Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had to skilfully negotiate the international tightrope to lay the foundation for the India-US nuclear accord. We need not have any doubt that he will equally skilfully bring about a national consensus to ultimately end the long winter of India’s nuclear isolation. Unfortunately, members of the Opposition had earlier spoken out of turn on the negotiations in tones of denunciation and disapproval. The comments were mostly combative rather than constructive, even though President George W. Bush had clarified the nature and status of US legislation. Those preliminary clarifications should have allayed the exaggerated apprehensions articulated by the Indian Opposition and sections of the media. The clarifications and the agreement itself should, however, resolve the issue.
The Bill passed by the US Congress provides a broad framework of reference, leaving considerable room for play in the executive arena. It is the agreement which the Government of India negotiates and the mutual undertakings and understandings contained therein that will be binding on India and the US. The task before the PM as well as the Opposition is to work out a fundamental consensus so that the details may fall in place.
The US legislation does not per se bind India as a matter of international law. We can trust the PM to take on board all the legitimate concerns voiced by the political spectrum of the country and listen to the constructive inputs that may be provided by Indian nuclear experts. Institutionally, there has to be sufficient flexibility in the executive arm of India to negotiate the best deal it can get. The Indian system vests the treaty-making power in the executive. The balancing act in the Constitution is in the accountability of the executive to Parliament. That is what makes it highly desirable for the PM and the Opposition to take the crucial initiative for consensus-building.
The Bush administration has shown trustworthy resolve. The statements of the US Secretary of State and the President are reassuring. Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee are seasoned statesmen. The nuclear deal is meant to open the doors for far-reaching collaboration between India and the US, especially in the field of nuclear energy, without which our manufacturing industries cannot make the leaps necessary for our economy to thrive. The India-US nuclear negotiations are much more about nuclear energy and technology transfer than about nuclear weapons. Without the added inputs of nuclear energy, the country will be in danger of economic stagnation. The Opposition cannot possibly want the nation’s manufacturing industry to come to a grinding halt or to allow our villages to remain unlit.
Both the US and India have missed many buses in the past because of American diplomacy having remained a prisoner of the dubious Dulles doctrine until the end of the Cold War. Bush brought a more emancipated American approach to India. In a real sense, the previous NDA government had laid the foundation for India’s close relationship with the US. It would be strange for the same alliance to now continue balking at the natural fruition of that relationship. Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee should join hands in a consensual foreign policy coalition at this critical juncture.
In any bilateral relationship between democracies, one needs to accommodate the other. It is nobody’s case to make accommodations at the cost of national self-respect, sovereignty and freedom. But then, chauvinism is not the equivalent of national self-respect, and freedom and sovereignty do not mandate self-imposed nuclear or any other kind of isolation. Obviously, there are no absolutes in such negotiations. The US has long been a red rag to our bulls of the Left, who have now suddenly begun to claim the amorous attention of the BJP. For too long now, India has been seeing the CIA in every nook and cranny. It is time for the Left and the Right to graduate out of that phobia.
If an agreement is concluded broadly along the contours outlined by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, and on the basis of a broad consensus within the country, it will end the penal consequences of India’s nuclear and technological isolation and open the doors for close economic and technological collaboration between India and the US. Most importantly, we would find not only a way of gaining international recognition as a responsible nuclear power but we will also get a viable modus vivendi for augmenting our nuclear energy resources for achieving and sustaining a much higher rate of economic growth.
LM Singhvi was India’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom from 1991 to 1998 and is a former Rajya Sabha MP