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'I have staked a lot on the nuclear deal'

September 23, 2008 17:00 IST
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Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh, who was instrumental in his party's volte-face on supporting the United Progressive Alliance government and the India-United States nuclear deal, recently visited the United States to meet Senator Hillary Clinton who he says is a good friend. In between meeting the Democratic Senator from New York and US Representative Gary Ackerman, he spoke to Rediff India Abroad's Editor (National Affairs) Aziz Haniffa about the nuclear deal, and the likely post-poll scenario in India.

What was the specific purpose of your trip to the US at this particular time?

I have had a very close relationship with Hillary Clinton. I had not met her for long. I had a dinner appointment with her last night (September 12), where we spent some quality time together for more than two hours. So, that was the sole purpose of my visit because I thought I should seize this opportunity to come and interact with her.

How was this relationship with her formed?

Our relationship was formed a long time back. We met in India through Sant Chatwal (the New York-based multi-millionaire hotelier and close friend of the Clintons) and thereafter it developed gradually. Mr Clinton came all the way to Lucknow to attend a dinner for me and then in all the Clinton programme initiative meetings he's been calling me and he's been interacting with me. All the books he writes, he religiously sends me a copy and keeps me posted about everything.

And, then I thought that after she has dropped out of the presidential race, I thought friends are forever -- we are not seasonal weathercock that if she had the nomination I would have come to see her and she is not in the running I will not be there. (So) I thought it is good to spend some quality time with her irrespective of the political consequences.

During your meeting, I believe the US-India civilian nuclear deal came up and she has promised and pledged to give all the support and try and push it through in the Congress?

Yes. I was a little apprehensive because Senator Obama has given certain amendments against the nuclear deal. Subsequently, he changed his stand publicly in support of the deal. But once he introduced those amendments against the nuclear deal that will remain alive, it will not go (forward). So, other adversaries may take a cue and advantage of that. So, in any case with the vigorous and aggressive support of Bush we are not worried about Republican support as such.

Had there not been American support in Nuclear Suppliers Group, this deal would not have come through. So, that aspect is well taken care of. But, fortunately or unfortunately, because of the Clintons I am close to the Democrats and I had the occasion meet people like (Congressman) Gary Ackerman (chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asian Affairs) and Hillary and Bill. They all have a good regard for me. So, I did talk about the Indo-US nuclear deal and I wanted to get assured and particularly in the wake of my, though belated, support to the (Indian) government and to the deal.

Had there not been my support and my party's support, the government would not have survived after the Marxist revolt. And, if the government would not have survived, then the deal would not have gone through. So, I have staked a lot on this deal and this deal is very important.

We also discussed this aspect that after the NSG clearance, countries like France and Russia and Germany are in a position to do nuclear business with us but America cannot do so unless it is cleared. So, she said, I hope India will wait for the bill to be cleared in America and America as a country will not be deprived of the prospective business emerging out of this nuclear deal.

American business, besides the Indian American community has staked a lot on this deal and lobbied very strongly and they would necessarily feel a sense of betrayal if India goes ahead and does deals with others?

No, no. I assured Hillary that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is very careful about this. And, I had a chance to interact with Pranab Mukherjee -- our foreign minister -- before I came here and he also told me that there is no question, they have got full intention to take care of the American business community's sensitivity and I hope everything will be on board and will go through easily.

But, the important thing is to get it done in this Congressional calendar, which is very short and since the interval is only till September 26, in your interactions with Senator Clinton did she say that she is going to try and convince her fellow Democrats to get this going before the Congressional calendar ends?

Yes. She assured me her full cooperation and Sant Chatwal has been actively associated with it (lobbying on behalf of the deal). I also requested Madam Clinton to put her weight behind this and I said in the wake of the Chinese opposition in NSG -- it is very pertinent that how China has opposed this deal from going through -- and in the changed circumstances after balkanisation of Russia, it is a uni-polar world and the way Pakistan and China have ganged up it is very important to have an empowered India on the side of the United States.

So, you feel very confident after your quality discussions with her that she's going to really help in terms of getting this deal through in this Congressional calendar by telling her Democratic colleagues to make this happen?

