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'PM bigger lame duck than Bush'

February 27, 2006 19:17 IST
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Siddharth Varadarajan, deputy editor at The Hindu newspaper and an expert on international relations, believes that India should 'learn to use domestic political dissent to negotiate a better deal. from the US.'

Noting that 'the US uses the illusion of (an orchestrated) Congressional oppositiuon to tell India 'thus far and no farther', he said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- with 150 MPs of his own -- is even more of a lame duck than the US president.'

Kicking off the exclusive chats on the US president's visit to India, Vardarajan lists the potential costs of the nuclear deal and asserts that  'in the name of nonproliferation, the US is looking to make the nuclear playing field even more discriminatory. I think countries  around the world should resist this.'

Here is the complete transcript of the chat:

prakash : Mr .Bush our main concern in the growing menace of cross border terrorism for which even america is a victim.Can we hope your visit to pakistan followed by india visit will help us in this matter.We strongly feel it will be the greatest acheivement of any world leader can aim at.
Siddharth Varadarajan : This is Siddharth. Sorry for the delay. Technical hitch. Am not sure how effective Bush will be on this account. I detect yet again the U.S> looking at terrorism to the east and west of Pakistan as two distinct phenomena. In any case, it is up to India to deal with the threat of terrorism by itself.

sourabh : hi sid........can throw light on the main issue to come up durin dubya's visit... n wat stand sud India take to gain maxm. benefit ???
Siddharth Varadarajan : Thanks Sourabh. Loads of questions so I will be brief with each question but slowly address all the issues. The US is looking to strengthen its strategic relationship with India. Finalising the nuclear deal is an important part of it but not the only thing.

IndoUS : Mr Siddharth Varadarajan so you think US will let India keep its nuclear plant?
Siddharth Varadarajan : There are three potential costs involved with going ahead with the nuclear deal. First, there may be POLITICAL pressure to restructure our relations with other countries like Iran or China. Second, there may be pressure to compromise the TECHNOLOGICAL choices India makes in its quest for energy security, including nuclear power via the indigeneous breeder adn thorium route. And third, there may be STRATEGIC implications, in terms of the size and structure of India's nuclear weapons. These are the issues that have to be examined before the deal is finalised.

eddie : Hi Siddharth, do you think the political parties who are trying to have procession and bandhs will not have bad taste on the visit of Mr. Bush and is it necessary to do so
Siddharth Varadarajan : Wel, it is the democratic right of people and partiesd to protest. yesterday, for example, hundreds of Hindus, Mulsims, Sikhs and Christians gathered at Rajghat saying that Bush laying flowers on gandhiji's samadhi would be an insult to the Mahatma's memory. India is a democacy. People will protest. Nothing insuloting about that.

Pravesh : Hello Siddhaarth. Is it true that Bush will visit Pakistan also
Siddharth Varadarajan : Yes, from India he goes to Pakistan -- on March 2nd itself, if I'm not msuiatken. And there may be even be a "surprise" visit to Afghanistan.

sawhney : Hi Sidharth,Mr. Bush expects India to take a tough stand against Iran( which India should) but doesn't take a tough stand against Pakistan abbeting terrorism. Shouldn't a friend as he says US is of India be more concerned than that with India suffering on account of Pakistan abbetted terrorism?
Siddharth Varadarajan : Sahney, I've always felt Iran is not our issue in the way that the US says it is. We don't want Iran to get nuclear weapons but the U.S is going about things in a way guaranteed to escalate the situation and even lead to conflict.We keep saying AQ Khan of Pakistan is responsible for Iranian violations of its safeguards obligations in the vain hope that the U.S. will act against Pakistan. But Bush adn Co. are not interested in this issue. Iran is the target, not Pakistan. Pakistan may become a target later. I, for one, do not want the U.S. causing so much instability and violence in my extended neighbourhood.

guyfrom2006 : india does not really require nuclear power or the USA. it is the opposite
Siddharth Varadarajan : Many of the scientists I've spoken with agree with you. They say India can manage on its own and if the price for nuclear cooperation fro the US is for us to compromise on our energy security via gas and also our own indigeneous nuclear research, then we should not accept this. Foreign reactors and fuel are seen as "additionalities" to what the Indian effort can achieve by itself, but not the mainstay.

