BJP is tying itself in knots

…and making avoidable mistakes

The worst type of errors are the unforced ones. And the BJP’s leaders are making them. Sushma Swaraj’s ill-considered accusations gave pause to anyone who thought that the BJP might take internal security a little more seriously than the UPA. And it was followed by Manvendra Singh’s op-ed, of all places in The Hindu, that demonstrates the bind the party has gotten itself in in view of its partisan opposition to the nuclear deal. It is all the more surprising that such an article should come from Mr Singh, who is considered one of those rare politicians who have a good grasp of geopolitical and national security issues.

It is hard to understand why Mr Singh should dismiss India’s sense of confidence because it has “come from an access to markets, from an acquired sense of belonging” and “not from earning the seat or the role”. To the extent that this is true, it confirms the view that India’s foreign policy is lagging behind its actual geopolitical status. And that the nation and the economy have left the political class behind.

It is also hard to understand why Mr Singh should worry about “some fairly simple and laudable foreign policy intransigents” that we have jettisoned. He cites “From its stated position of a multi-polar world, India is now a practitioner of uni-polar politics.” He doesn’t support this assertion with any argument, other than contend that India would require Washington’s approvals to import South African, Russian, French or Japanese civilian power reactors. To the extent that this is true, isn’t it better to have a reactor—albeit one that comes with strings—than no reactor at all? Now, it would perhaps be cause for worry if these reactors accounted for a huge fraction of India’s energy supply, but he himself contends that at 40GW they won’t amount to more than 1 single-digit percent of India’s energy mix in 40 years. Surely, needing Washington’s approval for a mere 1 single-digit percent of India’s energy requirements isn’t something to lose sleep over?

Given its significance for party politics, it is understandable that Mr Singh should seek to justify his party’s position on the deal. But what is more worrisome is the underlying thinking that comes through in the op-ed.

The entire thrust of the deal is to secure for India technology from global civilian nuclear vendors. All of it depends on import. And how imports could make the country more secure is an oxymoron of the most perplexing kind. The only route India has to greater energy security is by implementing efficiency standards and building up on its abundant renewable resources…
What it needs is a re-working of the development vision for the country. Mega-projects and other big-ticket items are politics of the 20th century. India is a country that still refuses to urbanise at the global pace. All that it requires is to implement the panchayat level of thinking. Encourage, and allow, the development of renewable energy projects that are community-based, and sustained. Plan India, and implement village. This is the future, and there are ample examples of its success around the world. But it requires a change of mindset, shifting of gears, from Delhi to the districts. It is there that politics is played out, and there that energy security is available aplenty. [The Hindu]

Here Mr Singh is tossing out some simple and laudable intransigents of his own. The path to energy security—ask anyone in India’s nuclear power establishment—is the exploitation of abundant thorium resources. Some criticise Homi Bhabha’s vision as a chimera because it has proven so elusive. Yet the stakes are high enough not to abandon the project.

Now investment in renewable energy is a good idea. But just because India doesn’t have to import wind, water and sunlight it does not follow that renewable energy will not depend on imports—unless Mr Singh believes that all that technology will be developed and manufactured in India.

That brings us to his most perplexing statement: his contention that imports don’t make the country more secure. Unless Mr Singh is arguing that renewable energy will be sufficient to sustain 8 to 10 percent economic growth over the next two decades, India will have to import fuel: oil, natural gas, coal or uranium. Given this situation, India’s energy security lies in diversity: multiple sources of fuel from multiple countries such that no single source or country is large enough to cause trouble. That’s where nuclear power makes sense. Until the time thorium or renewables take us to the promised land, every kilowatt of nuclear power reduces India’s dependence on oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf.

Decentralised power may be the answer for towns and bigger villages (see Reuben Abraham & Atanu Dey’s piece in the August 2007 issue of Pragati). India’s pace of urbanisation might be slower than China’s, but 300 million people live in cities today. This number is expected to increase to 900 million (55 percent of the population) by 2050. Empowering them will need more than panchayat thinking.

11 thoughts on “BJP is tying itself in knots”

  1. Singh’s perspective is clearly different from yours Nitin. However, to call it an ‘avoidable mistake’ is unjustified and frankly, disappointing. No nation’s energy security will ride on a silver bullet, nuclear or otherwise. It is fair to say that nuclear energy has to be part of the solution but at an appropriate cost. There can be discussion around it as there has been.

    What gets my goat is this labeling of Singh’s solution as intransigent and ‘unforced error’. Anonymous Coward/Oldtimer – Do you think that Brahma Chellaney has also gone commie on us?

