The major political news of the week, or even the fortnight, is the tug-of-war between the UPA government and the Left parties on the issue of the US-India Nuclear Agreement. Now, several issues must be addressed before analysing the attitude of the Left towards the deal.
The most important question would be: What does the deal really mean? The idea of a civilian nuclear agreement was first mooted by US President George W Bush on July 15, 2005. He announced that he would "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India." Before any kind of cooperation of atomic energy issues, it was essential that India sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. This was essentially because India had refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and had virtually no safeguards on nuclear material in the use of raw materials for peaceful purposes. India’s testing of the Nuclear Bomb, first in 1974, and then in 1998, convinced the US to further restrict supply of nuclear raw materials to India. It was after the first Pokhran tests in 1974, that the Nuclear Suppliers Group was created, which further restricted supply of Uranium (an essential nuclear raw material) to India. Changing balance of power and a gradual change in India’s attitude towards cooperation with the United States, actively aided by the rise of India’s economic power, provided the impetus to the nuclear deal. The legal framework of the bilateral nuclear pact between India and the United States is provided by the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, also called the Hyde Act, which is the principal bone of contention between the Left parties and the UPA government. This act provides the legal basis for the signing of the 123 Agreement (PDF link) with India, and requires the approval of the US Congress and the Indian Cabinet and will define the exact terms of the cooperation.
So, for the Deal to bee signed, the Indian Government must take certain steps. First, it must negotiate and conclude a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Deal ran into its first set of hurdles here itself. The Left refused to allow the government to go ahead with the IAEA negotiations, and threatened to withdraw support to the government. Without the Left’s support, the government would be reduced to a minority and would be forced to resign. After last-ditch negotiations, the Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee went ahead anyway, and held talks with the IAEA. Now, the Left is "discussing the timing of withdrawal of support." The next step is the G8 Summit to be held in Japan this year. Again, the Left is blackmailing.
But, what wrong with the Deal anyway? I have said it before, and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with the deal. The rationale behind the deal is quite clear. This paper (PDF link) by David G Victor, Director, Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, Stanford University clearly states the potential benefits of the agreement. He argues, in his brilliantly written paper, that the fuller commercial exploitation of nuclear energy, if done to the exacting standards of non-proliferation, can help cut carbon dioxide emissions. This is largely because nuclear energy emits virtually no carbon-dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming. With India’s energy requirements on the rise, we need to urgently reduce our dependence on oil and petroleum, simply because these sources are rapidly dwindling. If the US is helping us do that, then why not? The fact remains that for India to successfully and quickly exploit its nuclear reactors, the US offer of transfer of technology would be invaluable. Of course, it is not the only option. But, it is the best possible option given the circumstances.
The second reason the deal must go through is political. Washington and New Delhi share concerns about the rather dramatic, and sometimes threatening growth of China, both militarily and in the economic sphere. Washington is seeking a strategic partnership with India is an apparent attempt to counter China’s growing influence in the region. But, let’s be clear on one thing. India is not going to act as a US representative in formulating its foreign policy with regards to China. This remains the principal fear of the Left: that India will be forced to review its foreign policy priorities due to pressure from the US. Personally, I do not see that happening. India is the biggest military power in the Indian Ocean littoral after the US, which has several bases in the region, including the one at Diego Garcia. A strategic partnership with the US would only be beneficial to India, because a strategic partnership basically means intelligence sharing, among other things. Intelligence sharing with the US, with its advanced spy satellites can be beneficial to India in the long run. A more comprehensive analysis on the deal can be found here (PDF link). This paper by Sumit Ganguly and Dinshaw Mistry makes a rather convincing case for the deal.
Finally, the Hyde Act, which has been much-maligned by the Left requires, as I said in an earlier post, that US foreign policy be directed to securing India’s cooperation to actions against Iran and in securing its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative. However, a detailed examination of the said law reveals that the Hyde Act merely requires that the US Government "encourage" India to take the above steps and cannot, in any way, force India’s hand in the matter. India has already made it clear that it does not share the US hurry in action against Iran. There is no way the US can force the Indian government to do something that would harm the political, military or economic interests of the country. The Left parties in India seem to be stuck in the Cold War-era of America-bashing. What they don’t seem to understand is the fact that the world is increasingly unipolar, and that India cannot afford to miss the nuclear bus when it still has the chance. The nuclear deal must go through. With or without the Left’s approval.