Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Deal Gone Sour: Indo-USA Nuclear Accord

Latest global financial crisis originated because investment bankers who sold mortgage backed securities ran ahead of the implicit ‘backing’ of these securities. Looks like same is happening with Indian Prime Minister Dr. Singh – he ran ahead / oversold the Indo-USA Nuclear Accord when in reality he did not have enough political backing for the same in the Indian parliament.

If there is one single cardinal mistake that is to be avoided by a leader, then it is to over sell a political policy without having the basic political consensus for the policy in the first place. It is obvious that Left Parties and BJP are not heeding to India’s national interests and are wrongly opposing the deal. But why the bluster by Dr. Singh that he will conclude the accord even if Left backs out of the government? If Left backs out of the government and BJP moves a ‘no-confidence’ motion with Left abstaining from that voting; how will Dr. Singh’s government survive? It will not.

All said and done, the deal is not worth collapsing Dr. Singh’s government. Any mid-term elections are unlikely to change the political arithmetic in the Parliament. Indian voters are not going to back Congress and Dr. Singh in droves just because of his principled stand in this deal. So Congress can at best improve it’s tally marginally. There are unlikely any other political formations who can replace Left in the numerical strength and back Dr. Singh. Mayawati and her BSP is one such capable force, but their pound of flesh may be far higher than the price Congress pays to Left. Even if BSP does not court the Muslim constituency in a misguided manner by opposing this Indo-USA Nuclear Accord; BSP’s support to the deal and overall sanity in their foreign policy are no guarantees. This means fresh elections are hardly going to alter the political reality in any substantial manner. On the contrary, it will inflict lot of pain on India’s booming economy and for sure the Bombay Stock Exchange will ‘tank’ further. India needs Dr. Singh to complete his current term as well as to have one more full term to change the economical balance decisively and permanently. Hence, this nuclear accord is not worth sacrificing Dr. Singh’s government.

What was required by Dr. Singh was to realize the perils of running ahead with the Nuclear Deal. May be he risked politically everything with the view that in the end Left and BJP will see national interests and will back the deal. But parochial considerations are far more important to Indians politicians than the common good. Such a blatant inability by Indian Political Class to overcome domestic considerations while supporting an international deal and fulfilling the global leadership role will surely haunt India for long time to come. What it says to rest of the world (as C Uday Bhaskar articulated very well in Rediff - ) is that India is not ready to play her ‘international role’ and does not want rest of the world to bother her from her domestic pre-occupations.

The core idea behind the deal has been to go past one more irritant for India in dealing with International Power Structure – nuclear weapons, their legitimacy and the legal participation in global nuclear power bazaar. As is India is hobbled with Kashmir – Pakistan problem, border dispute with China is still unsolved, her ambition of participating in UN Security Council as a permanent member is not backed by the reality and has many challenges when global trade issues come up. So by removing this nuclear mess, the deal was clearing a path for India with more freedom in International Relations.

Implicit to the deal is an opportunity to play the moral high grounds - that India is a reluctant nuclear power and is hanging on with a limited set of weapons (between 60 to 100 warheads) only because of her neighbors. The point is what do Indians want India to be – more like Germany and Japan who are fulfilling their global responsibilities without hanging on with nukes or desperate attempts to be like China, France and UK who have unrestricted nuke weaponry; all legalized. Indian mindset should not be to rework the historically missed opportunities of being ‘victors’ of WWII or the sole Asian stalwart as in China’s case of 50s and 60s so that India gets unrestricted nuclear weaponry. Indian ethos is of ‘non-violence’ and ‘reluctant warrior’ who is extremely prudent in carrying civilization destroying means. By refusing to adopt the path opened by this deal, which may look restricted through the traditional prism, India is loosing a great opportunity. Leadership is in creating situations which will shine on India’s strength in the 21st century. It is not clinging to older models of 20th century power. All such emancipated vision is totally lost amidst the medieval, foolish calculations of Muslim votes in the domestic politics; as if wiser Muslims do not see the benefits of aligning India’s interests with USA and West.

No doubt, the accord also places India more near to USA and as a result India will play a valuable role in shaping the strategic partnerships with West while fulfilling the concomitant responsibilities. Left does not want those responsibilities and is still misty eyed for the Sino-Russian Indian Strategic Triangle within the global power structure. How ludicrous is that. China and India will be direct competitors of each other for many, many years to come, say it in global trade or strategic influence. With Russia, it is only oil which is making Putin’s state as a belligerent one. When the importance of oil goes down in decades to come, how useful that friendship with Russia will be. Also, for the close relations with China and Russia to flourish; there is no natural constituency which is addressed. With USA, immigrants, future migration and solid constituency of outsourcing industry; all these are real, now & here components which can be served better. Indo-USA Nuclear Accord and attendant deeper strategic relationship would serve this natural constituency. Also at the end of the day, which countries the largest democracy in the world should side with? Chinese and Russian dictatorships or the oldest Democracy of America? The answer is no brainier. So opposition by Left and BJP is indeed counter intuitive and detrimental to India’s long term interests. One hoped that Dr. Singh had done all this home work of cajoling these fighting cocks within the Parliament before baiting America for this deal. As a result it is quite understandable that rest of the world will be lot more circumspect in days to come while dealing with India. That is the real set back.

Umesh Patil
Cupertino, CA 95014
August 19, 2007.

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