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Nuclear Hullabaloo: Drowning Out the Woes of the Disadvantaged

The current commotion over the Indo-US nuclear deal is globalising and, thereby, distorting the domestic political needs and priorities of the vast majority of our people.

Nuclear Hullabaloo: Drowning Out the Woes ofthe Disadvantaged

The current commotion over the Indo-US nuclear deal is globalising and, thereby, distorting the domestic political needs and priorities of the vast majority of our people.

JAWID LAIQ

O
ver the past month, national political debate and media coverage have been overwhelmingly dominated by the prospective Indo-US nuclear deal. It seems that all other issues have been drowned by the floodwaters of nuclear gobbledegook. All this, while actual floods have brought untold misery to an estimated 100 million people, many of them precariously stranded for weeks on rail and road embankments, hillocks, rooftops and trees. In Bihar alone, 15.8 million people in 7,972 villages spread over 210 blocks in 20 districts have been affected by the floods. By the third week of August, 325 persons in Bihar and 185 in Uttar Pradesh had been killed by the floods. These are the official figures provided by the two state governments. The actual death toll in UP and Bihar is bound to be much higher. There have also been many deaths in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal and other states which have also been seriously affected by floods during the current monsoon season.

UN agencies have noted that the floods in India and in neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal have been among the most disastrous in living memory and have issued warnings about the danger of impending epidemics after the waters recede. In Parliament there have been no urgent debates or expressions of outrage about the plight of millions of co-citizens. In contrast to major reports by BBC World TV and CNN on the miseries of the flood-hit in India and Bangladesh, our TV news channels have mentioned the floods in a desultory fashion while most national newspapers have relegated reports about the flood-affected to obscure corners of their inner pages.

The political class across the ideological spectrum and the mainstream media of this country have been riveted by the nuclear issue. Both the supporters and the opponents of the nuclear deal have hysterically dramatised it as an issue of epic proportions which could almost make or break India. Supporters of the deal see it as the magic wand which, with the grace and goodwill of George W Bush, will transform India into a great world power. Opponents of the deal regard it as bringing about national doom and enslavement by the supposed superpower.

The importance of the deal for India has been grossly exaggerated by those who perceive the country’s destiny through their narrow focus on foreign policy/militarysecurity/nuclear strategy requirements. The United Progressive Alliance government led by Manmohan Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the left have largely concentrated their pro- and anti-nuclear deal fire on this narrowly defined target. The left has yet again demonstrated that it easily succumbs to the use of chauvinist rhetoric as a political ploy in consort with the

Economic and Political Weekly September 1, 2007

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Economic and Political Weekly September 1, 2007

BJP. The left after being opposed to the nuclear tests of 1998 is now concerned that the deal may prevent further nuclear testing. The BJP, the United National Progressive Alliance grouping and the left have also condemned the deal as a threat to national sovereignty. The left, in particular, should be aware that the concept of national sovereignty is a cover for the continuing domination of a minority section’s interests over the needs of the vast majority of the Indian people. Whether the government of India finally agrees to or backs out of the nuclear deal will not seriously impinge on the dire nutrition, health, education, social welfare and employment needs of the majority of the people of this country.

Going ahead or withdrawing from the deal will have some impact on the military, foreign relations, foreign trade and investment, information technology and nuclear weapons/nuclear energy sectors of the country. (Strikingly, nuclear energy even if given a push by the deal will only be able to meet 7 per cent of the total energy needs of this country by 2020, up from 3 per cent as of now.) These are the sectors dominated by the upper and middle classes and vociferously represented by the parties in Parliament, including the left, and by the national media. It should not, therefore, be very surprising that the decibel levels on the nuclear deal debate are so high and on the woes, such as the floods, of lower class citizens are so low.

The commotion on the nuclear deal drowns out the voices of those hundreds of millions of Indians seeking a slightly better material existence for themselves. The nuclear hullabaloo also globalises and, thereby, distorts domestic political needs and priorities. If the current confrontation over the deal leads to a mid-term election, very few voters will cast their votes on the basis of the nuclear issue. This issue will prove to be as bogus for most of the electorate as was the “India Shining” project of the 2004 election. Email: bharatidelhi@airtelbroadband.in

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly September 1, 2007

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