The fate of the India-US civilian nuclear deal has been a bit like the status of the shape of the Earth in a different century: there have been two opposite views and apart from talking to the converted, there has been little point trying to win over the ‘Flat Earthers’ (read: anti-nuclear dealwallahs) through logical argument. That is until now, when we find one of the prime architects of the strategic deal with the United States, the National Security Advisor (NSA) during the NDA regime, Brajesh Mishra, unequivocally stating that the Indian government should go ahead with the 123 Agreement. And he doesn’t stop there. Going against the flotsam-jetsam opposition to the deal by the BJP, Mr Mishra has said that a failure to implement the deal will result in India suffering a “severe loss of face” and a setback to its nuclear programme. The reason why we must listen to Mr Mishra is the same why the BJP must listen to Mr Mishra: he makes sense without having any political baggage to carry.
On the face of things, it’s still business as usual with the main Opposition party. L.K. Advani was quick to reiterate that the BJP opposed the nuclear deal as it comes in the way of India having the right to conduct future nuclear tests. While we have, in the past, pointed out that this is patently untrue, we have Mr Mishra’s words backing us up this time. The former NSA has said that the deal does not prohibit New Delhi from undertaking nuclear tests. This bogey of a test ban has been the focal point of the BJP’s opposition to the deal. While conducting future nuclear tests will mean facing the consequences from the international community, such a prospect has to be measured against the sanctions that the NDA government faced after the Pokhran II test and not against any (non-existent) clause in the 123 Agreement.
Mr Advani tells us that BJP, unlike the Left, is not driven by anti-Americanism, thus exposing the fact that the BJP has been against the deal because of one reason: that the deal has been inked by a government that is not the BJP’s. With Mr Mishra’s objective views, one hopes that Mr Advani will stop confusing a nuclear test ban treaty with the nuclear deal. There is no harm in the BJP making a deft U-turn if its leaders have national interest in mind. The path has been cleared by Mr Mishra, someone whom Mr Advani surely will not distrust. This is the time for the Opposition party to show that it is mature enough to take a stand that is good for the nation — even if it means agreeing with the UPA government on the floor of the House.