For all the high stakes attached to the nuclear deal, the discussion on it in Parliament was marked by moderation and dignity.

The arguments for and against the India-US nuclear deal have hogged the media and public discourse ever since the signing of the July 2005 statement by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh and the US President, Mr George W. Bush.

Practically all the viewpoints that could be agitated by political parties, the scientific community, journalists, and the general public are out in the open.

The Prime Minister, on his part, had sought to allay the concerns arising out of certain disturbing developments, especially the insertion of "killer clauses" in the legislation before both Houses of the US Congress, in his statements in the Lok Sabha which stand out for their clarity and sincerity.

Heat and light

I am not at the moment into the merits or otherwise of the arguments advanced. I wish to point to the welcome features of the debate itself, which have made it a rewarding and even enthralling experience for those who treasure democratic traditions and values. This is probably the first public discourse of its kind which had had such intensive, sustained and purposeful airing.

Of course, issues such as women's reservation, economic reforms, and reservation for backward classes have been making headlines from time to time for varying periods, but not in such an incisive fashion.

The only other topic I can recall as approaching the nuclear debate in gripping the nation's interest was the Hindu Code Bill of the 1950s which saw President Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pitted against each other and remained a hotbed of controversy for nearly five years at a stretch. For all the high stakes and far-reaching consequences attached to the nuclear deal, the discussion on it in Parliament and within the scientific establishment has been marked by moderation and dignity.

No intemperate invectives have been hurled, nor any motives imputed. Yes, the debate generated a lot of heat at times, but it also helped in an equal measure in throwing light on what would otherwise have remained unexplained and unknown.

National interest has been the prime consideration behind everything that has been brought out on the various implications of the deal.

Public education

In sum, the debate has enriched the people's understanding of the implications, in India's perception, of what civilian nuclear cooperation with the US entails; the US too, in the process, has been left in no doubt as to India's stand on what is acceptable to it and what is not.

Indubitably, relations between both countries would have only been strengthened by the degree of transparency and candour shown by both sides in dispelling doubts and fears.

Yet another good fallout of the debate is the public education it has provided on the distinctive complexion of American politics and the working of the Executive and Legislative Branches of the US Government within the checks and balances which are the hallmark of the Constitutional framework of separation of powers.

There must have been many even among the educated class of Indians who were hazy about the strictly stipulated Constitutional bounds within which the President and the Congress had to function, the finality of the say-so of the Congress on legislative proposals, and its methods of handling them and reconciling the differences in the versions passed by the two Houses.

The nuclear debate must have opened their eyes to the intricacies and niceties of the American political system. So, whatever the outcome of the debate, its beneficial side-effects will be a net gain. Thank God for that!


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 20, 2006)
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