Where I would have gone if I was Osama Bin Laden

Mr Osama Bin Laden has been highly sought after for several years, against his will, yet he has thus far succeeded in maintaining his privacy. In October 2006 in Goa, I was chatting with a German Government official about this, and told him that, incidentally, I thought that how Mr Bin Laden has successfully eluded the paparazzi is by the time-honoured method of creating a red herring. He would have said his goodbyes to Mullah Omar, as Osama did in the winter of 2001, and then proceeded westward…. through Somalia towards North Africa…. all the way to a nice oasis in the Sahara Desert.

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A Current Example of the Working of the Unconscious Mind

A Current Example of the Working of the Unconscious Mind

by

Subroto Roy

Sigmund Freud said he did not discover the existence of the unconscious mind in man. However, he certainly did most to comprehend its working. Yesterday I published an article in The Statesman in which I said Indian Independence and Partition came “Forty years later” — and the only date mentioned until that point in the text was of the 1918 Montagu-Chelmsford period.

The page proof had been read and reread by me the previous day, and during the proof-reading I had even asked myself specifically more than once whether the time from 1918 to India’s Independence was forty years and I had replied to myself yes it was. How could such an arithmetical mistake be made?

Students of Freud’s work will appreciate the answer. Unconsciously, I was in fact counting from the Morley-Minto period of 1906-1908 which had been the constitutional precedent for Montagu-Chelmsford. Morley-Minto was mentioned much later in the text. It was indeed forty years between Morley-Minto and Indian Independence in 1947. My unconscious mind had already fixed the starting point as Morley-Minto, so even during the proof-reading process, I repeatedly told my conscious mind that the calculation was correct when in fact it was not.

More about the conscious and unconscious mind and their relationship may be found in the works of the late John Wisdom (1904-1993), especially Proof and Explanation (University Press, 1991).

On Indian Nationhood

On Indian Nationhood
From Tamils To Kashmiris And Assamese And Mizos To Sikhs And Goans

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page

May 25 2007

By Subroto Roy

In the decades before 1947, imperialist critics of Indian nationalism accused the movement of being less about creating Indian nationhood than about supplanting British rule with local Indian oligarchies. Sydenham, for example, in the upper house of Britain’s Parliament in August 1918, gleefully quoted from the “Madras Dravidian Hindu Association” (forerunners of today’s DMK etc): “We shall fight to the last drop of our blood any attempt to transfer the seat of authority in this country from British hands to so-called high-caste Hindus, who have ill-treated us in the past and will do so again but for the protection of British laws.” Also quoted were “Namasudras of Bengal”, allegedly numbering “ten million men”, protesting “gross misrepresentation” by “so-called high-caste leaders” of the desirability of “Home Rule or self-government”. Besides caste and class there was always religion too by which India’s inhabitants could be classified and divided, and it must have delighted Sydenham to quote the “South Indian Islamic League” saying “Nothing should be done which will weaken British authority in any manner whatsoever, and hand over the destinies of the Moslem community to a class which has no regard for their interests and no respect for their sentiments”.

Home Rule League

Sydenham was attacking the Montagu-Chelmsford Report which had stated that India had “a core of earnest men who believe sincerely and strive for political progress; around them a ring of less educated people to whom a phrase or a sentiment appeals; and an outside fringe of those who have been described as attracted by curiosity to this new thing, or who find diversions in attacking a big and very solemn Government as urchins might take a perilous joy at casting toy darts at an elephant.”

Annie Besant, herself an Englishwoman, was, along with BG Tilak and MA Jinnah, a pioneer of Indian nationalism at the time and headed the new Indian Home Rule League on the Irish pattern. The League stated its membership at 52,000. Sydenham multiplied that by five and asked if a quarter million could purport to rule 244 millions in an Indian democracy. Where, he demanded, was the “voice that cannot yet be heard, the voice of the peoples of India”? The imperialist jibe was that the British Raj would be replaced at best by a “Vakil Raj” of “high-caste” Hindus and at worst by anarchy and bloodshed.

