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Why is India Inc silent on the N-deal?

business Updated: Aug 30, 2007 16:52 IST
Ravi Srinivasan
Ravi Srinivasan
Hindustan Times
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Amidst all the sound and fury of the ‘debate’ over the Indo-US nuclear deal, one section of opinion has been conspicuous by its silence: India Inc.

Which is a great pity, because corporate India has the ability and the resources to not only engage constructively in the discussion, but bring some much needed rationality and gravitas to the current babel of ideological opportunism and jingoistic posturing which is passing for ‘debate’ on this critical issue. As the principal financiers of both the political process and individual players, they also have the necessary leverage. Which they are not using.

I find it very surprising, because, as a class, India Inc, more than perhaps any other section of our society, is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the deal if it ever comes to fruition. I am not referring to the immediate benefit of improved energy security alone, although, as India’s largest current and future consumer of energy, one would have thought their interest in making the deal happen would be pretty obvious.

I am not even referring to the immediate commercial benefits which will follow – whether it is a Tata or a Reliance building civilian nuclear plants, or other benefits by way of contracts and deals related to a sustained nuclear energy programme.

I am referring to the implications of the deal, which are far larger than the deal itself. One would have thought that our captains of industry would have been the first to spot the significance of the US administration’s, as well as its current political establishment’s endorsement of the deal.

The US made an unprecedented, one-time, single-country exception in India’s case to its own nuclear non-proliferation mandate. This is a pretty difficult thing to do. After all, the US too, is a democracy, its politicians also have to get elected, and more significantly, it has powerful and influential anti-nuclear, as well as anti-India lobbies. By breaking its own rules, the US has effectively told the rest of the world that it is willing to take not inconsiderable political risk in order to place India in a position of special relationship.

The significance of this has not been lost on other countries, or, for that matter, businesses. From potential investment flows to future energy prices, scenarios and models are being reworked around the globe, on the assumption of strong, bi-lateral ties between Indian and the US. Naturally, since India, China and the US are projected to be the most powerful economies in the world in the medium to long term.

The US may lose its numero uno status, but that does not mean it is going to wither away and die. Which means that the deal is pretty important for India’s future economic development to have the US as a willing partner. Which means the 123 deal is important for the economy as a whole, not just the nuclear energy programme.

Yet, a significant chunk of India’s political class, as well as its entire business class, appears to be perfectly sanguine about the implications of this not happening. I am not getting into the pros and cons of nuclear energy here – that is a separate issue altogether. But the need for positive engagement with the US is a no-brainer.

So why is India Inc not speaking up?