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The Openness of the Debate on India US Nuclear Agreement


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The Indian government led by the Congress party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the political opposition are deeply engaged in the merits of the India-US Nuclear agreement (123 agreement) debate. The economy is troubled but the political energies and leadership are turned to the nuclear debate. Unfortunately, the timing is such that the Indian government cannot postpone the nuclear debate - it is now (may be now) or never (probably definitely never. )

Per media reports, India's foreign minister, Pranab Kumar Mukherjee has made two announcements. They are contradictory.

The first announcement claims that the specific text of the agreement of safeguards between the Indian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency cannot be shared with political parties that are not part of the government. So the communist parties who have been outside partners in governance could not see the full text. But that is odd. After all, there must be provision to share the full text to the leaders of the political parties in a in-camera secured session. That is what happens all the time in the United States. Suppose the Samajwadi party joins the government, it will be privy to the full text. But Samajwadi party has been in opposition to the government for the last four years - a last minute change of heart will give them access to the text.

So it does leave an objective citizen feeling a bit uneasy - what is there in the full-text of safeguards that the government is not willing to share even in a secure session?

The second announcement is most hopeful. The Indian government will seek a vote of confidence in the Indian parliament (probably in the next three or four weeks) before going full steam with the conclusion of the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy. Many political leaders have sought this, and it is the right thing to do.

The big winner of the debate and vote in the parliament is India's democracy and society. It is most likely that the Congress party will have just enough votes to win the vote of confidence on the nuclear agreement but the vigorous debate will draw sharp political and policy distinctions most of which is unlikely to benefit the Congress party and its allies politically.

© Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (2007)
Gurumurthy Kalyanaram is a management consultant and a professor. He can be reached at gurumurthy. kalyanaram(at)


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