THE passing in the Senate of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal has been hailed by the Indian media as a “big victory”, without even a cursory mention that it is the identical Bill that Manmohan Singh in his speech to the parliament had stated was not acceptable in its current form. To quote the prime minister’s August speech to the parliament, “…if the final product is in its current form, India will have grave difficulties in accepting these Bills.” Well, not only was the Senate Bill that has been passed is in the same form that the PM had said was not acceptable to India, more damaging amendments have now been inserted. And if the Indian government has any illusions about the US reconciling the House of Representatives and the Senate Bills to address India’s concerns, they should be set at rest by the US ambassador, who has asserted that the Senate and the House of Representatives Bills conform to the Bush-Manmohan Singh July 2005 Framework Agreement and the Separation Plan of March 2006. In other words, this is what India can expect from the US Congress, take it or leave it.

Before we get into the details of the Senate Bill once again, it is important to understand the US legislative process. The two Bills, which have been passed by the two Houses of the US Congress – the House of Representatives earlier and now the Senate – are not identical. They have now to be reconciled to each other and a common text passed by the two houses sitting together. Only after this step is completed, an agreement between India and US on nuclear co-operation – the 123 Agreement – can be worked out to allow for the US to co-operate with India for its civilian nuclear program.


Though both Bills were structured around the original draft that the US administration presented to the two houses, they were later modified by their respective committees. It is these two versions that have led to the extensive debate in India on how it was a crude attempt to shift the goal posts and did not conform either to the letter or spirit of the July framework or the May Separation Plan. The Left parties and the scientific community brought out that a number of extraneous issues were coupled to the two Bills that would bind India’s civilian and strategic program to US interests. Finally, after an extended debate, the PM in his speech to the parliament echoed most of the concerns expressed by the Left and the scientific community and made an explicit assertion that if these clauses were a part of the final reconciled Bill, they would not be acceptable to India. While we may wait to see how the final Bill shapes up, there is little ground for the euphoria that the Indian media has been expressing. The Killer amendments are not the ones defeated on the floor of the House but those that are already contained in the provisions of the Bills that have been passed. To add insult to the injury, more substantive amendments have been added to the Senate Bill, which makes it clear that any deal with the US is like a ratchet – once we accept a deal, the US is going to continue to turn the screws to make India bend to its strategic designs.

People’s Democracy has extensively covered the provisions of the two versions of the Bill, which are way beyond what India had accepted in the July framework, 2005, or the Separation Plan 2006. It was bad enough that India went into a Deal that seriously compromised its independent foreign policy and raised question marks on its plans for a self-reliant nuclear energy program. It was apparent right from the beginning that the US saw the Deal as an opportunity to turn India around on these two vital issues. If India had any delusions that it was being allowed an entry into the Nuclear club as a full member, it should have dropped this when Bush made clear that India would be recognized only as a recipient of nuclear favors and would not have any right to participate in the fuel cycle. Such rights would belong to only a select few, which did not include India. The yearly certification by the president, the Congressional approval each year for the “nuclear co-operation” to continue, the US denying India nuclear fuel if it was not satisfied with India’s conduct on various matters, no guarantees for long-term supply of fuel from other sources – all of this was a part of the US not seeking nuclear co-operation but nuclear capitulation from India. Taken in its entirety, if India has plans for an ambitious nuclear energy program, as it is being stated by the PM, the last thing it should do is to tie itself to such a deal. The bigger the nuclear program, more will India be dependent on the US for nuclear fuel and spare parts for its plants. And more dependent it is, more the leverage it will give the US over its foreign and internal policies.

Energy security is no less a political issue than food security. For those who remember the 60’s, will remember how the US turned the screws on India after it became dependent on PL480 wheat imports for food. The US reneging on Tarapur reactor fuel contract is a clear pointer of how dependence on the US for nuclear fuel and technology would allow the US to have a veto over India’s policies. For those arguing that a bad deal is better than a no deal, seem to overlook the option that if India is not comfortable with the deal, it can wait for an ambitious nuclear program when its three fuel cycle is ready with thorium as fuel to power its reactors. Till then, it should look to a smaller self-reliant nuclear energy development rather than tie itself in this way to the US.


If the original provisions of the deal were not bad enough, there are three more amendments that have been tied into the Senate Bill that has been passed. One of those is Senator Harkin’s amendment that makes India’s toeing the US line on Iran an explicit condition for the deal to continue, a pre-condition that the PM already rejected in the parliament. The PM had stated that any attempt to couple extraneous issues such as Iran would not be acceptable to India. The second is a condition that India accepts a partnership with the US agency – National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) – that deal with the nuclear weapons program and are known to work closely with the US security agencies, the NSA and the CIA. At no stage of the talks with the US, the question of Indian agencies working with the US’s security agencies have come up, particularly as this is specifically a civilian nuclear energy agreement. The insertion of a clause that calls for such a co-operation with an agency that deals with the US’s military nuclear program would mean giving the US access to India’s strategic program. Whatever may be the US intentions, the country has a right to know what is the purpose of such an intrusion, specifically when the PM had assured the parliament that the only inspection India would accept would be IAEA’s and not any American inspectors running around the country. The third seeks to limit the amount of nuclear fuel to be commensurate with India’s reactor requirements and therefore goes against the provision of the Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement that India would stockpile nuclear fuel so that it would not forced to lead a hand-to-mouth existence for nuclear fuel. The strategic stockpile envisaged in the agreement would no longer be feasible with this amendment.

We have already indicated that the country will go along with the PM’s statement to the parliament as what constitutes the line that the India-US nuclear deal will not cross. It is clear now that the Senate and the House of Representatives Bills go way beyond this line. While tactically, India may wait for the reconciled Bill to emerge before engaging in public, any doubt that it has that it will get a Bill to its liking should now be put at rest. The US has every intention of using this deal to make India succumb to its strategic designs. Any other hope is just failing to see the writing on the wall. Or does the Indian government mean to reverse the position that the PM took in August in the parliament and echo ambassador Mulford’s that the two bills are in line with July Framework and the Separation Plan, the PM’s statement to the contrary notwithstanding?