For the last one year the country has been debating the Indo-US nuclear deal. Now it looks almost certain that the deal is through. Skeptics say that there are many hidden clauses perhaps in the deal. Some of the binding and non-binding conditionalities have made the critics point out that the US has again shifted the goal post.
The most worrying aspect of the deal is UPA'sunilateralism. India'snuclear programme was backed by strong national will. The government cannot destroy the hard work of Indian scientists with a deal that permits outside interference that emasculates its nuclear options in military and civil sectors. This deal has made India perpetually dependent on the US on nuclear energy. The deal has put restrictions on India'scapacity to have a minimum nuclear deterrent capability. Critics also say that American negotiators have succeeded in India getting into the CTBT regime and also signing a fissile material cut-off treaty. India would face a ban on nuclear testing though the country is committed to a self-imposed moratorium on this. These problems can be taken care of if the Indian government insists, when the US legislation that seeks to exempt India from the 1954 Atomic Energy Act is taken up in the full floor of the House of Representatives this month end.
One need not take the Communist opposition too seriously. Ever since 1991 the Left has accused every government at the Centre of selling out to the US. Now they are talking of the deal as undermining India'ssovereignty. When India signed a strategic treaty of cooperation with the then Soviet Union, the Communists were in the forefront celebrating it, despite apprehensions in the anti-Communist bloc.
The deal has presented India with a new opportunity. The other option was to continue with its nuclear isolation, and perpetually be in competition with Pakistan. The Communists were always opposed to India'snuclear status. To keep the pro-Pakistan lobby in the country happy, they even organised country-wide protest marches, and denounced India in all available international fora, when the NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee proudly declared India a nuclear power in 1998. That is a process which has culminated in the present deal. As a sovereign country, India is free to walk out of any deal citing supreme national interest.
Diplomacy is about the best possible options. Decades of non-alignment and commonwealth obsessions have not yielded India much global significance. Today India is entering the big league. If President George Bush, whose domestic ratings are touching rock bottom, makes the Indo-US nuclear deal as his most important foreign policy success and manages to get support even from skeptical Democrats, because they don'twant to be seen as voting against India, it only proves India'sgrowing clout as a world power. This should make India proud.
Immediately after George Bush signed the deal with India, The Economist in a scathing editorial attack characterized it as ?Dr Strangedeal? (March 11, 2006) and exhorted, ?Congress should veto George Bush'snuclear agreement with India.? It said: ?In striking his deal with India, allowing it to import nuclear fuel and technology despite its weapons building, Mr Bush has not for the first time seemed readier to favour a friend than to stick to a principle. He is gambling that the future benefits of accepting a rising India in all but name as a member of the nuclear club will outweigh the shock to the global anti-proliferation regime already under severe strain… His gamble is a dangerous one.?
India had to suffer nuclear apartheid all these years which kept it from actualising its potential in nuclear technology. That the Bush administration could get the proliferation sensitive lobby in the US Congress to endorse the agreement in exchange for some non-binding clauses has come as a relief to India. The proliferation hardliners inspired by the Islamabad-Beijing nexus went all out in denouncing the deal.
The domestic political reaction is interesting to watch. The Congress cannot celebrate on the deal for fear of the Communists and the Muslims whom the party is cynically trying to propitiate. The Left and Muslim political opinion continue to back Iran'snuclear ambitions. They think that the non-binding clause to extend ?full and active participation in the US efforts to dissuade, isolate and if necessary sanction and contain Iran? in the nuclear deal could alienate the Muslim community from the Congress. The Communists reaped a rich harvest in the Kerala and West Bengal election by mobilizing the fundamentalist Muslim support. They had made the Indo-US nuclear deal and the UPA'salleged pro-US foreign policy a major plank of their campaign. Similarly, Mulayam Singh and the BSP are waiting to cash in on the same issue in the UP state assembly election early next year.
The Bill approved by the US? International Relations Committee says that the cooperation between India and the US will enable India to give greater political and material support to the achievement of US global and regional efforts against states that sponsor terrorism and terrorist groups. As far as India is concerned, Pakistan is the most obvious target of this specification. In a recent rally addressed jointly by the CPM general secretary Prakash Karat and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow, the participants reportedly carried placards saying that they were willing to become fidayeens for the Islamic cause. This is the menace India is facing and we have to confront it with any power willing to support us.
American companies and the NRIs lobbied hard with hostile Congressmen to make the deal possible. The bottom line is enlightened national interest.