N-deal: two unlikely architects usher in new era (News Analysis)

October 2nd, 2008 - 1:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghThe speed with which the nuclear deal sailed through the US Congress not only confirmed the wide bipartisan support for the measure, but also the Bush administration’s keenness about it. That the Senate and the House of Representatives took their eyes off the domestic financial crisis to see the deal through was testimony to the value placed on it by the entire establishment. Earlier, Washington had ensured its safe passage through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) after taking special care to neutralise China’s opposition along with that of six others.

America’s interest is all the more noteworthy in view of the presence of influential opponents of the deal among US legislators, in the think-tanks and in the media, especially the New York Times, which wrote two editorials against the step during the brief period when the measure was before the Congress.

Evidently, a remarkable transformation has taken place in American thinking since the time when it “tilted” in favour of Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh war and spoke to India in threatening terms about capping, rolling back and eliminating its nuclear weapons in Bill Clinton’s time.

Now, while American and Pakistani troops are virtually facing one another in the bad lands of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, India has succeeded in extracting what has been described as a sweetheart-deal by being allowed to retain its nuclear arsenal even as the world lifts its sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Pokhran I and Pokhran II tests in 1974 and 1998.

Not that there aren’t caveats. After all, America and the world still frown on future Pokhrans and the dust hasn’t yet settled on President Bush’s comment that several assurances, including the one on fuel supply, are not legally binding on Washington even if the US has made a “political commitment” in this regard.

However, as the conclusion of a civil nuclear agreement between India and France has shown, the approvals given by the IAEA and the NSG have already unlocked the doors for nuclear commerce for India, which has been closed since 1974.

So, American threats are not as restrictive as some fear. It is not impossible that the real intent of such observations was to silence domestic critics, who still cannot accept the idea of a ‘Third World’ country breaking into the big league.

Besides, the question of tests themselves is a red herring since the possibility or the need for India to conduct one are remote as such experiments can nowadays be carried out in laboratories.

Now that the deal is through, attention will turn on its impact on domestic Indian politics. That it is a crowning achievement for Manmohan Singh cannot be gainsaid. But the timing is less than appropriate. The country is too perturbed at the moment with the continuing terrorist outrages to focus on an international diplomatic breakthrough.

The fallout on the Indian economic scene from America’s financial problems is another issue which can detract from any celebrations for the deal. The critics in India, such as the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as also a few strategic experts, will also continue to stress the negative aspects to create an atmosphere of despondency so that their political enemies, viz. the Congress, do not register any gains..

In any event, it is a subject which is more esoteric for the average person than one with immediate quotidian relevance.

Even if the Congress presents it as a bijli-pani (electricity-water) issue, critics will say that it will take years before the new reactors are built and power begins to flow. True, nuclear fuel will now be available for the existing reactors, but such details do not always interest the ordinary person.

But even if there are no immediate political gains for its votaries, history cannot but record that the deal marked a dramatic change from the Cold War era when India and the US were on virtual opposite sides of the fence. Now, the two democracies - the largest and the oldest - have put an end to that absurd period of alienation.

History will also say that two unlikely persons were responsible for the birth of a new era in Indo-US relationship. While Manmohan Singh described himself as an “accidental” prime minister because he has never been a mass leader, the ratings of George W. Bush are one of the lowest for an American president, largely because of his foreign policy blunders centred on Iraq.

But while the apolitical Indian leader coerced and cajoled his own reluctant party to push through the deal, the unpopular US president ignored decades of anti-Indian prejudice based on New Delhi’s earlier proximity to the Soviet Union to chart a new course in mutual relations.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in India |