It may be difficult for ordinary people to grasp the implications of the nuclear agreement with all its technical aspects and intricacies. The supply of nuclear fuel, the fuel cycle, the enrichment and reprocessing technologies and the safeguards agreement are all not within the knowledge of lay people.
Without going into the complex issues concerning nuclear cooperation, one way to understand and assess the agreement is to ask: does this agreement advance India's interests, does it protect our capacity for an independent foreign policy and sovereignty? Is this an agreement only on nuclear cooperation or is it part of a wider agreement?
Firstly, the nuclear cooperation deal is only one part of the wide-ranging alliance that the UPA government has forged with the United States. This was spelt out by the Indian prime minister and the American president in the joint statement in July 2005 in Washington.
This agreement covers political, economic, military and nuclear cooperation. This alliance entails not just nuclear cooperation but talks of the two countries promoting global democracy, revamping the Indian economy to facilitate large scale investment by the Untied States and a strategic military collaboration.
Prior to the joint statement of July 2005, the UPA government signed a 10-year Defence Framework Agreement with the Untied States. It is evident that without the defence agreement, the Americans would not have agreed for the nuclear cooperation. This is part of a quid pro quo.
Even before the nuclear cooperation agreement was finalised, the government began to tune its foreign policy to the strategic alliance with the United States. The United States held India's attitude to Iran to be a test. India responded by voting against Iran not once, but twice, in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The first serious conflict with the Left arose when the UPA government did a volte-face on the Iran nuclear issue. The government voted along with the US and the Western countries in September 2005 and was not even prepared to go along with the position adopted by the bloc of Non-Aligned Movement countries.
The Left parties have been watching with disquiet the way the UPA government has gone about forging close strategic and military ties with the United States. The Left came out in strong opposition to the Defence Framework Agreement.
As per the agreement, India is taking steps to interlock our armed forces with that of the United States in the name of 'inter-operability.' The framework agreement is leading to various steps like the Logistics Support Agreement and the Maritime Cooperation Pact.
The Left has been vehemently opposed to the joint military exercises as the one that took place in the Kalaikunda air base in West Bengal. These exercises were held despite the strong protests of the Left parties and the Left Front government of West Bengal. The years 2005 to 2007 have seen a sharp increase in joint exercises between the two armed forces.
This is now being extended to the 'quadrilateral' exercises as desired by the US with Japan and Australia in the September naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal.
Following the footsteps of the previous BJP government, the UPA government has been deepening collaboration with Israel in the military and security spheres which violates our long-held policy of support to the Palestinian cause and friendship with the Arab countries.
The major pitch being made for the nuclear cooperation agreement is that it will help India meet its energy needs. This ignores the very limited contribution that nuclear power makes to our overall energy generation which is just 3 per cent and which cannot exceed 7 per cent even if the ambitious plans for expansion are implemented in the next 25 years.
To make India's foreign policy and strategic autonomy hostage to the potential of nuclear energy does not make sense except for the American imperative to bind India to its strategic designs in Asia.
The bilateral agreement with the United States is going to be governed on the American side by the legislation passed in the US Congress called the Hyde Act. The Hyde Act expects India to have a foreign policy 'congruent' to the United States.
Every year, the US president will be reporting to the US Congress on how India is complying with the provisions set out in the Hyde Act. Though the Indian government says the Hyde Act provisions are not binding on India, it is binding on the future presidents of the United States.
After the Hyde Act was adopted in December 2006, the CPI(M) had analysing the American legislation, stated that it contains provisions which are contrary to the assurances given by the prime minister to Parliament on August 17, 2006. The CPI(M) had repeatedly asked the government not to proceed with the bilateral negotiations for the 123 agreement, till this matter was cleared up. But the government did not heed this advice too.
Many of the provisions under the Hyde Act which impinge on nuclear cooperation with India are not mentioned in the bilateral text. Already India is lining up with the United States in its targeting of Iran. Certain Indian companies have been warned not to export to Iran due to American pressure. The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will not proceed if this nuclear agreement is put in place despite protestations to the contrary by the government.
When the UPA government was being installed in 2004, a Common Minimum Programme was drafted. When the Left was consulted, we had insisted on the deletion of a reference to 'strategic relations with the United States.' There is no mention of strategic ties with the US in the Common Minimum Programme. But soon after, the government proceeded with forging a wider strategic alliance with the United States.
The Left parties have, after carefully assessing the implications of the 123 agreement, demanded that the government not proceed further to operationalise the agreement. The objections to the deal have been spelt out in detail in the statement issued by the Left parties. The Left is clear that going ahead with the agreement will bind India to the United States in a manner that will seriously impair an independent foreign policy and our strategic autonomy.
A wise and expedient step for the government would be to acknowledge that there is widespread opposition to the agreement. The question is not whether it should be put to vote in Parliament or not. It is clear that a majority in Parliament is opposed to the agreement. The best course would be for the government not to proceed further with the operationalising of the agreement. Till all the doubts are clarified and the implications of the Hyde Act evaluated, the government should not take the next steps with regard to negotiating the IAEA safeguards, which are to be in perpetuity, and proceed to get the guidelines from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
As the country observes the 60th anniversary of Independence, fundamental questions concerning our sovereignty and independent foreign policy are being raised. These are vital issues which cannot be ignored.
Prakash Karat is the General Secretary of the CPI-M.