India must not go back on nuclear deal

India must not go back on nuclear deal
By H. K. Dua

There comes a time when those who have taken upon themselves the responsibility to lead a nation or a cause have to bite the bullet and move on to achieve the desired aim.

That time has come for Dr Manmohan Singh to see that the Indo-US Nuclear Deal he signed with George W. Bush gets operationalised before the end of his tenure as also that of the US President.

Dr Manmohan Singh signed the nuclear deal three years ago, after which its follow-up has seen plenty of ups and downs, drift and uncertainty, which do not enhance the credibility of his government at home, or of the country abroad.

Not seeing the nuclear deal through its final stages and allowing it to lapse will amount to India reneging on an agreement, which this nation has not done even once since Independence.

Dr Manmohan Singh is not a politician of the familiar kind and is known to be sensitive that not finalising the deal will give an impression that he had gone back on the commitment he had made on behalf of his country.

The nuclear deal has been stymied by the Left not necessarily because it will have no spin-offs for India, but mainly because of the fear that it may push India into the American fold — a situation it cannot think of living with. This psychology comes out of its ideology, which pits it against that of the entire western capitalist and democratic world, and was bred during the Cold War days.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the world has changed in a big way and India, a nation of over a billion people, should have the confidence to deal with even the mightiest powers and on terms honourable for it and consistent with its wider national interest.

Dr Manmohan Singh and his team of negotiators were still in Washington DC in July 2005, when the CPM leaders shot off a statement giving notice that they would oppose the nuclear deal with the US. Until today, the CPM and its friends in the Left have not swerved from their resolve. The Left can certainly earn high marks for consistency, but not for pragmatism or reposing confidence in India’s capacity to stand up on its own.

The Left has no answer to two simple questions: From where will India get enriched uranium to fuel its nuclear reactors to produce more energy for the nation which is daily living with power breakdowns? Also, how will it gain access to high technology, badly needed by sensitive areas like defence and space and for further development of nuclear programme and industrial growth in general?

The Left’s objections are easy to understand, but not those of some Congress leaders and a handful of Congress MPs who want to stretch their tenures to the last minute of the Lok Sabha. Even a cabinet minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet openly stated that if his party were to choose what to save, it would save the government, rather than the nuclear deal.

With time passing fast, this threat has lost much force. Less than a year is left for the government. Even if it goes ahead with the nuclear deal and the Left pulls the rug, it does not involve a great sacrifice.

Instead, going ahead with the nuclear deal will help Dr Manmohan Singh to wash off the criticism that his is a weak government which has allowed itself to be pushed around by its coalition partners as well as the supporters in the Left.

Going ahead with the deal will re-establish the government’s credentials with the people for its ability to be decisive and for its keenness to implement what it believes to be right and in the nation’s interest.

Nitty-gritty apart, there are three stages the deal has to cross. First, India has to finalise an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency on clearly spelt-out India-specific safeguards — a condition already agreed upon.

Next is the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group’s clearance for its members to supply enriched uranium as well as nuclear technology to India. The third is the final clearance by the US Congress.

An agreement on India-specific safeguards with the IAEA is India’s responsibility while Washington has passed on the word that it will get the deal find an easy passage through the NSG and later through the US Congress.

If the UPA government chooses to ignore the Left’s resistance and moves the IAEA for working out acceptable safeguards, the NSG will have to meet fast to do its bit for the deal. The US Congress is meeting in July to do its own. Statements emanating from Washington, incidentally, suggest that the deal will get through bipartisan support at Capitol Hill.

The entire timetable and three years’ labour on the deal will, however, go waste if the Manmohan Singh government allows the Left and other sceptics in the Congress to have their way.

This will be unfortunate. Leaders, however, have to stand firm and lead and not allow themselves to be regarded as push-overs.