July 14, 2020
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Indo-US nuclear deal

Who Loses?

If the deal dose not go through, it is true that the world will not end, but India will have lost. It would have lost an opportunity which may never come back. Who's to blame?

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Who Loses?
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From all accounts, the path-breaking Indo-US nuclear deal is all but dead and is on a hope-support system. For thirty years, India had battled the imposition of unjust sanctions on her trade in technology and high tech equipment with the world, as a consequence of an elaborate structure of export controls built at the initiative of the US, after India's nuclear explosion of 1974. 

It should be remembered that India had broken no laws to which it had subscribed, and had been 'punished' by states which themselves had nuclear weapons or whose security was guaranteed by the nuclear weapons of others. In the UN and in all forums, India had protested against the inequity of these ad hoc export control regimes; over the years, it became clear that the key to unlocking the door of free trade in high and dual use technology lay with one country, the United States. 

In a massive effort initiated by the NDA government and completed by the present government, the US gave India the key; ironically, it now appears that domestic politics is preventing India from freeing herself from these troublesome restraints.

The country needs to know who is to blame--it is quite clear who loses. India does. Why is India still denied the freedom, for example of China, who breaks every rule in the book, to upgrade her technology through international cooperation, to widen her choices in determining the best energy mix for an energy starved economy?

For once, we cannot blame the United States nor, at the moment, at least, any other country. Forces within the country are preventing India from even making her case to the world, whether it be the Board of Governors of the IAEA or the countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Effectively, domestic politics, not domestic interests, is holding India back from cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy with any country of the world. Who is to blame? Who and why has the country been put in shackles by people who are supposed to be representing the interests of the people of India?

Clearly, the blame will have to be put at the door of all the political parties who have brought India to this state.

In the NDA government, it was the BJP, whose touch on foreign policy issues was much more deft than with domestic ones, which had started the delicate process of persuading the US to come to terms with India's status as a nuclear weapon state; it was this party which had started discussions on conditions under which the embargos under which India had been put, could be lifted. Yet, regardless of what is being said at the moment by their spokesmen, they seem determined to stifle the very effort that they had promoted. 

We should be quite clear: the Hyde Act has been passed. It stays, with all the conditions found objectionable by the BJP, as US law. No amount of complaining is going to change that. On the other hand, the 123 agreement negotiated by India on the basis of that law, is being frittered away, when it is possibly the best possible outcome India could have expected from any US Administration. It is an agreement that opens the door to international cooperation in civilian nuclear energy, without closing options on our strategic programme. 

The BJP complains that they have not been consulted by the government; yet Parliament has been kept fully informed and, soon after the 123 agreement was finalized between the negotiators of India and the US, the Prime Minister himself met some BJP leaders to brief them on the outcome. Mr. Advani wants to amend India's Atomic Energy Act to counter the possible effects of the Hyde Act. Surely this can be considered; but why stall the agreement? 

As for the objections of the Left Front, they not only ring hollow, but insincere and motivated by a mysterious agenda. Are they going to stop the people to people contact between the US and India? Can they afford to stop the economic and commercial links that have been established between the two countries? Do they think that India is so weak that it cannot maintain her independence because of one agreement, however significant that may be? 

The Left are against the deal, not because there is anything inherently objectionable in the deal itself, but because it would remove a major thorn in the side of Indo-US relations. They appear willing to deny India the freedom to cooperate internationally in the area of nuclear energy, because, like an old English king, they object to closer Indo-US relations. 

What is evident, is that the Left are stopping India from grabbing an opportunity to free herself from the shackles of sanctions, and from cooperating with the rest of the world. For a grouping that has failed to deliver even basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and education to the people of the states where they are in government, it is more than a little rich to object, on the basis of ideology, to an agreement which can, if implemented, only help to better the lives of those benighted people. Yet the government, in its wisdom, permits the Left to hold it hostage on an issue where the benefits to India are so clear.

The deepest disappointment is the way in which the UPA government has been dealing with the issue. After obtaining an outstanding achievement for the country, gains for the country are being bartered away--for what? Why has it not taken the opposition into confidence on this issue? There is no need to cosy up to the opposition, but it is for the country that, on a single issue, adversarial relations need to be put aside. Ten years down the line, who will take the blame, if the deal does not go through now?

If the deal dose not go through, it is true that the world will not end, but India will have lost. It would have lost an opportunity which may never come back. After having extracted so many concessions from the Americans, who would want to be in the shoes of the external affairs minister who now goes to that country to tell them that we are unable to accept those concessions?


Arundhati Ghose was India's permanent representative/ ambassador to the United Nations. In 1996, she dramatically vetoed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament, a step that some say would not have been taken without her. This piece was originally written for Outlook Saptahik

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