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Did America Pressurize India to Sign Civil Nuclear Deal before the 2008 Presidential Elections?

In conversation with Rajeev Jayswal

At the time ofsigning the deal in 2008, India’s total installed nuclear power generation capacity was 4,120 mw, which rose to 4,780 mw at the end of the UPA rule in 2014. Total capacity addition was only 660 mw, mainly due to the Russian support, says a forthcoming book “The Lobbyists: Untold Story of Oil, Gas and Energy Sector”, by Bloomsbury. The book is written by business journalist Rajeev Jayaswal, who had extensively reported on the oil and gas matters during the UPA regime.


The book says that Aiyar was trying to reduce India’s dependence on imported liquid petroleum by laying trans-continental natural gas pipelines so that cheap and clean energy could be directly imported from producing countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Turkmenistan and Iran.


Initially, PM Manmohan Singh also supported Aiyar. Through a cabinet decision in February 2005 he authorised Aiyar’s ministry to ‘lead and participate in bilateral as well as multilateral negotiations with Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries for facilitating the laying of transnational pipelines for importing natural gas’, the book said.


But, this was not liked by the United States of America, according to the book. “Although the Cabinet authorisation empowered Aiyar immensely, it immediately created two formidable enemies for him; the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the United States of America (USA). For MEA, it was a turf war and for the USA, Aiyar had potential to disrupt its geopolitical interests” it said.


According to the book, American Ambassador to India, David Mulford had advised Washington to engage with India in an energy security dialogue and “the purpose was to protect American interests”. The book quoted Mulford, “We could influence Indian energy policy such that it follows a path conducive to U.S. economic, political, security, and global environmental interests.”


The book quoted Mulford saying that “a renewed and invigorated high level exchange” could allow the Americans “to exert some influence on this Indo-Iran energy relationship …”.


According to the book, the civil nuclear deal was a simple give and take. “India was happy that its nuclear isolation had ended. American was happy that it had brought majority of nuclear installations in India under the watchful eyes of IAEA. It was its diplomatic victory in coaxing India to indirectly accept nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which New Delhi had been unwilling to sign”, the book said.


The book points out that it was certainly a ‘breakthrough deal’ because it would allow India to get nuclear fuel for power generation. But, it was doubtful that the deal alone would ensure India’s energy security. “To appease America, New Delhi had removed Aiyar and halted transnational gas pipeline projects. Was nuclear power the alternative of gas imports? Did PM Singh actually believe that nuclear energy would significantly substitute conventional oil and gas?,” the book said. The book is expected to hit the market this month.


According to the book, even after 10 years of the historic deal, the nuclear power generation capacity hovered around 5,000 mw. And, there is no overt indication that the situation would change in the near future. According to the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP), which captured vision and strategies of the Manmohan Singh Government, India’s nuclear power capacity could touch 63,000 mw by 2031-32. Of course, the number was impressive, but without any commensurate efforts. In fact, the enthusiasm around nuclear power quickly waned after the deal was formally signed in 2008. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh maintained mysterious silence in this regard during the UPA-II.


Based on leaked cables, the book raises a vital question: Was the PM pressurized by the United States? It also hinted that the deal was forced on India before the 2008 presidential election in the US. It quoted a BBC report on the matter said; “India is under pressure from Washington to sign the accord before the US presidential elections in November.”




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