Thirty years later India’s was partitioned and independent under Attlee’s Labour Party. Churchill took over the imperialist mantle and found solace in the new India agreeing to remain in Britain’s “Commonwealth”, saying that India doing so as a Republic did not impair “the majesty of the Crown or the personal dignity of the King”.

The ghosts of Churchill and Sydenham today would heartily cheer our Republic’s current President APJ Abdul Kalam agreeing to receive the “King Charles II Medal” from the Royal Society, and our current PM Manmohan Singh accepting honorary British degrees also while in office. Britain’s Crown Prince has proposed a cricket match between India and Pakistan to mark the 60th anniversary of 1947, and what, after all, could be less inappropriate to mark the event in British eyes? All that Indian nationalism would have been firmly put in its place.

Now Pakistan mostly goes unmentioned in the history of Indian nationalism because the new Pakistanis as of 14 August 1947 hardly felt or even wished to be independent of the British. Instead they longed only to acquire control over any kind of Muslim-majority Government that they could, and as much of the resources and joint military assets of the old India they could get their hands on.

The Kashmir dispute and India-Pakistan conflict have not been ones between Hindus and Muslims, regardless of what the BBC, CNN etc make themselves believe. As much as for any other reason, Kashmir escalated out of control because of British irresponsibility during the process of disintegration of the old Indian Army between the two new Dominions. Newly demobilised Mirpuri soldiers who had formed loyal British battalions were drawn into the cycle of Partition-related communal violence and reprisals in Punjab, which inevitably spilt over into Jammu and culminated in the attack on J&K State that commenced from Pakistan’s NWFP in October 1947 ~ plunging J&K into civil war with Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s National Conference allied to the new secular India and Sardar Ibrahim’s Muslim Conference allied to the new and soon to be Islamic Pakistan. Field Marshal Auchinlek, the Supreme Commander of both Indian and Pakistani Armed Forces, had the decency to resign and abolish the so-called “Supreme Command” as soon as he realised his own forces were at war with one another.

It would not be too inaccurate to say Pakistan and Britain continued in a neo-colonial relationship throughout the 1950s and 1960s ~ all the way until Ayub Khan (who had been warmly entertained at Chequers during the Christine Keeler-Profumo matter), overplayed his hand by attacking India in 1965. That war followed by the East Pakistan cyclone in 1969 brought to a head the inherent political contradictions of the Pakistani state accumulated until that time, and soon led to Bangladesh’s creation in 1971. Britain has had no real interest in Bangladesh but as Pakistan had allowed dual nationality with Britain, Britain found itself with a lot of Bangladeshi immigrants whose “Indian” restaurants give modern Britons today something to look forward to every weekend.

Britain and its American ally continued to have deep interests in Pakistan, mostly because of the geopolitical importance of Pakistani real estate and the generally obsequious and compliant nature of the Pakistani military and diplomatic elite. All that began to change fundamentally when the real declaration of Pakistani independence occurred in the world with the AQ Khan nuclear bombs exploding in 1998 followed by the September 11 2001 attacks upon the USA.

Nationalism today

As for ourselves in India, we have developed some coherent and recognisable design of a modern political economy with a Union Government and more than two dozen State Governments, and we have abolished the imperialist lackeys known as the “princes”. Our Governments at Union and State levels change peacefully by periodic elections under the 1950 Constitution. This in itself would be seen as an astonishing democratic achievement relative to where we were one hundred years ago at the time of the Morley-Minto policies. Thanks to Jawaharlal Nehru, we have had universal franchise since 1952 (at a time when the USA still had its Jim Crow laws against black citizens) ~ yet the imperialist jibe of an infinitesimally small elite purporting to represent hundreds of millions of India’s people remains to be addressed.

