Left parties strenuously argue that the Indo-US Nuclear deal should not be
signed without parliament’s approval. They cite the American system wherein
the President must obtain Congressional approval for international treaties. But
the American President has a fixed term. The Indian government does not. In
India’s political system, parliament’s approval is not required by the
government to sign an international treaty. Nevertheless the government is
obliged to keep parliament informed about important executive developments so
that MPs may oversee the government’s functioning and deliver the sense of the
House before the government proceeds further. If the government ignores the
sense of the House and goes ahead, MPs have the right to vote the government out
if they think government’s policy jeopardizes national interest. That is how
our system ought to work according to the Constitution. It doesn’t.
Instead Left MPs whine about the majority view in parliament being ignored. But they ignore an important convention to prevent contempt of parliament and breach of privilege. Contempt of the House may be defined generally as "any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions". Overseeing the executive’s functioning is parliament’s responsibility. The government is obliged to inform parliament about crucial matters before informing the public. But what is happening in the government’s handling of the Indo-US N-deal?
On Monday the UPA government discussed progress on the deal with Left parties that are not part of the government. After the meeting the RSP general secretary TJ Chandrachoodan told media: "The government gave a gist of the draft safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Other salient features of the agreement were explained by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee."
Another top Left leader was quoted by the media: "We will have to study the draft in detail, seek more clarifications from the government and continue our discussions on that basis." Clearly the IAEA draft has not only been discussed in detail with the Left MPs but the full text will be made available to them.
How can government do this before taking parliament into confidence about the text of the IAEA draft agreement-- particularly when parliament is in session? Does it not amount to contempt of parliament? There is a further Constitutional impropriety. The N-deal affects India’s right to conduct nuclear tests. It is repeatedly stressed that this influences India’s armed forces. The President is the Supreme Commander of our armed forces. Has the government shown the President the IAEA draft of the safeguards agreement? Has it kept the President informed about the progress of the talks with the IAEA? It should be born in mind that the President and not the Prime Minister is the Supreme Commander of the armed forces.
The President is also under oath with sole responsibility to preserve and protect the Constitution. The Left parties are not part of the UPA government. They exert control over its policies as an extra-constitutional influence. They are now controlling policy that by their own assessment has crucial bearing on the future of India’s armed forces. Should the President as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces and being under oath to protect the Constitution allow the UPA government to discuss with Left parties the IAEA draft agreement? Should government show the Left parties its text before it has been shown to parliament?