In the trust vote on the nuclear deal in Parliament on July 22, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi defended it on grounds that it will help meet the nation’s electricity requirements. This is how it will be sold to the people during election time. In a more nuanced response, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that ‘Some 20 years ago, the Atomic Energy Commission had laid down a target of 10,000MW of electricity generation by the end of the 20th century. Today, in 2008 our capacity is about 4,000MW and due to shortage of Uranium many of these plants are operating at much below their capacity. The nuclear agreement that we wish to negotiate will end India’s nuclear isolation, nuclear apartheid and enable us to take advantage of international trade in nuclear materials, technologies and equipment.’ The Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, Anil Kakodkar explains the need for the deal by saying that, ‘the import of 40,000MW of power as an additionality bridges the gap till 2025, and it would avoid the necessity of much larger fossil energy resources and at the same time enable earlier deployment of Thorium.’
New Delhi, thus, has given four reasons why the deal is critical for India: it will help meet the country’s growing power requirement, India will be free to do international civil nuclear trade like any recognised nuclear weapon power, the energy import will free India to concentrate on its indigenous three-stage nuclear power programme, and with clean nuclear energy India will not contribute to global warming. Interestingly, the sense being conveyed is that all this will happen soon. Freed from the Left parties’ shackles, Indian political leadership and diplomats are all over: at the IAEA headquarters, meeting NSG member states, and talking with leaders of the US, Russia, Germany, France and so on to meet the deadline for operationalising the nuclear deal during the tenure of the Bush administration.
The singular grim truth that has emerged from the last few days when the government survival looked uncertain is that few Indians including MPs understand what the nuclear deal is all about. No one has asked that if all benefits accrue to India alone, what is the United States doing in this? Even when someone has tried to point out that amongst other things, the US is in this for its non-proliferation goals; New Delhi has taken a clever position. Non-proliferation is being defined narrowly as strict controls against unauthorised and illegal exports of nuclear material, where India’s track record is exemplary.