Princess : Hi Sid, will you agree that the nuclear deal, more than any other thing, has come to represent the India-US ties, so much so that if it fails the whole edifice seems to be in danger of crumbling?
Siddharth Varadarajan : No Princess, I am not sure that's the case. The nuclear deal is the cutting edge of the relationship and both sides want it for their own reasons but there is much more driving this relationship -- the comfort level of big business in both countries with each other, the fear and insecurity of a section of India's elite which believes US help is needed to deal with China, etc.

S : The secularists were against Indian Nukes, but had humanly compassion for the Paki nukes. Do you think that makes Bush's life easier ?
Siddharth Varadarajan : Not sure what secularists have to do with nukes.

tunkpoj : Will indian Left be capable of a massive protest against bush?
Siddharth Varadarajan : There are two protests -- one on March 1 with the slogan "Bush don't come' (or some such) and on March 2 under the slogan 'Bush go back'. Total numbers expected are a few lakhs. Let us see.

shreyansh : why is bush so much interested in iran is oil playing the main part or so and if yes then a time will come when he might also look at india
Siddharth Varadarajan : Shreyansh, you have asked a very important question. Iran played a central role in US strategy for West Asia up until 1979, when the Shah was overtghrown. Until then, Iran was like Israel -- the US armd it, encouraged it to develop nuclear power and even turned a bliond eye to some shady activity on the n-weapons front. Since 1979, the U.S. has been nursing hopes of bringing about a change of regime there and this has gathered stema now that iraq has ben destabilised. It is my belief that Iran has a crucial role to play in the development of an Asian strategic architecture in which countries like India, China, Pakistan, Russia and the Central Asian states have an important role to play. The US does not want any of these initiatives to take off. There are other reasons too, of course.

Indian : In my view, American Politicians are well-bred, trained businessmen who not only study internal and external relations with an eye on economy. But the quality of Indian politicians is what worries me the most. Except for few seasoned ones, we have full of corrupt minds. When do you think there would be a hope for Indian Govt. to make it big on the world map.
Siddharth Varadarajan : Actually, I wouldn't underestimate India's capacity to bargain and conduct itself properly in international politics. We have an energetic civil society and vibrant media so that there is always some degree of public oversight. Let's not get carried away in trashing ourselves!

srikanth padmakumar : Inspite of the huge protests which arose in US against the INDO- US nuke deal, they are willing to agree on the deal. They say we are a responsible democratic nations. Bush is all words when he praises India. Then why are they not reccomending INDIA for a UNSC seat? BUSH ducked that question in the interview which he allowed to TOI
Siddharth Varadarajan : UN reform has become a totally complicated issue with the G4 intitiative also dying out. Perhaps India also needs to relook the issue. I for one do not think Japan and Germany should really get Permanent Seats. But rest assured that the US will not encourage any reform that will make it harder for it to use the UN as and when it feels it needs to do so.

cosmo : Trust me, in future US is going to dump their nuclear waste(overflowing Yuka mountain)in our backyard in the name of reactor fuel supply.Moreover there are already reports which says that they are trying to strangle our indigenous thorium(abundant in India) based fast breeder reactor.
Siddharth Varadarajan : Yucca Mountain is overflowing, which is why the US is talking of the GNEP and new 'fast burner' reactiors. The dangerous thing is that in his Asia Society speech -- on which the entire Indian media, barring The Hindu -- went ga-ga -- Bush has implictly linked GNEP to the July 18 deal, holding out, in a sense, a threat that if India does not agree to the kind of separation envisaged by Washington, its participation as a "supplier" or "fuel cycle" nation in the GNEP might be jeopardised.

nishank : Sir i want ask that why america has a problem if any country make it to a nuclear power inspite of america do not perform checks on himself? This is not fais isnt it?
Siddharth Varadarajan : In the name of nonproliferation, the US is looking to make the nuclear playing field even more discriminatory. I think countries  around the world should resist this.

shiv : Hi Siddarth ,looks like you have your hands full..Answer this one :What can India as a nation can learn from America in this episode
Siddharth Varadarajan : I'll be cynical. Learn to use domestic political dissent to negotiate a better deal. I mean, the US uses the illusion of (an orchestrated) Congressional oppositiuon to tell India 'thus far and no farther', but Manmohan -- with 150 MPs of his own -- is even more of a lame duck than the US president.

