The internal history of the nuclear agreement | Analysis – analysis
One of Manmohan Singh’s most significant achievements was the conclusion of the Indo-US (United States) nuclear agreement in UPA (United Progressive Alliance) 1. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly believed that the non-proliferation regime had imposed an “apartheid nuclear”. in India and it would be a great long-term gain for our economy if we could lift these restrictions …
… We knew that the agreement would be criticized at home. The leftist parties opposed any closeness to the United States and would oppose the agreement in principle. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) would criticize the Government for accepting too many conditions …
… In October 2007, Sonia Gandhi asked me to go see her. She had never done this before, so naturally she was curious. She said that Prakash Karat had told him categorically that if we proceeded with the agreement, the left would withdraw support. He also said that the prime minister had told him that the left would continue to annoy the government and that, anyway, if they forced us to go to the polls, it would be better if it happened sooner rather than later. The prime minister was concerned that if we had a bad monsoon next year, the economic situation could deteriorate, reducing the room for maneuver, and it was better to move quickly. He also told me that he had offered to resign and let her reorganize the leadership at the top if she wanted to. She wanted me to ask the prime minister not to resign. He had the full weight of his support and that of the party, but neither the party nor the allies wanted an early election.
Sonia Gandhi said she did not believe that the nuclear agreement was an issue on which to risk early elections. I agreed with her that this was not the time for the prime minister to force an election. In fact, I noted that during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in Delhi a few weeks earlier, an aggressive interrogator, referring to the opposition to the nuclear agreement, asked if the agreement was being abandoned. The prime minister had responded by saying that we were not a “one problem” government. She asked me to inform the prime minister about our conversation and convey that this was not the time to resign.
I informed the prime minister of the conversation, including my opinion, and pointed out that the public did not fully understand the benefits of the nuclear agreement and that a much greater effort was needed to educate public opinion. I felt that we had not properly emphasized that the exemption of the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group), which prohibited members from participating in nuclear trade with any country that was not a signatory to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), would not only open the door for than the US UU. collaborate with India but allow such collaboration with other countries. Indeed, by helping us obtain an NSG exemption, USA. UU. It would open many doors that would otherwise remain completely closed. He did not reveal what he thought in our conversation, but I was glad to discover that he did not resign at that time.
Meanwhile, the left hardened its position … By February, the parties on the left said the government would have to choose between the nuclear agreement and its own stability, setting a deadline of March 15 for the government to indicate its intentions . The left knew that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards agreement was an essential step before the US Congress. UU. It could approve Agreement 123, so it concentrated its efforts on preventing the Government from going to the IAEA.
On June 25, 2008, Sonia Gandhi again asked me to go see her. He said many people had told him that the prime minister was thinking of resigning and that it would be a disaster for the party if he did, since none of the allies were interested in an early election. My response on this occasion was different from that of the previous year. He had agreed then that it was premature to risk an election on this subject, but now he felt that the situation had changed. The problems involved had been adequately explained in public and we had reached a point where the credibility of the Government would be affected if we seemed paralyzed by a leftist veto. I informed him that I had already told the Prime Minister that, in my opinion, the right course was to go to the IAEA and run the risk of the left withdrawing. She listened to me and asked me to convey the essence of our conversation and her views to the Prime Minister, what I did that same day.
I have no idea if they discussed the issue further, but we know that the prime minister stood firm and sent the draft agreement to the IAEA shortly before leaving for a G8 meeting in Japan in early July.
True to his word, the left withdrew its support on July 8. The prime minister requested a vote of confidence in the House on July 10. It was tense since both the left and the BJP were on the same side. The opposition of the left was not a surprise, but the opposition of the BJP was disconcerting. Brajesh Mishra, former chief secretary and national security advisor to Prime Minister Vajpayee, had supported the agreement. The prime minister told me that he had also spoken with former Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee explaining that what the Government had done was the logical culmination of the rapprochement efforts initiated by him. He said Vajpayee seemed to agree but expressed helplessness …
… Fortunately, the Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh, came to the rescue. Manmohan Singh told me later that he had asked former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, one of the team of scientists who had supervised the nuclear test in 1998, to speak with Mulayam and convince him of the merits of the nuclear agreement. Kalam’s support was essential to get the Samajwadi Party to support the Government on this occasion …
… Manmohan Singh’s silent leadership was the critical driving force that made the nuclear agreement a success. He formed a team of key players and managed to cooperate and be part of the consensus that evolved. Leading from the front was particularly important because many in the Congress party were ambivalent about the agreement. They worried about the political consequences of appearing too close to the US. UU., Because they feared the loss of support from the left and were also concerned that the proximity to the US. UU. It will alienate Muslim voters. On critical points, the prime minister had to mobilize political support from outside the party, such as Dr. Kalam, who spoke with Mulayam to support the Government. The prime minister was able to navigate the hectic political waters with skill and patience and keep his party on board. I certainly could not have accomplished this without the support of Sonia Gandhi, who was fully aware of the ambivalence of the party.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia is a former vice president of the Planning Commission of India. These are edited excerpts from his recent book, Backstage: The Story Behind’s India’s High Growth Years.
The opinions expressed are personal.