It would be interesting to know how many descendants of the 52,000 members of Annie Besant’s Home Rule League remain in India and how many have emigrated to the USA, Britain, Australia etc. The children of our top military, bureaucratic, business, professional and academic elite have cheerfully led an exodus out of the country. E.g. the son of a former commanding general of the Indian Army’s Artillery Regiment is now a British businessman and member of Tony Blair’s new House of Lords. Indian Nationhood in the 21st Century no longer has to include Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who have ended up seeking to develop their own nationalisms, but it remains hard enough to try to include everyone else ~ from Tamils to Kashmiris and from Assamese and Mizos to Sikhs and Goans. Cleaning up our government accounting and sorting out our public finances nationwide so as to establish a sound money for everyone to use for the first time in sixty or seventy years, is among the first steps in defining our common goals as an independent nation.

(Postscript: The original text stated Independence and Paritition came “forty years” after the only date mentioned until that point in the text, which is of the 1918 Montagu-Chelmsford period.   Unconsciously, I was counting from the Morley-Minto period of 1906-1908 which was the constitutional precedent to Montagu-Chelmsford.)

India and Her Neighbours

We & Our Neighbours
Pakistanis And Bangladeshis Would Do Well To Learn From Sheikh Abdullah

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman May 15 2007, Editorial Page Special Article, http://www.thestatesman.net

Pakistan and Bangladesh, unlike ourselves in India, have yet to properly establish elementary constitutional institutions. “Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation”, said Benjamin Disraeli. The continual political chaos on the streets of Pakistan and Bangladesh ~ not just in recent weeks but in recent years and decades ~ indicate such institutions are still lacking or stillborn there. Tear gas, water cannon and hordes of armed policemen to charge at enraged stone-throwing crowds are not part of any solution but part of the political problem itself.

One main purpose of constitutional institutions has to do with peaceful transfer of power from one political party to its adversary. Mulayam Singh Yadav has just transferred political power to Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, an Indian State more populous than either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Not long ago Lalu Prasad Yadav did the same to Nitish Kumar in Bihar, and Atal Behari Vajpayee to an appointee of Sonia Gandhi for all India itself. Modern democratic institutions are precisely about such peaceful transfers of power after voters have acted periodically to try to “throw the rascals out”.

Honeymoon period
It would be foolish to suppose an incoming Government of UP, Bihar or all India itself will be very much better than the one it displaces. But certainly in its first few “honeymoon” months or weeks at least, it will not be any worse. The tail-end of any scheduled democratic government, whether in India, Britain, the USA or elsewhere, is quite a disgusting sight, as those in their last days of power grab whatever they can from office before departure without any pretence of shame or embarrassment. Serious decision-making in the public interest would have long ago ceased. Almost anything new would be better.

At the same time, among those coming into power there will be some earnest wish at least to make some small difference for the better ~ a wish that will surely disappear within weeks of entering office after which the old cynicism and corruption will take hold again, and it will be the same ugly business as usual. But certainly, voters can expect slightly fresh air for a brief time after they have thrown one party out of power and chosen to bring in another. That is as about as good as democracy gets in modern practice.

Of India’s dozen or more larger States, we have, in the sixth decade of our Constitution, quite a few in which bipartisan democratic processes have been taking shape. UP was not one of them, and it is to Mayawati’s credit that she has broken the pattern of hung assemblies and now heads a majority government. Bihar too had seemed in the monolithic grip of Lalu Yadav until Nitish Kumar broke it, though the latter’s honeymoon period is now long over and it is business quite as usual there. Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and even J&K each have a noticeable bipartisan nature developing with at least one “national” party present to be counted. Tamil Nadu has been bipartisan but in an unhealthy way based on the personality cults of antagonistic leaders rather than any political principles or class-interests ~ which is a pity as the old Madras once had seemed a source of some new rationality in Indian politics. West Bengal’s voters have been definitely bipartisan, the communist vote being no more than that of the Congress and Trinamul combined. But for decades the local Congress has been notoriously sold down the river to its communist adversary by the Congress “leadership” in Delhi, and that has allowed an entrenched and wholly corrupted communist cultural and political mindset to rule in Kolkata. The Basu-Bhattacharjee Government was palpably bewildered over the Singur and Nandigram events because of their self-induced delusion about the economic and political realities of the State.

