Monday, November 19, 2007

One step forward, two steps back

In contrast to Lenin's dictum, "Two steps forward, one step back," the Left has succeeded in inflicting a wound on itself by its maneuvering on the Indo-US nuclear deal. Its concession allowing the government to begin negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency means it has abandoned its stand demanding that the government do nothing to "operationalise" the deal. In fact, all that is left to operationalise the deal from the Indian side is to work out an India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Thereafter, the US will take the agreement to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and seek an exemption from its rule barring trade with countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Only the US can do that,India is not an NSG member (as yet). But India can, and has been talking to individual NSG members for the past year or so, though there is no public record of the discussions. Formally, it is the US that will have to approach the NSG and seek, as India has demanded, a "clean exemption" ie, an unconditional one. This is not likely to be easy because the non-proliferationists in the US and Europe are mobilising their efforts to ensure that an NSG exemption is conditional on India's agreeing to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and commit itself to the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, if and when the latter is negotiated.Conditions are likely to be political dynamite in India and will be unacceptable to New Delhi.

The IAEA agreement is not likely to be too complicated because it will be based, as we have noted before, on the basic IAEA safeguards document relevant, INFCIRC/66. The Left has demanded, and the government has conceded, that the safeguards agreement will placed before the Left-UPA committee for approval. Just how this highly technical document be judged on by a political committee is not clear.The Left could insist on demanding provisions that are available for the de jure nuclear weapons states (under the NPT provision of having conducted a nuclear test before January 1, 1967). However, this would be a deal-breaker. Because while the US is willing to give India a de facto nuclear weapons state status, it simply does not have the power to turn the clock back and give India a de jure one. Seeking parity for the sake of parity will be a counter-productive move.
Whatever it is, Comrade Prakash Karat has given special interviews to indicate that there is no change in the Left's policy. That is hard to accept considering that he had declared that any step to operationalise the deal would lead to a withdrawal of the Left's support.
My guess is that the government is readying for an election by March-April and at the appropriate moment, it will move to clinch the deal and precipitate an election.

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