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N-deal: Govt grooms for today’s debate
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News

New Delhi, December 17
The Manmohan Singh government has done its home work for a possible debate in the Lok Sabha tomorrow on the Indo-US nuclear deal, an issue on which the Opposition as well as the Left allies have a different take.

It is not sure whether the proposed day-long debate will take place at all. The considerations are mainly political. The fact that the current session of Parliament is scheduled to come to an end on December 18 is not a deterrent for either camp.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has demanded the debate under rule 184, which entails voting. The government is not prepared to do that and instead is willing to hold the debate under the more comfortable rule 193 which does not entail voting. The government is opposed to holding the debate under rule 184 as it will bring its own allies, the Left parties, against it at the time of division.

Though a debate under rule 184 does not pose a threat to the government, the Congress floor managers are not interested in confronting an embarrassing situation which can be avoided.

From the BJP’s point of view, it will make more sense to remain firm on its “debate under 184 or no debate” stand. In that situation, the BJP can hope to score political brownie points and seek to convey that the government has “something to hide” and is shirking away from an incisive debate on the nuclear deal.

If the debate does take place, it is expected to be initiated by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr L. K. Advani. The Congress, on the other hand, will field its young Turk, Mr Sachin Pilot, to open the debate.

Mr Pilot has already met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in this regard and the young parliamentarian learnt the ropes on the nuclear deal from the Congress veteran during this hour-long meeting.

Mr Mukherjee will be replying to the proposed debate.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to make an intervention as he has already addressed both Houses of Parliament twice on the subject.

The government has already held another round of discussions with eight former Indian nuclear scientists in an effort to bring them on board. These scientists had earlier expressed reservations against the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The government has also taken the green signal from the Army, the Air Force and the Navy and the defence forces are of the view that the nuclear deal does not straitjacket the country’s strategic programme.

In parallel, the government is engaging the International Atomic Energy Agency with the intention of negotiating and concluding an India-specific safeguards agreement and an additional protocol.

At a broader level, the government is already discussing with member states of the Nuclear Energy Suppliers’ Group (NSG) the need for an adjustment of their guidelines to permit transfers to India.

The government’s response will be a reiteration of its earlier promises that the Indo-US nuclear deal will not impinge in any way on the country’s strategic programme. Besides, it is largely concerned about the bilateral 123 Agreement with the US and not what the US Congress passed last week as that was only a domestic piece of legislation over which India had no say or control.

On December 8, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement, a day before the Senate finally cleared it. The statement’s operative portion read as follows: “The enactment of the waiver has wider implications for India’s access to international cooperation in civilian nuclear energy and is, therefore, of historic significance. The government also notes that this draft legislation contains certain extraneous and prescriptive provisions. As Prime Minister stated in Parliament, no legislation enacted in a foreign country can take away from us the sovereign right to conduct foreign policy determined solely by our national interests.”

On December 12, Mr Pranab Mukherjee made a suo motu statement in Parliament, saying that India’s strategic programme remained outside the purview of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

“We will not allow external scrutiny or interference with the strategic programme,” he said.

“I would like to inform the House that the US Administration has categorically assured us that this legislation enables the US to fulfil all commitments it made to India in the July 18 and March 2 joint statements and that this legislation explicitly authorises civil nuclear cooperation with India in a manner fully consistent with those two statements. We fully expect the July 18 statement and the March 2 separation plan to be reflected in the text of the 123 Agreement.”



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