Throughout India though, periodic elections have acquired enough legitimacy to be accepted as the means of peaceful change of government. And with bipartisan politics there is a tendency for the median voter to be wooed at election-time.

We have of course many other continuing problems in our political economy ~ most notorious of which is the rotten state of our public finances and the continuous massive deficit finance that has ruined our paper currency and banking system ever since Indira Gandhi’s rule, coinciding with the start of Manmohan Singh’s career as an economic bureaucrat and Pranab Mukherjee’s as a politician in the early 1970s. Our acceptance of the democratic way has to an extent depended on our notoriously irresponsible macroeconomic policies ~ since every State and Union Government entity has been allowed to face no effective binding financial budget-constraint, and all its perverse decision-making can flow eventually into the swamp that is our Public Debt which constitutes the asset-side of the domestic banking system. India’s cardinal problem then becomes one of how to improve our macroeconomics without losing our democracy ~ something the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress, the BJP/RSS and the Communists are all equally clueless about.

Across our borders, our Pakistani and Bangladeshi cousins were cut from the same constitutional cloth as ourselves, namely the 1935 Government of India Act and the Montague-Chelmsford reforms before that. But after Jinnah’s death they refused to admit this and instead embarked on trying to write and implement a Constitution for a new Caliphate. The initial demand was “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. In Rashid Rida and Maulana Maududi’s words, Islam becomes “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Lawmaking is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… Islam… altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (Khilafat) of man.” (Rosenthal, Islam & the Modern National State, Cambridge 1965). Pakistan’s constitutionalists thus have faced an impossible battle to overcome the ontological error of assuming that any mundane government can be in communication with God Almighty.

J&K’s Constitution
Now Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was as pious a Muslim as any but was far more modern in his 5 November 1951 speech to J&K’s Constituent Assembly: “You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu & Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law”. Referring to the American and French Constitutions, he said the “basic democratic principle” was of the “sovereignty of the nation”. “We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.”

Can a modern conclave of Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed decide or declare any better for Pakistan today? Or one of Khaleda, Hasina and whichever cabal of generals and bureaucrats happens to head Bangladesh at present?

If Pakistan and Bangladesh each chose to restart with the modern-minded constitutional example Sheikh Abdullah set more than a half century ago in J&K, they may find their political problems less severe in due course. It is a long road ahead.

Presidential Qualities

Presidential Qualities

Simplicity, Genuine Achievement Are Desirable; Political Ambition Is Not

by Subroto Roy

 

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article, May 8 2007

 

 

To become President of the Indian Republic is to become our Head of State, and we may wish to see our President possess certain kinds of qualities of character and achievement. Unlike the USA, France and Russia but like Britain, Germany and Japan, our Head of State is not our Head of Government, who is the Prime Minister. Unlike Britain and Japan but like Germany, our Head of State is someone we get to choose and we do not have to depend on aristocratic hereditary chances.

 

Naked political ambition, whether overtly or covertly manifested, may be expected and can be tolerated in the drive to becoming a Prime Minister or a Chief Minister. But it is not a quality we would find endearing or salubrious in a President of India. One former President quite meticulously planned his career so as to make him a possible choice, and then asserted his “right” to the job and allowed a lobbying process to take over. Then too, becoming President is the highest possible honour for an Indian citizen ~ there can be nothing higher; no Bharat Ratna, no Nobel Prize or anything else can surpass having embodied the sovereignty of India as a free democratic republic. Yet one former President received a private award after leaving office and declared it to have been his highest honour ~ again, not an endearing or salubrious thing to have done.

 

We may almost say that the expressed wish or desire to become President of India should be almost a disqualification for the job. In the USA, a childhood ambition to grow up to be President is an admirable thing; in India it is not.

