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Author and scholar Vijay Prashad says the US-India nuclear deal will protect US corporations from liability in case of an industrial disaster like India faced in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. The nuclear agreement reached between the U.S. and India during President Obama’s visit this weekend is being hailed as a historic breakthrough. It follows up on the 2006 nuclear deal between the two countries that was stalled on the issue of liability for U.S. corporations. That hurdle was cleared by eliminating the financial responsibility for U.S. companies in case of a disaster like what happened to Japan at Fukushima. Obama’s visit also witnessed the bolstering of defense ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Now joining us from Northampton, Massachusetts, to discuss all this is Vijay Prashad. He is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College. His latest book is No Free Left: The Future of Indian Communism. He’s also the chief editor at Left World Books. Thank you so much for joining us again, Vijay. VIJAY PRASHAD, PROF. OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: Pleasure, Jaisal. Thank you. NOOR: So the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal industrial disaster, the greatest industrial disaster in world history, just passed a few months ago. And now the prime minister of India has agreed to this deal, which some have said leaves potential victims of future nuclear disasters in India in the same boat as the victims of the Bhopal gas leak. What’s your response? PRASHAD: The Bhopal incident is a very good test case, where despite the fact that there’s Indian law that actually constrains firms from walking away from disasters, nothing has happened for the victims 30 years later. The people who had been brought before the courts were able to pay bail and flee Indian jurisdiction. There was no hope of bringing them back to India, despite the fact that India and the United States have an extradition treaty. So in the historical period, the fact that there was no real robust approach towards prosecuting industrial crimes shows that there has been no stomach, really, in this [core (?)]. In this case, in 2005 and 2006, India and the United States went into a discussion around a nuclear agreement, where essentially India, despite being outside the International Atomic Energy Agency, despite not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, was provided by the United States as sort of a approach out of the nuclear cold. The United States was going to make sure that India was able to get nuclear material from the nuclear suppliers group. The United States was going to make sure that its firms were going to enter India and bring in nuclear technology. There was a huge debate in India in the Parliament, which at that time leaned somewhat more left than right, in 2010 passed a law which was the Nuclear Liability law, which basically prevented the government from offering the United States what it wanted, which is a limited liability or no liability for American firms which would operate inside India. But it turns out now Mr. Modi, despite the fact that there is parliamentary restriction, has decided to loosen liability for American firms operating in India. And the likelihood is that because the Parliament leans further right than left, they’re going to overturn that law. NOOR: And it’s my understanding that the BJP actually opposed this nuclear deal originally when they were in the opposition. Talk about this deal now and the fact that the BJP has now helped pass it now. PRASHAD: Well, Jaisal, the BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, have been arguing since the 1950s for a very close relationship between India and the United States. They have wanted to break with U.S. and with Indian relations with the Non-Aligned Movement, later with Indian closeness to the Soviet Union, and go full-fledged into a close relationship to the United States. So this has been a long-term agenda for the Hindu right, which is now in power in India. It is, of course, the case that when the Congress government, that is, the opposing government, attempted to do this nuclear deal, the BJP in Parliament protested against it on a variety of grounds, including a kind of straightforward nastiness ground: why should we make this deal with the Americans? But meanwhile, thanks to WikiLeaks, it was clear that senior BJP leaders, such as Jaswant Singh, went to visit the American embassy and said, look, we have to make these kind of noises for election purposes, but really we are for a nuclear deal. The problem that you, the Americans, have made is you’ve tried to make this deal with a Congress government, which at that time relied on communist support for the government to stay in power. He said, instead of going with them, you should have gone with us, you should go with us. So it’s very clear that from that private statements and from the deal that is now being cut, the BJP was never really opposed to a nuclear deal with the American government. NOOR: And so, during this visit, President Obama also shored up military ties Narendra Modi. Talk a little bit about that. And at the end of the day, whether it’s talking about the civilian nuclear program or the military, corporations are benefiting on both ends. PRASHAD: Well, exactly correct. I mean, look, the beneficiary of this nuclear deal is not the American public; it’s Westinghouse, it’s the big nuclear manufacturers. And besides that, the nuclear deal in 2006 was conducted essentially as a way to make India a vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting. You know, it’s a strange situation. India had a leadership position in the International Atomic Energy Agency despite the fact that it’s not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So at one level, this is about cooperation or corporate profit, and it’s about the kind of geostrategic objectives of the U.S. government. Well, with the defense agreement, this has also been around now almost 20 years. United States and India have conducted military exercises together. India is one of the largest importers of weapons in the world. It imports half of Israel’s exports. And it imports a very large amount of American material. This deal is interesting, because the Obama administration and the administration of Mr. Modi have now talked about joint ventures for drone production and C-130 aircraft production in India. That means U.S. firms will be working to produce military equipment in India. And India, of course, will also buy military equipment from the United States. So, once again, there is a kind of boondoggle for large corporations. But at the same time, this boondoggle for corporations is related to India coming into the American narrative of geopolitics. NOOR: Well, Vijay Prashad, thank you so much for joining us again. PRASHAD: Thank you. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.


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Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.