Open letter to K. Subrahmanyam re his Indian Express article: Sonia’s Choice
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Dear Mr. K. Subrahmanyam, Good day
This refers to your IE article: Sonia’s Choice (May 27, 2008).
I am surprised that you have written such a personal and emotional address to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, working on her special relationship with her late husband Rajiv Gandhi to push a line of action that apparently is not supported by a wide circle of political leaders, elected members of parliament and general public. To deal with the proposed Indo- US civilian nuclear agreement is something in public domain and is not a private affair of the Gandhi family. It is people like you though enjoying highest level of credibility in your chosen field, when stoop to the such personal level of sycophancy to win an argument that on the one hand erode their bona fide and on the other hand openly sets examples that eventually threatens the democratic structure of our nation.
You have failed to distinguish and inform your readers that the issue has two very different and distinct levels that require evaluation on two different counts. One is the technical and economic side of the issue, while the other is a commitment to forge a legal relationship that opens the country to exploitation and forces it to a regime of compromise that pinches on national sovereignty.
You may feel that the danger of any internal constraints on US administration is merely a paper detail, it certainly appear to be so to a wide spectrum of public opinion.
Some of seniors like you may be fully experienced in the art of diplomacy and governance to take such risks, but you will have to take the people in your confidence before you can morally commit the nation to any controversial and uncertain line of action.
As far as the basic nature of US interaction with India or any other developing country, there is long history of US considering it legitimate to force weaker nation to its self-centered agenda, through employing any number of pressure tactics and leverage, from open threats to arm twisting or global propaganda or even regime change.
It is for this reason that the Indian government should be strengthened through greater public debate, scrutiny, full transparency, building accountability in to decision making processes. The more public participation in matters of such profound nature that could impose on national security and its freedom of action, the more the official will be confident in dealing with their counter part on the other side.
Agreements of the nature of 123, must be presented to the Parliament, the issue should be thoroughly debated and the agreement should be put to vote. If US Congress has such legislatively clout, why Indian parliament should be so callously short-circuited.
Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai
By K. Subrahmanyam
Posted online: Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 0021 hrs
Whether to sacrifice national interests for a few more months in power
The president of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi, is facing a lonely decision as she did in the summer of 2004 when she decided to step aside in favour of Manmohan Singh as prime minister. At that stage, she was under tremendous pressure from almost all her partymen to assume the office of the prime minister. She asserted that she was listening to her “inner voice” and therefore not accepting their near-unanimous pleas. Once again, she faces the lonely decision whether to focus on the Indian national interest and Rajiv’s legacy or be influenced by her party veterans who tend to put what they consider, often mistakenly, party interests ahead of other vital considerations.
Rajiv Gandhi wanted to integrate India technologically with the world. He laid the foundation of India’s nuclear weapons programme and of the expansion of its civil nuclear programme by initiating negotiations with Russia on the Kudankulam project. Are we going to sustain and nurture his legacy or are we going to wind it up because the Left threatens to withdraw its support to the government if India were to continue the Rajiv legacy of technologically integrating with the world? All this for a few more months in office?
Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to make India a nuclear-weapon state was a painful one taken after four years of agonising. It was a lonely one. He might have informally consulted R. Venkataraman and P.V. Narasimha Rao who were the two in the know on the weapon research effort during Indira Gandhi’s days. But the decision was his alone. The cabinet was not in it, nor the party. Nuclear decisions all over the world were lonely ones and submitted to legislatures and parties for debate post facto. So it was when Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the decision to conduct the Shakti tests. When such decisions are taken by leaders the legislatures and parties usually accept them. Only leaders who have the confidence to carry the party and legislatures usually take such decisions.
The nuclear weapon effort is Rajiv’s legacy. He initiated it after a lot of agonising. I am personally aware of it since I had argued with him on that issue for almost a year in 1985. He appointed an inter-disciplinary group under his chairmanship to debate the nuclear issue. It had as members chief ministers Karunakaran and Saikia, Arun Singh, the cabinet secretary, the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, two intelligence chiefs, Raja Ramanna, Bimal Jalan, the chief economic advisor and R.K. Khandelwal, chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee, as secretary. I was the only person from outside the government. I was the most vocal advocate for India going nuclear. Many others were on my side but chose to keep somewhat muted.
Rajiv was clearly unhappy about India going nuclear. At one point, he asked if India could not offer a revised, non-discriminatory, draft Non-Proliferation Treaty. I was not a believer in the Western nuclear strategy and nuclear war-fighting. But I argued that nuclear weapons were the currency of power in that world and India needed them for its security and strategic autonomy. After several sessions of arguments spread over months he directed that a study be conducted on the cost of going nuclear. A committee under General Sundarji, with R. Chidambaram, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Vice-Admiral Nayyar and Air-Marshal Johnny Greene went into the issue and came up with the report that at a cost of Rs 7000 crore (at 1985 prices) and over seven years time a credible minimum deterrent of 100 warheads and 100 missiles could be produced. After this report was submitted there were no more meetings of the interdisciplinary group.
But it was obvious that Rajiv was against going nuclear. In 1986, he distanced himself from Ramanna and rejected his recommendation to appoint P.K. Iyengar, a weapon scientist, as his successor. He chose M.R. Srinivasan, a reactor engineer, as the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He initiated negotiations on the Kudankulam reactors. He joined Mikhail Gorbachev in issuing the Delhi declaration on a nuclear-weapon free, nonviolent world. He persisted in this policy though Pakistan had publicly boasted about its nuclear weapon and threatened India during Operation Brasstacks.
Rajiv Gandhi presented his action plan for disarmament to the UN General Assembly on June 9, 1988, in which he fervently pleaded for global disarmament. He offered that India would not go nuclear if the world were to accept his phased disarmament plan. He asked them to negotiate a new non-discriminatory NPT. He also issued a veiled warning. He said, “Left to ourselves we would not want to touch nuclear weapons. But when tactical considerations, in the play of great power rivalry, are allowed to take precedence over the imperative of non-proliferation, with what leeway are we left?”
Rajiv Gandhi’s pleas were totally ignored. After another eight or nine months of agonising, he put India’s security and interests ahead of all other considerations and directed the weaponisation of the Indian nuclear programme. It could not have been an easy decision for him. But Indian security came first. Today, senior US statesmen like George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn invoke the words of Rajiv Gandhi to derive support for their campaign for a nuclear-weapon free world, some 19 years after Rajiv Gandhi vainly pleaded for nuclear disarmament.
He envisaged Kudankulam as the beginning of collaboration with foreign countries for rapid expansion of our civil nuclear programme. While the credit for conducting the tests may go to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the father of both the military nuclear programme and the renewal of foreign civil nuclear cooperation is Rajiv Gandhi. It should not be forgotten either that the first Indo-US military technical cooperation agreement was also initiated by him.
People all over the country understand that the decision on nurturing Rajiv Gandhi’s legacy of the nuclear issue rests wholly with Sonia Gandhi. Manmohan Singh would have gone ahead with it on his own. She should now listen to her inner voice and not depend upon the advice of her veteran party advisors. It will not be to her credit or to the long-term credibility of her party if Dr Singh is unable to sustain his international standing. Let her pause and reflect on her own. Rajiv Gandhi’s legacy is at stake.
The writer is a senior defence analyst