 

 

Practical aspects

 

Secondly, looking to the practical aspects of the job, these are twofold: acting as the Head of State of the Union of India as well as supervising the Presidential emissaries to our more than two dozen States, namely, the Governors. In a different and more modern nomenclature, the idea of a Governor would have been dispensed with as a British-era anachronism, and instead we would have had a Vice President for the Union of India and a Vice President for each of the States, forming an indirectly elected college of high and eminent dignitaries with fixed terms of office. So instead of a Governor of UP or Governor of Karnataka, we would have had a Vice President for UP and a Vice President for Karnataka, besides a Vice President of the Union of India who would chair the Upper House of Parliament.

 

This may have served to highlight the fact that the President is the constitutional Head of State both at the Union and in each of the States. His/her deputies act solely in his/her name, which, after all, is in the name of the sovereign people of India as expressed in their Constitution.

 

Plainly, we need a President who is wholly familiar with India’s Constitution, not merely as a written document but in its full working and vitality. A President does have legal advisers but there is ultimately no substitute for having achieved adequate political wisdom firsthand in knowing when advice is good or bad. Someone who has visibly or wilfully subverted constitutional norms of jurisprudence somewhere or other along the line may be assumed not to have that kind of wisdom.

 

For example, we have had elected chief ministers dismissed for no good reason in the past, while we now have the first prime minister anywhere since Salisbury in 19th Century Britain who does not command a majority in the Lower House of Parliament. Also, many life-long “career politicians” have spent their lives organising this or that political party, giving speeches at mass rallies, undermining their opponents, backing their friends, being involved in all the ugliness of day-to-day politics. Such persons would not have transcended their own pasts sufficiently to be able to earn the kind of public confidence and respect that is necessary in our President. Nor is our Presidency a place to carry on any kind of explicit personal agenda or political hobby or ideology.

 

Then, too, we could do with a President who does not feel any great urge for foreign travel or pomp and circumstance. India’s Foreign Minister and Foreign Trade Minister may have need to run around the globe but hardly anyone else in our Government needs to be in fact travelling abroad, not even the Prime Minister, especially when the domestic political and economic and jurisprudential agenda of our country is so large and yet unfulfilled.

 

Our Presidential term lasts sixty months: if, say, 20 months in total are devoted to the Union’s matters and another 30 months to our more than two dozen States and Union Territories, that would leave a month’s vacation for each of five years, with a full five months in hand for exigencies. How should the President allocate all that time? Plainly, the answer is that we expect him/her to be using moral suasion and sheer physical presence in defending the Constitution and the ordinary anonymous individual citizen against whatever misfortune may befall them, whether from natural calamity or evil behaviour by the State.

 

When was the last time we had a President who travelled by AC 2-tier and chatted normally with his fellow citizen-travellers? Or someone who spent not just a flying visit of a few hours to Mizoram or Tripura but who actually set up camp there at the Raj Bhavans for several weeks and came to know firsthand what was going on and what the Indian Union as a whole may do to help?

 

Have we ever had a President who requested an end to all the bands playing and marching around in front of a few boring New Delhi people once a year, and instead sent those marching bands to play on Sunday mornings all year long ~ along a Marine Drive or Chowringhee or a Mahatma Gandhi Road in this or that city or small town or other, for the enjoyment and entertainment of the common Indian family?

 

 

President’s rights

 

The President is not the Head of Government, and must at all times remember that he/she is to be guided by Cabinet advice in substantive political matters, which have mainly to do with the raising and spending of public resources. But there are a thousand parliamentary and procedural things wrong at present with our Governments and Oppositions both at the Union and the States, and the President of India may be the only person with the moral stature, dignity and gravity to try at least to nudge things in the right direction before they get any worse. The constitutional Head of State in our system has, in the words of Walter Bagehot, the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn. Someone needs to be a person of character and achievement and not a hollow empty dummy to be able to exercise such rights appropriately.

 

What is needed overall is someone with the practical wisdom and political virtue recommended by Aristotelian, Confucian, Buddhist and other cultures ~ or at least without obvious political ignorance or political vices. Balzac said the genius resembles everyone and no one resembles him. India needs a President and Vice-Presidents who can talk with crowds and walk with kings without losing sobriety ~ who have earned the country’s respect through worthwhile achievement yet have been without overt or covert political ambition.

