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Nuclear Deal:AN OBITUARY IN OFFING, by Monish Tourangbam, 2 April 2008 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 2 April 2008

Nuclear Deal


By Monish Tourangbam

The Shakespearean question “To Be or Not To Be?” over the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal has been answered in the negative, albeit, subtly. The recent visit of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Washington, although significant for the growing Indo-U.S. relations in diverse areas, seems to have given an obituary to the deal in spite of high sounding official optimism.

Though the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mukherjee expressed confidence of continuing the deal, which the former termed as a “landmark agreement”, the domestic realities in India and the ambiguity of the Minister’s statements in Washington present a different picture. Two governments in their last stages of tenure are reluctant to admit that the deal is collapsing. India, during Mukherjee’s visit last week, said that it would not move forward on the deal until a political consensus was achieved.

While stating that India was aware of the time-frame suggested by members of the U.S. Congress, the Minister also said that “events have their own momentum.” Although India had finalised the language of the safeguards text with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he said it was not in a position to give a time-frame by when the deal could be wrapped up.

Statements from the U.S. Congress and Bush Administration have been sounding the bugle continuously on the time-frame. According to American officials like Senator Joseph Biden, for the Congress to make a final vote on this issue in 2008, it is necessary that the agreement must land on the doorstep of the Congress by latest May or June, which is  a tall order given the volume of processes that India has yet to go through. India needs to firm up the agreement with the IAEA and secure changes in the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) to enable nuclear commerce with it.

On March 1, The Hindu reported some plain and aggressive statements from the U.S. Government explaining the futility of a scenario in which India would bypass the US to engage in a civilian nuclear deal with another country. According to the report, the US advises India against such a step for the fact that no decision could be finalised at Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) without a consensus. In effect emphasising that the U.S. was the vanguard of the group..

It is reasonable to believe Mukherjee’s statement that it will be an embarrassing situation for the country, if the successive government doesn’t honour the deal, thus necessitating a resolution of domestic differences, before any decision is taken. But, we cannot deny, at the same time, that this will not mitigate the emergency of the time-frame and the fact that both the governments are at the dusk of their tenure. Moreover, India has already had a credibility gap by failing to sell a deal it had signed at the international table, back home. Thereby, pointing to the lack of “politicisation of foreign affairs” in the Parliament. The Americans have said the pact may fall through if it doesn't reach the Congress by July as a short legislative calendar before the November 4 elections could complicate its passage. On the other hand, India says that it cannot work to a deadline. Now, what could complicate the issue more?

On March 17, the Government and its Left allies had failed to break the deadlock over the controversial deal, however, hoping to make progress in a meeting the following month. But, knowing the Left’s stand viz India’s relations with the U.S, the procrastination will only bring more frustration for the Manmohan Singh Government. We all know that the Left’s stand is rooted in instinctive anti-Americanism: a policy centred on anything and everything to do with America.

Despite its long history in politics, the Left has never been this close to the corridors of power and at least in this case, its new found power seems to have affected the realisation of a pragmatic deal. As for the BJP, this is a deal that it would have accepted with fanfare and “cries of victory” when in power. Its preoccupation seems to be dictated by a goal to pull down the government. Just as the present deal cannot be de-linked from the Strobe Talbott-Jaswant Singh Talks, the 1998 tests carried with it the physical and political preparations of the previous Congress governments.

The domestic cacophony over the deal and the fragility of the UPA coalition has not stopped unravelling. The helplessness of the Congress party in its negotiations with the Left ally over the deal, is being seen increasingly. And the political rhetoric over the deal and larger Indo-U.S. engagement continues to flow from the Left. It continues to criticise the presumed shift in India’s foreign policy. Speaking at the inaugural session of the CPM 19th Congress at Coimbatore last week, its party general-secretary Prakash Karat, said that the party and other Left groups had been instrumental in preventing the deal from going through and that effort should continue to undo the military collaboration agreement.

“The struggle to disentangle India from the ‘strategic embrace’ of the U.S. must continue,” Karat said. A.B. Bardhan, re-elected CPI general secretary , who was a special invitee to the Congress said, “the text of the nuclear deal negotiated with the IAEA is before the UPA-Left Panel. We have not yet come to grips with it. But, the stand of the Left parties remains unchanged: to oppose the deal.” So, it should be clear that the Left parties come with a pre-condition, i.e., to oppose the deal, whatever the rhetoric. In this scenario, the chances of a consensus seem bleak.

In an interesting development, Terrie Albano, a leader of the communist party in the US, who was attending the CPM Congress told the The Hindu that she gave full support to the CPM’s stand.

It is unfortunate scenario for Indian politics and the interests of the country  at large. With a growing economy and a modernising society, energy security will become a core challenge for India in the coming years. If India is to meet its target of nuclear generation capacity of 250 gig watts, or 25 per cent of India’s power by 2050, it has to import energy resources and nothing could be more satisfying yet pragmatic than the current deal. As to the concerns of India becoming a stooge of American power, India’s power vis-à-vis the American power has relatively changed since the days of the Tarapur issue. It would be totally unpragmatic for the U.S. to try and hurt the Indian economy looking at the kind of inter-linkages that globalisation has brought and the growth of the Indian economy. Moreover, India is not inexperienced in battling isolation politics.

All these facts might seem like an effort to burn wet wood considering the fate that beckons the deal, but it is important to know the kind of opportunities that fall victim to political rhetoric. The governments in the U.S. and in India have sounded optimistic in public, probably, keeping in mind the coming elections in both the countries. They would not like to jeopardise a revival of the deal by making the obituaries public.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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