Political etiquette

THE SITUATION at the nuclear power plants in Japan is uncertain and contradictory scientific reports are further muddying the waters. While we have witnessed and reacted to the disastrous earthquake and tsunami, the larger issue of nuclear radiation and contamination cannot be neglected. A tsunami might strike once in a few decades, but it has left a million questions in its wake.

The Japanese fear radiation in food and tap water within a 20-km radius of the nuclear plants.
And the world now has serious issues to consider with regard to the “new” nuclear power plants. The repair and replacement schedule of the existing nuclear plants is also a concern as the technology used is being questioned. We need a safety audit across the globe and while this may have already begun in the developed countries, the developing world is yet to seriously figure out its future energy needs.
I am a little surprised that Japan, which lies in an active seismic zone and is prone to tsunamis, opted, at the planning stage, for such a large number of nuclear plants which cater to about 60 per cent of its energy needs. Was this a part of a political agreement and pressure from multinational companies after the Second World War and the two-decade development plan financed by the Western world?
WikiLeaks’ recent exposures on the Indo-US nuclear deal and the cash-for-votes issue indicate the desperate measures adopted by both the US and India. This scenario, I am sure, is no different from other countries that have nuclear technology.
I have been a great supporter of nuclear power ever since I handled the power portfolio in 1985. I still think that it is the best option for the future, but the “unthinkable” has happened and that too in Japan, which has the highest standards of quality and safety in the world. India urgently needs a safety audit.

I AM rather disappointed that WikiLeaks exposures are being given unnecessary importance. These are little more than individual viewpoints expressed by senior and junior diplomats and intelligence officers and do not merit much attention.
Many of us as ministers have had access to internal reports and assessments given by the ministry of external affairs and after looking at the quality of dispatches released by WikiLeaks, I am surprised at the quality of information being exchanged at the senior level in the US.
We have good relations with the US and we wish them well. While we have several spheres of common interests, we also have different perceptions. For example, India decided to abstain from the United Nations Security Council vote on Libya, while the US hoped for a quick resolution on Libya. As mature democratic nations, we should have few problems in managing our contradictions.
Intelligence and counter-intelligence units exist in every country and I think it is necessary for every political party to follow proper political etiquette within a government and within a party. Very few activities go unnoticed and unreported and we do not need WikiLeaks to give us information on any sensitive issues.

North Africa continues to be volatile and events overtake decisions as the US and its allies (the UK and France) have launched missile attacks on the power structure of Libya’s dictator, Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi. Libya is being torn apart by civil war and the ground situation is very difficult to read.
We see violence erupting in Bahrain and Yemen where, despite the presence of troops, heavy casualties are being reported. This will only spur the people’s movement further.
Violence continues unabated in Algeria and Syria as well. Clearly, the pro-democracy movement, which started with the death of a humble fruit-seller in Tunisia, has gained momentum in the Arab world.
The prices of petrol and diesel can increase, as indicated by the escalating crude oil prices, and India has much to worry about on this account. The year 2011 is going to be very difficult as the inflation estimates given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his economic team seem far from accurate.
Disturbing trends are already visible as food prices rise across the globe. Though there is a deceptive calm in the global market after a partial recovery over the last few quarters, the developed world continues to live in denial of the trouble indicators for the future.
There are no easy solutions for the future. Global opinion is divided on the way the US and its allies are handling the situation in Libya, but no one wants another Iraq or Afghanistan. What will happen if the air strikes carried out by the allied forces fail to achieve their objective?

POLITICS IS not for the faint-hearted and, despite several concerns, our political system is alive. Look at the vigorous electoral negotiations for the upcoming Assembly elections. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has concluded stormy negotiations with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which had initially served ultimatums and threats but then retreated when the Congress held its nerve.
In West Bengal, the Trinamul Congress has reached a seat-sharing agreement with the Congress on its own terms. In both cases, the negotiations reflect the ground realities and were good settlements by all standards.
In Assam, we may well see the Congress doing well against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Asom Gana Parishad.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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