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Rahul heckled while attempting to woo MPs PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 24 July 2008

Indian nuclear debate

Roving Correspondent

Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent of India's ruling political dynasty, was barracked and heckled as he attempted to woo wavering MPs in a knife-edge vote of confidence in the Indian government.

Opposition MPs who support Kumari Mayawati, the "untouchable" leader, refused to let Gandhi, a member of the Congress party-led coalition government, continue to speak, alleging they had been threatened by security services with fraudulent criminal charges.
Gandhi, who had been attacked for speaking in English and switched to Hindi, simply gave up - though the speaker later allowed him to finish.
The government was forced into offering a "trust vote" this month when communist parties, with 59 votes, withdrew from the coalition government because the prime minister announced it would press ahead with the long-stalled nuclear deal with the United States.
If signed into law, the deal would allow India to buy nuclear fuel and technology on global markets and allow the country to keep its nuclear weapons. At present, as a nation that has refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, India is banned from trading in nuclear know-how.
Attempting to defuse barbs about whether he was an Indian, Gandhi - whose mother, Sonia, was born in Italy - said he had decided not to speak as a member of a political party but as "an Indian". Speaking softly, he tried to make the case that nuclear energy was central to the growth of the country.
"We are meeting here today because there is a serious problem in India and the problem is our energy security. Poverty is directly connected to the energy security … The problem of energy security reflects itself among all Indians. Energy affects India's growth and energy is responsible for allowing us to grow at 9%."
In an impressive performance, Gandhi assuaged his critics by allowing them to first have 30 minutes to complain. He then made a short reply – to silence. The argument he made was that India should not worry about how "the world will impact it but should worry about how you will impact the world".
Gandhi said that India and China would account for the bulk of energy use in the coming decades and that would mean new responsibilities for the country. Comparing the nuclear deal to the emergence of information technology he said it too would benefit the poor.
The communist parties and rightwing critics argue the nuclear deal would chip away at India's sovereignty, making it beholden to US strategic interests and taking away its right to conduct nuclear tests.
The finance minister, P Chidambaram, attacked the critics earlier in parliament, saying this would not allow India "to emulate China".
The confidence vote still appears too close to call for the government. If it wins a majority of the parliament, which has 543 members, it will remain in power until its term ends next May. If it loses, elections will be held later this year – just as a rising inflation begins to hurt.
Even if the vote is won, India has to secure the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. Finally, the United States' Congress has to vote on the deal.

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