I think so. I think so, and I am hoping for the best. You know there is an old saying that friendship needs renewal. If you are a friend and you don't renew that friendship time and again, then you tend to be forgotten. So, that was the basic purpose of my coming here and to look her up and say hello to her. So, I came here and met her and during the course of that meeting, I formally raised all these things which will have a far-reaching impact and she takes me very seriously and she promised me.

She is a very genuine person. She is not a fake person. She does not say what she does not mean. I can take her word that she has given me and I see a bright future whether it is Republican or Democrat between India and the United States of America and the role of the Indian American community at large is going to be very, very important in the days to come, in the years to come, and Indian Americans will play a very, very important role.

You also said Senator Obama has publicly said he is not going to have any modifications or anything else, although he has said he wants to review the agreement now. Are you having any concerns nonetheless about his support and if you do, did you bring up these concerns with Hillary Clinton and tell her to speak to Senator Obama?

I have got concerns and I have expressed these concerns. (But) I have not requested her to talk to Senator Obama. I didn't think that it will be prudent particularly in the wake of the contest between them and moreover, Senator Obama is too busy in his campaign. But, there is a concern in the Indian community about Senator Obama's opposition to this bill because of what he introduced earlier. The subsequent public declaration of support, I take Senator Obama's statement on face value and I hope he will live up to this public statement, which he subsequently gave in favour of the deal and he will also put his weight behind it.

You brought this up earlier too, and like I mentioned, there is some apprehension in terms of the US business community because they feel there is only this short interval in this Congressional calendar, and in case the deal doesn't go through, now that the NSG has given the green light, if it falls to the next Administration, and the deal gets delayed, then India may go ahead and start striking deals and business arrangements with others and the Americans would lose out. I know the prime minister has said they are waiting for US Congressional approval, but if the deal doesn't go through this year, how are you going to alleviate those concerns of the business community here that after everything that they did on behalf of the deal, India will not forsake them and starting making deals with others?

Well, this is very difficult for me to say. All I can say is that our intention is not to hurt the American business community. But, as this regime is at the fag end, our regime in India is also at the fag end -- in six to eight months there will be new elections -- much will depend on the outcome of the election. If the outcome of the election is in favour of the present dispensation, then I see no problem. And, if it is not so, then I can't say. That like when Clinton was president, he almost sealed the deal with (former PLO leader Yasser) Arafat and when Arafat got ready to take up the proposal of President Clinton, whatever he did was undone by the present regime.

So, in a democracy, with the change of regime, policies get changed at times. So, much will depend on the subsequent regime's attitude. That means whether it is Obama or McCain or post-election in India, which regime is going to rule the roost. Much will depend on that. But, as far as we are concerned, if everything remains uniformly same, we don't see much of a problem in our attitude.

If there are elections in India soon, are you still going to stand strongly in support of the Congress party? What do you think the chances are of the Congress party returning to power in a coalition with your party?

The problem is there is unity in diversity in our culture and in politics as well. We were bitterly opposed to each other, but we came together because of political interests and national interests. If the Congress party realises that it is very weak in the most populous state of our country -- that is Uttar Pradesh -- and on the basis of pragmatism and real strength they enter into an alliance, then I see no problem. But, if we don't see that and if they want to have a major say and major portion of seats allotted to them, irrespective of their weak position, then I fear electoral competition with them.

But electoral confrontations at the hustings with the Congress does not necessarily mean that in the end we are not going to support the Congress, irrespective of our electoral understanding, whether it happens or it does not happen. Ultimately, we will support Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi because ideologically we are opposed to the NDA and the BJP and there is no question of us ever aligning with the Communists. So, the better course would be to have a broader understanding as well as grassroots understanding with the Congress. Broader understanding has taken place and there is very little scope of misunderstanding between Sonia Gandhi and me and between Manmohan Singh and me. But, at the grassroots level, between their workers and our workers, we have to do lot of work and spadework. I am hoping for the best that it will also eventually happen, But, one will have to see before giving any final commitment.

So, what you are saying is that the Congress party cannot take your party for granted -- that they have to give you an integral stake in any future coalition?

