NEW DELHI: “On the nuclear front there has been abject surrender by the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi to US interests, I have no hesitation in saying this publicly,” said former BJP Minister Yashwant Sinha in an interview to The Citizen.

Sinha who has served as Minister of both Finance and External Affairs was an inner member of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet, and one of a group of six entrusted with formulating and implementing the BJP policy on the nuclear deal when in Opposition. He gave this interview to The Citizen earlier this week, and before the Cabinet reshuffle at the Centre.

The senior BJP leader was aghast at the ‘surrender’ before the US pointing out that the Modi government had undone a great deal achieved by the BJP in bringing in checks and balances to curtail the Manmohan Singh government’s decision to go ahead with the nuclear deal and the controversial 123 agreement.

Sinha said that the BJP had worked with the Congress government under Manmohan Singh to ensure that the Civil Liability law did not give US nuclear companies a free run in India, and that their liability was not limited to just Rs 1500 crores. He said the UPA “did not have the courage to fiddle with the law” and it was passed by Parliament with the liability clause becoming a major sticking point with US nuclear reactor manufacturers like Westinghouse.

The former Minister who had taken a consistent stand against the nuclear agreement, said now under PM Modi “we are not only going strongly ahead with the implementation of the 123 agreement but we are in violation of the liability law today by what we have done.” Sinha said that by entering the Convention on Supplementary Compensation Damage, the Modi government has placed the responsibility for compensation on the Indian people.

This Convention, incidentally, “aims at increasing the amount of compensation available in the event of a nuclear incident through public funds to be made available by the Contracting Parties on the basis of their installed nuclear capacity and UN rate of assessment.”

And as Sinha pointed out that the government has now through this “convoluted arrangement” limited the liability of the foreign reactor suppliers to Rs 1500 crores, completely against the efforts of the BJP earlier that had worked to ensure that this limit was not opposed, and succeeded through the law.

It has done this, Sinha pointed out by one: creating an insurance pool;

And two, ensuring that this will be funded by an adding a 2-3 paisa per unit of nuclear energy as and when it is produced by the foreign reactor suppliers, that will then go to the insurance pool.

“So the burden of liability beyond Rs 1500 crores will be put on the people of India who will be paying a much higher price for this electricity,” he said. The BJP leader said that calculations by nuclear experts placed the price of nuclear energy then at Rs 25 per unit, exorbitant by any standards. “Clearly the government will be subsidising Westinghouse and other such companies from abroad with taxpayers money”, he pointed out. This, he added, “Is the sting in the tail”.

Going into the background of this “abject surrender” Sinha said that for nine years the BJP had opposed this nuclear deal and efforts by the Congress led UPA government to push it through without checks. He said that contrary to the propaganda “being dished out now”, former PM Vajpayee was opposed to the deal and a group was formed to process and monitor the developments. “None of the dramatis personae now were in the picture at the time,” he said.

The group of six included BJP leaders and former ministers Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh, Rajnath Singh, Yashwant Sinha and then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra. He said that the group would meet at Vajpayee’s residence, discuss the issues, take decisions, including on briefings to the media that were usually handled by him and Shourie. Sinha said that every written statement issued was vetted by the group under Vajpayee.

Sinha said he still remembers now Minister of State for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj’s speech at a parliamentary debate on the nuclear deal held at the BJPs insistence where “she pointed a finger a Manmohan Singh and told him “remember Manmohanji, future generations will never forgive you for this.” This he said has remained “stuck in my mind.”

Sinha also recalled that before a key Rajya Sabha debate on the issue in 2007 he and other BJP leaders had met with Sitaram Yechury and Amar Singh amongst others, to persuade them to insist on a ‘sense of the House’ resolution. He said that after the debate was over and Manmohan Singh had given his response he was surprised when “Yechury stood up and said that in his view this had reflected the sense of the House.” Sinha said he stood up to contradict the CPI(M) leader saying that the questions had gone unanswered.

Yashwant Sinha also spoke of the known volte face of then NSA Brajesh Mishra, who turned from a strong opponent of the deal to an advocate for it. NSA Shiv Shankar Menon singled out Mishra to show him an advance copy of the 123 agreement after which he turned supporter. Sinha said that in a major offensive Manmohan Singh personally telephoned key BJP leaders for their support, and invited them for dinner.

Vajpayee held a meeting to discuss this, before the dinner. He said he remembers that he was sitting with Mishra, Arun Shourie and Ranjan Bhattacharya (Vajpayee’s son-in-law) and Vajpayee called him on his mobile asking, “are you prepared (for the meeting with Singh). You must not bend or give in.” Sinha assured him that nothing of the kind would happen, and the meeting with the former PM ended on an inconclusive note with no assurance from the BJP group of leaders that they would support the nuclear agreement.

Under UPA 2 Sinha said that the BJP played a major role in formulating the Civil Liability law, that incidentally has held up the implementation of the nuclear deal till recently.

In 2014, Sinha said the entire BJP position held for nine years has been overturned, with the Liability Law being “consigned to the dust heap.”

He said the Modi government is going fast ahead with the implementation of the 123 nuclear agreement although We remain in violation of the liability law” passed by the Indian Parliament. He said this “abject surrender by the government of India under PM Modi” was being ignored by a pliant media, and underscored the burden it will put on the people of the country to keep themselves safe at a high cost to themselves.