When internal strife overwhelmed Indira Gandhi and she began losing her grip on both politics and administration in 1970s, she used to famously pass the buck to ‘foreign hand’. More than three and half decades later, having found himself in a similar situation our present prime minister is doing an encore. In a recent interview to an international journal he used the same bogey to explain his failure to get started on nuclear energy and GM food. He was quoted as saying that “there are NGOs, often funded from the United States and Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces”. Taking a cue, a junior minister went on a drivel, saying that the agitators against the Kudankulam nuclear plant were supplied with food, drinks and money by certain NGOs who received foreign funds. He forgets that his party–as all parties–does pretty much the same to lure people to the election rallies, without ever bothering to tell us the source of the money that is quite easily the biggest scourge of our democracy.
The first objectionable point to the prime minister’s present narrative is that he is relying on insinuation to explain policy paralysis that has gripped his scam-tainted regime. Given the fact that all foreign funds are regulated by and routed through his government, it is easy to collect all the information, place it in public domain and take appropriate action. What is stopping him? Well, maybe he is interested in just raising a bogey. There is a familiar ring to it now. The 2G scam was met with the coalition-compulsion bogey and the anti-corruption crusade of Anna and Ramdev with RSS-hand bogey. Every time there is opposition, a bogey is invented. What about our right to know and dissent? Are we not living in a democracy?
It is not Governance Now’s case that we don’t need nuclear energy. It is all about safety and accountability that the protesters and NGOs seek, especially after the Fukushima disaster. What we have got is subterfuge and hypocrisy. The government entered into an agreement with the Russians to set up the Kudankulam nuclear plants. Article 13 of this agreement says that the Russian supplier of the nuclear plant can’t be held responsible for any nuclear disaster. But this agreement is ‘top secret’ and hasn’t been made public. A civil nuclear liability bill was passed last year to fix liability but a line was added secretly, after it was passed by the Lok Sabha, which said the government can “assume full responsibility” for a nuclear installation “in public interest”. Now, this negates the very purpose of the law and provides an option to pass the liability to us taxpayers.
Then, in November 2011, the government notified a set of rules to govern the “right to recourse”, limiting the liability of the nuclear supplier further. Rule 24 limits the liability (a) to the extent of operator’s liability or the value of contract, whichever is less, and (b) the time during which right to recourse is available to the duration of licence issued under the Atomic Energy Rules, 2004 (a maximum of 5 years) or the product liability period, whichever is longer. This was done to make protesting potential US suppliers happy. Who, then, is playing into foreign hands?
The way the government has gone about imposing its will – be it the nuclear issues, GM food or FDI in multi-brand retail – defies logic. A government acting in the national interest is expected to address the concerns by putting all relevant facts in public domain, debating issues threadbare and taking every stakeholder into confidence. By not doing these, but raising the bogey of ‘foreign hand’ instead, this government wants to take its word that when it comes to issues of national interest, not only does our honourable prime minister know what it is best, but that he and only he knows. Tall order.