    PS Singh calls 40GW ‘single digit’ portion of energy supply and not 1%. Hold-up for 9% of India’s power supply could be a very big deal and the kind of leverage US would love to have.

  2. Manu

    Thanks for pointing out the single-digit bit. I stand corrected. But it doesn’t make a difference to my argument: if the proportion of nuclear energy is painted as insignificant, then it should not be worth losing sleep over. Mr Singh and the BJP have to decide: is it small, or is it worth losing sleep over?

    I fully agree that there’s no silver bullet. Perhaps someone needs to tell him that too. It’s far more difficult to believe in renewables being the silver bullet! As I’ve written in this post, the solution is diversity. We need everything that we can get. Nuclear too. Renewables too. Efficiency too. Saving T&D losses too.

    The phrase “tossing the intransigent” comes from his essay. I’m just pointing out that his proposal for renewables is also tossing the intransigent (ie the three-stage nuclear vision).

    (I’m afraid I entirely disagree with Brahma Chellaney on his position on the nuclear deal. I understand and appreciate him for making those arguments, but I disagree. )

  3. That’s fine Nitin. I don’t have an issue with your arguments. I support the deal myself, though I cannot say the same for the tone of discussion at times. Sushma Swaraj made a fool of herself in public. You did not need to associate Singh’s op-ed with her diatribe to make your case.

  4. Above all.. what’s wrong with BJP these days
    1) They tie up with CNN-IBN in a sting – even though that channel’s loyalties are well known.
    2) Vicky Malhotra talks in major debate as if no one else better than him is around
    3) Sushma looks cheap after her recent comments – I agree with that kind of dirty talk against UPA, but IMO seniors desist from such talk.
    4) Manvendra Singh writes an op-ed in a communist mouthpiece (that too a rag restricted to one state – TN) – this is blasphemy!
    5) YSR in AP gives so many opportunities (e.g. recent amendments to endowments act, Bethlehem grants, changing demographic equations in coastal areas etc.) to BJP to exploit and these dumbos look in a different direction. Situation here is not very different from J&K!!
    6) Sobha Khandalje is made minister in Karnataka – only God (and Yeddy ??) knows why?
    ….
    ….

  5. @Manu: The comment was made in reference of BJP leaders featuring in the Hindu, a known commie rag. N Ram interviewed Advani and now this.

  6. Nitin,

    >>if the proportion of nuclear energy is painted as insignificant, then it should not be worth losing sleep over.

    Provided the cost of it too is insignificant. I guess that’s what the debate is all about.

  7. “if the proportion of nuclear energy is painted as insignificant, then it should not be worth losing sleep over. Mr Singh and the BJP have to decide: is it small, or is it worth losing sleep over?”

    As one who is involved closely with the power sector, I am not sure if all the drama was over power plants at all. Was the Govt so long-sighted and so driven by national interest as to willing to be booted out of power, over 20000 MW, that too achievable only by the year 2020? Granted, that existing plants can operate at better plant=load -factor if more uranium is made available. But equivalent MW has been idle or running on low PLF due to non-availability of gas and the Govt has not lost much sleep over it. And, if MW addition is the goal, 20000 MW can come in 6-7 years ,by adding 5 more UMPP based on coal. Carbon emission be damned.

    The real pressure for the uranium must have come not so much from the power sector, but from the Defence, which could not be ignored. By now, I am sure, we know to work our way around safeguards. And,this real intention cannot be stated by the Govt.

  8. Prof T.T.Rammohan has the same views, in his post (http://ttrammohan.blogspot.com/2008/08/nuclear-deal-and-hyde-act-burns.html)

    He says :

    “I also do not buy the argument that this only a deal about nuclear energy. I am inclined to believe the deal is more about a strategic partnership with the US. It will give us access to dual-use technologies and it makes us an ally of the US at a time when China is on the rise and there are serious threats to Indian security arising from the Pakistan- Afghanistan neighbourhood as well as unfolding developments in Nepal, Burma and Sri Lanka.”

  9. Let us not exploit the unaware citizens, by involving emotional issues very dear to their hearts , but which will not contribute improve their lives. LEt US not crocodiles, but use our mind and might to make India prosperous land. Many articles of faith of yestertears like COW PROTECTION, ARTICLE 370, HINDI, MANDIR, ETC. that have ceased to give political dividends, are forgotten, costing many lives, and pushing our country to years back. Let us not decieve the ignorants for sake of our selfish ends.

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