India and “Energy Security”

First published in India’s Energy Security edited by Anant Sudarshan and Ligia Noronha, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, New Delhi 2007

“On the Political Economy of India’s Energy Policy: One Citizen’s Viewpoint”

by

Subroto Roy

For the idea of “energy security” to have meaning, “energy insecurity” must hold meaning as well.  Looking back a generation, the average American, European and  Japanese citizen became anxious and insecure when the cartel power of the oil exporting countries was first exercised, and energy prices quadrupled.   The idea of the US Government accumulating a “strategic reserve” of petroleum originated due to the oil crisis, and amounted to no more than a buffer-stock or commodity price-stabilisation scheme so “cheap gasoline” could be had always, and lifestyles would not be suddenly inconvenienced, and hence presidential popularity ratings would not suddenly drop.

In many ways energy insecurity has been a creation of bad design.  Hawaii is a good example of this.  Hawaii’s renowned climate is cooled by the magnificent trade-winds which blow all year long except in September.   Architecture suitable to those trade-winds would have created homes a few stories high with windows which could be opened.   Instead, Honolulu has become a city of high-rises and skyscrapers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — many with New York-style permanently closed windows and centralised airconditioning.

Energy Insecurity, and hence Energy Security, may be notions mostly relevant to advanced Western economies.  North American, European and Japanese homes, lifestyles, architectures and urban sprawls are all highly capital-intensive and inelastically dependant on domestic or imported energy.   The reason a vague undefined notion of “Energy Security” tends to make New Delhi anxious is because many inside the Delhi Beltway live in dreamlands or fantasy-worlds where they would like to imitate Western lifestyles in their personal lives.    But New Delhi is not Europe or America and certainly India is not New Delhi.

There are hundreds of millions of Indians in rural India.  What is the appropriate National Energy Policy for them?   It quite simply is for there to be genuine electrification of India’s 600,000 villages (where more than 70% of the rural Indian population still have no electric lighting even according to Government data), as well as better trains, better all-weather feeder-roads to reach bus routes and primary schools, and conditions to arise for technological change and normal prosperity among ordinary people, so those who are today transporting a whole family of four on a bicycle, are able in a few years to do so on a motor-scooter, and some years after that perhaps in a small private car.      Economic theory speaks of preferences, resources and technologies.   Preferences define and give rise to the demand-side; resources and technologies define and give rise to the supply-side.   Relative prices (which include interest-rates, reflecting the force of the present relative to the future) tend to intermediate equilibria between demand and supply conditions.    In policy-making, private preferences for public goods and services must somehow become translated through a tolerable political process into reasonable public preferences.   It must have seemed a good idea privately to someone to create skyscrapers with closed windows in Honolulu forgetting the trade winds and ignoring the energy-dependence of the Hawaiian Islands, yet in retrospect that may seem to have been publicly unwise.   Similarly, India is a coal-abundant coal-exporting and diesel-importing country yet we got rid of all our steam locomotives and replaced these with diesel engines – if there were enough reasons to do so, I at least remain ignorant of what they were.   One problem with our energy policy-making that has emerged in the current nuclear deal-making with American businessmen and politicians, is that it has seemed to lack rational assessments being made of relative costs and benefits in the Indian case of nuclear/fossil fuel/renewable energy, especially hydroelectric energy.  Indeed it reveals the same lack of transparency as other policy-making in this country – like the $12 billion worth of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus bought for our bankrupt nationalized airlines.

