At every stage opponents of the nuclear deal said it would not make it, be amended beyond recognition or simply fail to pass muster. But two people-- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush-- insisted that a deal based on a joint statement they had made on July 18, 2005 would emerge.
It has, and it is set to shake not just the world, but Indian politics as well. Let me make one thing clear-- the agreement now confers on India a de facto status of a nuclear weapons state. We can never be de jure because the NPT condition is that we should have tested before 1967. Amending this, which seems to be what the BJP claims it wants to do, would require the strong support of over 120 countries in the world, a task that can be well deemed impossible. The point is, is it worth it ?
The second thing the deal does is to finally bury the policy of equating India and Pakistan in the South Asian region. For decades India has chafed at the world's tendency to adopt an equidistant approach towards the two South Asian neighbours. Now, decisively, the game has changed.
The third, and perhaps the most important outcome, is that this represents India's entry into the world order as a significant power. (I won't use loaded terms like "Great Power" .) As long as the nuclear embargoes remained on us, we were not quite the same as the others. We could boast of our bomb, our BPO prowess, our economic growth, our invites to the G-8 meetings and so on. But we were still at a level different from, let us say, China. They could import powerful computers, uranium, sensitive machine tools and components for satellites that were denied to us. Now, all these possibilities will open up.
The fourth point is that while some aspects of this entry (India's nuclear tests of 1998) are tantamount to a gate-crash, it is a friendly welcome. The opposition of Austria, Ireland, New Zealand is history. What is more significant is that countries ranging from Russia, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Germany, France, joined the US in welcoming India into the nuclear club. They have not done this because they love India, but because they recognise the role India has played in global politics till now, and the one it will play in the future is benign and will be beneficial to them individually.
The key role in this has been played by the United States. We need to understand why. There is nothing conspiratorial about it. India is good bet. In its own way the US has invested in us for decades, even when its main bets were on Pakistan. It was US assistance of the 1960s that enabled India's educational base which paid off in the 1990s. Why it is so important for the deal to go through now is that President George W Bush has invested as much political capital on this deal as he has on Iraq. That is a losing investment, but India will pay of.
Let us be very clear. No other country could have delivered the NSG to India other than the US. At the end of the day it was the US which had to kick the collective butts of the Irish, Austrians and the Norweigians. These rich, white, countries have zero dependence on nuclear power and are not nuclear exporters, and were yet trying to play spoiler. In some ways this is an object lesson in power politics. These countries were trying to punch far above their weight and they were clobbered.
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deserves the credit for single-handedly steering the complex agreement. For long stretches he was alone and had to face the lonliness of the long-distance runner. But his frail frame hides an iron will which has been manifest not just on this deal, but in India's efforts to restructure its economy in the 1990s. But Manmohan Singh's policies were not sui generis. He didn't dream them up. They represent the culmination of a strategic direction that was set by Indira Gandhi in 1980. She, if you recollect, is the one who put us on the path of making nuclear weapons as well.
We should also not forget the role played by Mohammed El Baradei, the head of the IAEA. His positive attitude towards the deal and his personal credibility as the chief of the anti-proliferation watch-dog, went a long way in shoring up support for India.
The last point I would like to make for now is that this deal also marks a major shift in India's domestic politics. Since the mid-1950s, the Congress party has had a left wing. This has comprised of crypto communists and real communists. It has been based on the party's belief that socialism is somehow the solution to India's ills.
By forcing the Congress to take a call on the deal, Prakash Karat and co have actually forced the Congress party to take a look at itself. The clarity with which Sonia, and more important, Rahul Gandhi have supported the deal indicates that the Congress is at last in the process of defining its post-Indiria ideology. This process was begun by Rajiv Gandhi, but was short-circuited by his assassination.