJP may even think, he avers, that the best way forward is to have “a tight, unambiguous and unabashed strategic alliance with the US”. CPI(M), he holds, has always opposed nuclear weapons & strategic partnership with USA & generally found itself in conformity with the Nehruvian doctrine of non-alignment. In this unfair world where single bully is having a free run, CPI(M) draws comfort, he sees, in rising Islamic nationalism & in emergence of confident & militarily strong China. When a bi-polar or tri-polar world reemerges, CPI(M) would like to take guard, he says, at the head of revivified non-alignment movement.

My regret is why this parliamentary debate should come at the back of the deal rather than upfront. Just see the sequence of events :

1. Bush & Singh sign the declaration of Indo – USA strategic partnership on 18 July 2005.

2. US congress debates the contours of strategic partnership & how it is going to further US interests. Hyde Act is debated & passed on 3rd January 2006 to allow the signing of nuclear cooperation agreement with India, a country that had exploded nuclear devices after 10th March 1978, to provide one time exception from the US Atomic energy act of 1954.

3. India now has to sign with IAEA the India specific safeguards agreement once again to satisfy the provisions of US Atomic energy act of 1954.

4. Next step for India is to join the nuclear suppliers group. After this the 123 agreement is in autopilot mode so far as India is concerned.

5. But US congress still has a chance to debate and either ratify or reject the agreement.

My simple question is, does this then look like an agreement between two equal partners & equal democracies, albeit one greatest & the other biggest? Should not we too have gone through the same process of discussion & debates, especially when India’s foreign policy is in for a complete overhaul? We had three years to do that. India’s policy & strategy in that case could have been nuanced & fine tuned to accommodate different inputs & perspectives brought in by civil society & political class. The debate that will unfold over next two days should retrieve, one hopes, some of that lost opportunity – a fig leaf for our democracy. There is lot to learn and admire in USA. We should only know what it is.

Government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment and not of inclination and what sort of reason is that in which the determination precedes the discussion?” – Edmund Burke, 1774.

Speaking of Speaker.

CPI(M) definitely erred in including the name of the speaker of Loksabha in the list of MPs it sent to the President along with the letter withdrawing support to the UPA government. It forgot or willfully ignored that it had forfeited its right over Somanath Chaterjee as a member of the party when it conceded to his becoming the speaker of the house. Parliamentary functioning mandates that speaker belongs to entire house & is affiliated to none. In fact, speaker is expected to suffer an allegiance-amnesia save except for constitution & nation. It further compounded its blunder by publicly directing him to resign from the post of speaker. Chaterjee ignored, baring in the process ham handedness of CPI(M) in treating him like a ordinary party cadre, which he is not at the moment. It showed utter disregard for the democratic institution. This was nicely summed up in an article – ‘The Clinching vote’ by Amitabh Mukhopadhyay thus: “The General Secretary of CPM might like to recall what Karl Marx pointed out in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte about the folly typical of a middle class group called the Montagnards. By not recognising the difference between the rules of the game on the streets and the rules of a parliamentary assembly, and by behaving in a parliamentary manner on the streets and street-like in the Assembly, the Montagnards ended up as an object of ridicule. By asking the Speaker to resign, the CPM has betrayed similar immaturity.” Mukhopadhyay has avocated midway through his article digressing unnecessarily from his main labour to refer to 123 debate in passing. Though not much to recommend in his sweeping interlude, he concludes his article well by saying, “In UK, however, the convention is that the Speaker’s casting vote is meant to be exercised in order that the House gets another chance to discuss the subject before any final decision is taken. In the present crisis of confidence in India, therefore, the casting vote must be exercised by the Speaker in favour of the status quo because otherwise, the House would fall and not have any second chance to discuss the issue of the 123 Agreement. In case of a tie, the Speaker, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, is likely to follow this convention and vote for trust in the present government. By doing so, he would have revivified the yawning difference between a Stalinist ‘democracy’ and a parliamentary one.

Many have seen much merit & exemplary heroic in the refusal of the speaker to surrender to this thoughtless party diktat & have lambasted the CPI(M) for its gross misbehaviour. Without making too fine a point here, I hold that CPI(M) was within its rights to discuss privately with the speaker the compulsions before it, especially when UPA is scavenging literally for even a single vote, which only they know at what cost. Had they convinced Chaterjee, he too could have resigned from the post of speaker with his honour intact, whatever the mainstream media or pundits would have vociferously protested notwithstanding. If not, CPI(M) should have gracefully accepted his judgment & held its counsel private. So long as he remains the speaker his pronouncements & acts should remain above party politics. The minute he ceases, he becomes an ordinary MP & member of the party on whose ticket he was elected and thus subject to its discipline. Duty to uphold the dignity & hoary parliamentary tradition, if there remains any, rests firmly on the shoulder of each & every MP and not just the speaker. After all he is only first among equals in the house, not the sole torch bearer.

Express news’ or ‘Express views’.

A newspaper is expected to render a truthful account of events in as objective a manner so far as humanly possible. Columnists & Editors writing in the paper are however free to analyze & to interpret events and to advocate their respective view points. News & views thus remain separate and don’t snare unwary readers. Trend of Trojan-journalism however has rapidly caught on that seeks to present views in the guise of news & thus forsakes the duty to prepare & present a case. Most of us suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) in today’s ‘fast paced to nothing’ world. Snappy media sound bytes is all one has time for. Trojans thus easily subvert public opinion in the direction desired by their planters. Seeing a few examples will help.

Left withdraws support to UPA government when PM is in Japan for the G8 summit”. Innocuous? Hardly. There is an allusion to implicit betrayal. This when Left to its credit has consistently opposed the 123 agreement ever since 2005 & had told that its support to UPA was limited to Common Minimum Program (CMP), which was agreed upon in advance of the support & didn’t include nuclear cooperation with USA. Contrast this with PM’s assurance on 8th July to Bush in Japan that India is ready & will go ahead with the nuclear deal when only hours earlier his foreign minister & principal interlocutor for coordinating with Left had expressly assured that final call on the deal will be taken only on 10th July during the meeting of the coordination committee. This could have easily been spun into : “PM announces major decision on foreign soil while heading minority government, breaks with tradition, Left”.

It may be alright when it is reported that M M Joshi of BJP contends his party is against the deal because of ‘Desh Bhakti’, whereas CPI(M) is opposing it because of ‘Chin Bhakti’. It is quite all together different when a newspaper reports that, “CPI(M)’s Karat says that nuclear deal is anti-China”.

Parsing words or statements in a column is an admissible stratagem for building a counter case. Doing so in a news report is sacrificing truth & betraying readers.

Caveat Lector! – Let the Reader Beware!