V.M.Gokuldas/New Straits Times, Malaysia, February 19, 2006
A CURIOUS anti-US, anti-West mood has gripped Indian minds with the key visits of Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac barely a few days away. India, it seems, is flexing its diplomatic/nuclear/economic muscle for the world to take note. The all-important nuclear deal with the United States will, in all probability, be ready in time for Bush’s arrival on March 1.
But in the run-up, detractors, dissenters and doubters have all but hijacked the deal. Retired military men who go swashbuckling once they hang up their uniforms, the usually silent scientific community and retired ambassadors, generally confined to bars and seminar rooms, have all cautioned against any "sellout" to the US and letting in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by the back door.
For the first time, perhaps, India is openly backing one of its brave sons, steel magnate L.N. Mittal, locked in a European boardroom battle for the acquisition of steel giant Arcelor.
New Delhi is fighting off Paris’ narrow nationalistic noises, sending terse messages to Chirac, and putting on hold a treaty to avoid double taxation with the Duchy of Luxembourg.
These are symbolic but significant acts, despite the importance the US and France attach to India’s nuclear, military, and economic plans.
A major Indian newspaper carries an interview with Al Gore, the Democrat who narrowly lost to Bush in the 2000 presidential election. He wants a special prosecutor to probe the management of postal ballots that ensured the first Bush victory. Gore tells spiritual guru Deepak Chopra that humanity is in "a dire emergency" and this planet is "in a grim crisis". But Bush is not even aware of it, being preoccupied with violating everything that America stands for. The timing of the interview is significant.
Indians do not need this prompting, though. The West’s involvement in Iraq, like elsewhere in the enlightened world, is a red signal against another misadventure in Iran. Yet, with the impending Bush visit and obviously with an eye on the Indo-US nuclear deal, once Russia and China voted against Iran, New Delhi found it easy to fall in line.
At home, democracy is at work with all its contradictions. Opposition to the Iran vote is not confined to Muslim groups; the Hindu liberals too are opposing "another Iraq". On the nuclear deal, the "Hindu nationalist" Bharatiya Janata Party, now the main political opposition, has virtually teamed up with the communists who are supporting the Indian Government from outside.
But political reality is such that if anyone comes up with a no-confidence motion in Parliament, the Left will not rock the boat. So, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite all these pressures, can still tide over the Iran vote and sign a reasonable nuclear deal with Bush.
Indeed, some of the opposition to the deal’s terms — they are only perceived, nobody knows precisely what they are — has been prompted by the Government, which wants to tell the Americans that India is no banana republic.
Contrary to perceptions, India did not at any stage offer to put its fast-breeder programme on the civilian nuclear list, to be separated from military ones, in order to move forward on the Indo- US nuclear deal.
Nor did the Americans ask for it. Again, contrary to public perception, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran did not submit to the Americans in December any list in black and white of facilities that would be exclusively used for civilian purposes.
At his meetings with Nicholas Burns, US under- secretary for political affairs, he only discussed the broad parameters that would govern the separation of India’s civilian and military nuclear facilities.
But the shadow-boxing over the nuclear deal, between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of External Affairs on the one hand and the country’s nuclear establishment and scientific community on the other, has already ensured that the fast-breeder programme will now not be put on the civilian list.
With his clever strategy of going public on an issue that was not yet on the table, top nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar, secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, has ensured that fast-breeders will remain part of the military nuclear programme.
The Indian nuclear establishment currently has an impressive eight reactors simultaneously under construction.
When all its fast-breeders become fully operational by the decade’s end, significant amounts of weapons-grade plutonium for making more and advanced atomic bombs will become available.
The nuclear deal, broadly agreed between Manmohan and Bush in July last year, is unique in that it is an agreement which has no text, no framework, no signatures, and, as of now, no convergence of views between governments which are supposedly parties to it.
Perhaps no other bilateral agreement has been the subject of so much analysis before it came into effect. A total consensus within the establishment may elude it even after it is signed.
Details have become public and so has the intent while the treaty is still under discussion. This is how it should be between two democracies.
By comparison, one cannot but hark back to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation, signed in August 1971.
It may not have come about if Indira Gandhi and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had publicly announced their intent and then proceeded to negotiate it, as Singh and Bush are doing.
Political will, dictated by the exigencies of those times — the impending Indo-Pakistan war over Bangladesh — brought it about. Through Singh and Bush, India and the US will have to display a similar convergence of political will and national interests.
In the melee over a nuclear deal, an equally important space pact has been totally ignored.
Indications are that both sides have engaged in quiet give-and-take and kept it away from controversy.
The taste of the space pudding will be known when it is eaten with perhaps the US backing an array of Indian ventures, including the ambitious mission to the moon.