I am saying not saying that -- that the Congress party will have to. I am simply saying that it should give and it will have to -- because any relationship, whether it is matrimonial or friendship or it is a treaty between two countries, if there is a relationship of give, give, or take, take, that is unilateral, it won't work. It has to be give and take both and both ends should be satisfied and both ends should be careful and sensitive to look after each other's interests and that is the pragmatic and practical way of forging a relationship and going ahead. If that happens, everything will be honky-dory and it will happen because I don't see any scope of not -- or scope where it will not happen. It will happen and it should happen.

Are you confident that in the elections that take place -- as you say, in the next six to eight months -- you will definitely return as a coalition?

I think if there is no bickering, I think if there is absolutely¬Öthe stages are in place, and if you are careful, there is no question of not coming back to power, because the first and foremost thing is that our biggest challenge at the Centre is the NDA and the BJP and their biggest advantage and gain was that they projected themselves to be a nationalist party. But the Indo-US nuclear deal has badly exposed them. What is the Indo-US nuclear deal? It is a dispute between power and bomb. We have preferred power and not bomb. It is a dispute between construction and not destruction. It is a tussle between China and America and America and other countries for energy on the other hand.

The Chinese and Pakistanis, they opposed this very bluntly and blatantly and openly and people like (L K) Advani who talked of nationalism, they were seen standing with the Chinese and Pakistani. So their nationalist fervour has gone. They are thoroughly exposed. And the rightist Advani is seen in the company of the leftist Prakash Karat of CPM and casteist BSP led by Mayawati. These are strange bedfellows-- Mayawati, Prakash Karat and Advani. They are Marxists, they are Communists and they are rightists and leftists -- they were all together. And, there was no policy, there was no programme. Lust and greed to grab was the only common minimum programme. And, they stand exposed so there is no question of their coming back to power, and imagine their plight -- the Communists who are fighting for the poor and downtrodden, now they are speaking for the Tatas, And their opposition, which was used to be dubbed as pro-capitalist, they are fighting the Tatas and they are for the poor farmers in West Bengal. It is a sea-change in their attitude.

So, I think these are interesting times and everyone is getting exposed. I respect Tata a lot, but Tata is not votes. Tata is an individual, a big corporate honcho and big tycoon and I am interested in Tata's growth, he also contributes to GDP growth, but it is a centralised development of one individual. The growth does not percolate to the common masses and downtrodden people of the country. So, to represent Tata does not necessarily mean to represent the vibrant and resurgent India. So, that way, the Communists are getting exposed. Day by day, their progressive instincts are being dubbed as bourgeosie instincts.

So, under the circumstances, these strange bedfellows, they have come together -- Prakash Karat, Advani and Mayawati -- and they are seen to be in close proximity with the Pakistanis and Chinese. So, the people of India will understand this and if this is properly utilised and exploited by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi and my party led by me and Mulayam Singh, I see no issue in getting back to power again.

You have also spoken of the nuclear deal having enormous credibility because of the endorsement of it by former President Abdul Kalam and that because of his support for it, the agreement is clearly in the interests of the country and so it is important that it be consummated?

My point is that Kalam is not the blue-eyed boy of the present Indian dispensation. He was not given support by Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh for his next presidential tenure. And Dr Kalam's credentials as a scientist are far more impeccable as compared to any Indian politician's. He is a scientist basically. It is incidental that subsequently he took over as President. As a scientist, Dr Kalam's credibility cannot be questioned, and his views in favour of this deal cannot be questioned and cannot be dubbed as prejudiced and biased because Dr Kalam is nobody's man. He is his own person. So the opinion of Dr Kalam in favour of the nuclear deal carries far more weight as compared to any Prakash Karat and Advani.

And Advani should also mull over his own party's stand, because it is not just the national security advisor of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh who is supporting this deal. The national security advisor of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the right honourable L K Advani, Shri Brajesh Mishra, is not tired of singing songs in favour of this deal. So, it clearly indicates that Advani's opposition to the deal is for the sake of opposition. And, he is doing this only with vested political interests and does not bode well for a 80-year-old senior politician of his ilk who dreams to take over the reins of the country. This is very disgusting that instead of siding with his own National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, instead of siding with the political ethos of his own party the BJP, he is siding with the ethos of China and Pakistan. And, he claims to be a leader of a nationalistic streak.

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