Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The worm is turning

To go by what the media says, the nuclear deal is still showing some signs of life. This is what The Hindu reported on a press conference held during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to New Delhi:

Maintaining that the government remained committed to the civil nuclear deal with the United States, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said, “We have not reached the end of the road” even if there was some delay in operationalising it.

I am not surprised. I never believed it was dead. It did suffer a terrible blow when the Left suddenly pulled the rug under it in August, and a worse one when party members and UPA allies stabbed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the back.The reason why I remain optimistic is not some special information, but my analysis of what underpins its robustness.

In my view, the Indo-US nuclear deal, occasioned perhaps, by US worries about China, is actually a a larger geopolitical shift that is taking place as a result of the end of the Cold War. This is about the new world order that Bush 41 spoke of in 1990. India's nuclear status has been a pill stuck in the collective throats of the international community for quite a while. Bush 41 tried first to handle this by pinning down India and Pakistan in a regional arrangement, but this did not work. After India’s nuclear tests, and especially after 9-11 the situation was such that the idea of equating India and Pakistan became laughable. Pakistan was on the verge of economic collapse, the A Q Khan network had been exposed, and was now seen as a “rogue” state that had to be controlled. So, the US emphasis shifted to co-opting India.

The nuclear deal is a means of doing that, and there is nothing dishonourable about this. India is getting an opportunity to join the world community, whose leading lights also constitute the Nuclear Suppliers Group. There is an unwritten consensus among them that the US will work out the terms of engagement, and the Indo-American 123 Agreement is precisely that.

American benevolence has nothing to do with a sudden love for India and Indians, it is again, systemic. Indian economic weight is growing in handsome measure, its military power, though dissipated in internal policing, is not insubstantial. India is one of the most open societies in the world, fiercely democratic, naturally capitalistic, indeed a natural ally of the US, once the latter gets off its high horse and begins to understand the consequences of its misadventure in Iraq.

As for the nuclear deal politics, what we are seeing currently is intense effort to knock sense into the BJP’s head. Everyone, but everyone knows that the party is taking a completely opportunistic position on the deal—in other words, opposing it for the sake of doing so, rather than any principle. Brajesh Mishra’s comment is kind of non sequitur:

“If I were to get credible guarantees from the government about the integrity of what we (the NDA) had left behind three and a half years ago, what has been done in these three and a half years for them to prove that there are also enthusiastic about the nuclear weapons programme, then I would say, personally, to go forward with the deal because I am not so critical of the US for following this particular policy. I am critical of the government bending to the wishes of the US.”

The real pressure is coming from the BJP’s “natural allies”—its supporters and well-wishers in the corporate and business world who are unable to comprehend the party’s stand. No one knows what has driven that stand which reflects the views of the xenophobic right of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. Apparently Mr. Arun Shourie is its key mentor within the party’s core committee that decides policy. Why he, or for that matter Mr. Yashwant Sinha are there is a bit of a mystery since neither have any political base.

The BJP now has the option of simply backtracking and supporting the deal “in the national interest” or negotiating an arrangement with the Congress that could see the Parliament pass a “sense of Parliament” resolution underlining India’s belief in an “independent” foreign policy. The problem, however, is that the Congress and BJP are not on talking terms—the PM literally does not talk to the leader of the opposition. It is in such circumstances, of course, that the extremes of the Left flourish.

Confronted with the possibility that it may be left holding the can, the Left has changed tune. CPI(M) Party chief Prakash Karat who virtually accused Manmohan Singh of being an American stooge says in The Telegraph that he respects his integrity.

New Delhi, Oct. 30: In his first public overture to Manmohan Singh since the bitter stand-off began in early August over the Indo-US nuclear deal, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat today underlined the Left’s “respect” for the Prime Minister and appreciated his “unquestioned integrity”.

Is that a climb-down? Or an effort to get on to the "statesmanship" horse, after unhorsing the PM? You decide.

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