First, the good news. Going by the flurry of activity in South Block over the last few days, reports of the India-US civilian nuclear deal’s death seem to be exaggerated. The bad news is that they are not greatly exaggerated. If one looks at the trajectory of the deal since it was signed on March 2, 2006, the same immovable object still lies in the path of the irresistible force. We know that the BJP’s opposition to the deal lies in contrarian knee-jerk politics. If the UPA insists that pigs can’t fly, be sure that the main opposition party will figure out a way to proclaim the phenomenon of an aerial porcine population. As for the Left, grant it this: never has it wavered from its position that the nuclear deal is the single step before imperialist hegemons overrun our nation and spell our doom. But it is the behaviour of those ‘championing’ the deal that has left us scratching our heads. Is the UPA government really interested in operationalising the deal? Does it have what it takes to keep national interest, and not political one-upmanship, firmly in mind?
While we have had occasions when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made public his personal stake in the deal — not to mention his personal disappointment when facing opposition to the deal — the government has never really presented a united face on pushing its case. Even this week, as Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee (naively? lethargically?) spoke of “trying to build a broad-based political consensus”, an unnamed Congress leader spoke of the “wrong message” that will be sent out to “the poor, the farmers and the middle- class” if the Centre upsets the Left over the nuclear deal that could result in the latter opposing the budget. With friends like this, who needs the Left and the BJP?
The issue of whether India’s sovereign right will be infringed upon by a ‘Faustian’ deal is still being fought on a rather ridiculous counterfactual terrain. The Left asks , for instance, what will happen if India deals closely in ‘matters nuclear’ with Iran? That India, in its own interest and current strategic thinking, has no desire to do that is being vacuum cleaned under the carpet. The Left, born-again champions of nuclear testing, believes the deal will tie India’s hands in the future. It won’t. India will simply have to renege on the deal. To put it blithely, every party in the deadlock is doing what it’s meant to do: the Left opposing the deal for ideological, anti-US reasons; the BJP opposing it to underline the logic of contrarianism. Only the UPA government seems to be master vacillators. We won’t say that the time for the deal is up. But we won’t hold our breath either for the government to do its part of the deal: push for the nuclear deal. Seriously.