Moving from preference-formation to resources and technologies, it will be recalled that no economist of any school of thought anywhere ever backed the Club of Rome/“Limits to Growth” idea a generation ago that mankind was doomed in some sense to run out of resources.   There are always alternatives, each with a relative cost attached to it, and there are always new and unpredictable opportunities and ingenuities arising which dynamically change the set of alternatives on offer at a given time.   Prices and costs tend to adjust when possible to make myriad individual decisions consistent with one another, and in fact, futures, forward and option markets for petroleum products are among the most active and well-traded that there are in the world.  Design improvements in nuclear reactors will also improve productivity; e.g.  “fast breeder” reactors “breed” more fissile material than they use, and may get 100 times as much energy from a kilogram of uranium as existing reactors do.    We in India also have one innovatively designed thorium reactor under construction.

Coming to the nuclear deal, the plausible part of the Government of India’s official line on the Indo-US nuclear deal is that removing these international restrictions will — through importation of new technologies, inputs, fuel etc — improve the functioning of the 14 existing nuclear plants that are going to be designated as “civilian”.   However, those purchasing decisions involved in enhancing India’s efficiency gains must be made by the Government’s nuclear scientists on technical grounds of improving the working of our existing nuclear infrastructure.

It would be a different animal altogether to be purchasing new nuclear reactors on a turnkey basis from American, French or any other foreign businessmen in a purported attempt to improve India’s “energy security”.   The central question over such massive foreign purchases no longer would be the technical one of using the Indo-US deal to improve efficiency or productivity of our existing inefficient and even crippled nuclear infrastructure.   Instead it would become a question of calculating social costs and benefits of our newly investing in nuclear power relative to other sources like hydroelectric power.   The contribution of nuclear power to India’s electricity production has been close to negligible.  Among India’s energy sources, the largest growth-potential has remained hydroelectric.  Even if all other sources of electricity remained constant, and our civilian nuclear capacity alone was made to grow by 100% under the deal that Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia have been promoting, that would still make up less than 8% of total Indian electricity produced.

In 2004, the International Energy Agency’s estimated that the new energy capacity required by rising economic growth in 2020 will derive 1400 GW from burning coal (half of it in China and India), 470 GW from burning oil, 430 GW from hydro, and 400 GW from renewable sources like solar or wind power.  Because gas prices are expected to remain low worldwide, construction of new nuclear reactors for electricity will mostly remain  unprofitable.   By 2030, new energy expected to be required worldwide is 4700 GW, of which only 150 GW is expected from new nuclear plants which in any case will replacing existing plants due to be retired.   I am afraid the thought cannot be avoided that a proper cost-benefit analysis may reveal that the reason why potential American, French and other sellers of new nuclear reactors to India are becoming so keen on India using civilian nuclear energy is that they are unable to sell these reactors under free market principles elsewhere in the world  economy.    There is enough circumstantial evidence that the current nuclear deal-making has been promoted mostly by big business lobbies and has had little to do with anything else.    The nuclear deal was promoted by the US-India Business Council and the US-India CEO Forum. The Confederation of Indian Industry registered as an official lobbyist in Washington, and went about spending half a million dollars lobbying American politicians for the nuclear deal.  After President Bush’s visit to India, the US Foreign Commercial Service reportedly said American engineering firms, equipment suppliers and contractors faced a $1,000 billion opportunity in India, and the US Chamber of Commerce said the nuclear deal can cause $100 billion worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone.

If the Indo-US nuclear deal helps India improve or maintain its existing nuclear infrastructure, well and good.  If in fact the underlying motivation of the local and foreign business lobbies driving the deal has been to sell India nuclear reactors on a turnkey basis at a time when nuclear energy is uneconomical elsewhere in the world because of low gas prices, then India’s ordinary citizens may demand to know from the Government whether the deal is principally aimed at allowing such importation of new nuclear reactors, and if so, why such an expensive alternative is being considered.  Thus must include a realisation that while the transactions, organisation and political costs of getting new hydroelectric power investments off the ground are high, it is hydroelectric and not nuclear power where India’s real future potential exists.   As a general rule, I put it to you that we need to be less worried about “Energy Security” anywhere and more worried about thoughtless irresponsible corrupt governments everywhere.     There is no shortage of energy or resources as such anywhere in the world; what should be making us feel insecure is the shortage of  wisdom in political decision-making.  That there is everywhere.