[This editorial appeared in The Hindustan Times (New Delhi and Mumbai) March 3, 2006]
Things change, times change is the phrase with which President George W. Bush neatly summed up the essence of the new Indo-American relations. Battling criticism in the US and India, Mr Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have taken another decisive step to end 30-odd years of estrangement — characterised by US embargo and sanctions — and give shape to a broad-based partnership. As a first step, the nuclear pill lodged uncomfortably in the Indo-American throat is in the process of being swallowed. As Mr Bush candidly pointed out, this has not been easy for either him or Mr Singh.
As of now, India has managed to sell its plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities to the Bush administration. On the basis of this arrangement, President Bush has to persuade the US Congress to pass enabling legislation to lift the raft of laws that restrict US nuclear and other hi-tech trade with India. At the same time, he will push the Nuclear Suppliers Group cartel to lift restraints that have, in essence, crippled India’s nuclear power programme. India needs the deal to sharply boost the proportion of nuclear power in its energy mix. The US, as Mr Bush observed, too needed it, both as a measure of the changed relationship with India, as well as to ease the pressure on other energy resources because of the burgeoning Indian demand. What he did not say was that the agreement, which would upend the traditional US non-proliferation policy, was also a means of signalling that the US has a special place in its mind for India in the emerging world order.
In another time and context, another US president had declared that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. India and America today need to overcome apprehensions — the US of our nuclear capability, and India of its nagging feeling that all this will somehow undermine its hard-won sovereignty. If there is one word that repeatedly cropped up in Mr Bush’s remarks, it was ‘partnership’ ranging from counter-terrorism to trade, investment and technology collaboration. Given the current asymmetry between us, this may appear somewhat overdrawn, but it is a far cry from our past relationship. Each of these areas represents an opportunity that needs to be seized with both hands.