IYER : It would be a good idea if the Indian police which is used to kill and suppress Hindus is used to fire upon the communist dogs and let the country be rid of a few hundred traitors
Siddharth Varadarajan : I think Indian police should not be used to kill and suppress innocent people, whether they are Hindus or communists.

Venu : Hi Siddharth, I guess far too many questions, of all hues and colors.. Anyway, can't resist shooting yet another of mine..What is the pressing need for us to go into a nuclear deal IF we need to make significant compromises? Are we not fine as is for now and in the foreseeable future? Why can't we just steadily build our country and economy and grow into a stronger negotiating position?
Siddharth Varadarajan : Venu, I tend to agree with you especially if the contours of the deal are such that they involve compromises on the three fronts I mentioned -- political, technological and strategic. Nuclear energy is not key to energy security in the short to medium term. Gas is. And the lack of civil nuclear cooperation will not be a binding constraint on the Indian economy's growth prospects for the next two decades. Let us continue, and the the US and thre world will probably come back to India after five years with a better nuclear deal that is less onerous and more equal.

tyrant : Sir, Do you agree that US has a hegemonistic style of functioning .. U cannot impose or dictate in other country's affair is it justified? To led the crusade against war on terror is a unjustified act on humanity n i feel US is responsible for that ? what is your Opinion ?
Siddharth Varadarajan : The US is hegemonic and it is using the issue of terorism to extend its hegemonic reach. No question about it. Doesn't mean there's no problem of terrorism, or that terrorism has to be fought. But my belief is the way the US is going about it will only make the problem worse. I belioeve the problem already is far worse.

IYER : What is this crap you are talking Siddharth of laying flowers on the Daddy of the nation's samadhi? Don't call it samadhi, it is a communal word. Call it Tomb,
Siddharth Varadarajan : This is a chat room. I think you are looking for a padded cell.

srikanth padmakumar : BUSH mentioned in an interview that he will be mentioning the issue of INDIA's relation ship with IRAN and INDIA's plan of getting energy from IRAN. What those matters have got to do with INDO-US relationships? Why are they very much concerned about those matters? Can u show some light on to this matter sir?
Siddharth Varadarajan : And I hope the Indian leadership tells him where to get off.

tyrant : Sid what u feel also about the ongoing strategic alliance wjich india is forging with US? I feel Russia as a close ally n one shud be more diplomatic in dealing with US? What u feel about the same ?
Siddharth Varadarajan : India should have good relations with all, including the US. But the US relationship cannot be sen as a substitute for the need to deepen our relations with Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and others.

Siddharth Varadarajan : This is the nigtmare scenario -- that we get no gas and no nuclear energy! Butr seriously, the country should take no steps which are not reversible given the US track record. You are right,.

tr : What's the problem with the scientific community of India about the nulear deal? why are they against it?
Siddharth Varadarajan : The scientists have very real apprehensions that the work they have done through the dark years of sanctions may now be squandered just when we are on the verge of realising tangible gains. This is the main issue. And the other side has not helped by heaping abuse on and questioning the credibility of the scientists.

kans : Why is it that a US President necessariely visit Pak after visiting India ? Why are we playing into US's Zero Sum Game ?
Siddharth Varadarajan : I don't think we should worry about it Kans.

dia : what are the chances of india's deal with Iran actually going through? how stable will it be with the pipeline going through pakistan? this seems to be more pertinent than nuclear energy.
Siddharth Varadarajan : I have read the interim report on project structure prepared by Ernst and Young and the pipeline fundamentals -- its economics and viability -- are very strong indeed.

monshu : Hi, Do you think FDI in Wal-Mart will be part of discussions?
Siddharth Varadarajan : This is a priority for the Americans.

Siddharth Varadarajan : Sorry guys, I have to sign off now. Thanks. If you want more information on some of these topics, you can visit my blogsite,

The Bush visit: complete coverage

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