The communist parties’ taking the Manmohan Singh government hostage over the Indo-US nuclear deal is being judged by US observers as an example of Indian politics at its worst. One of the Indian-Americans who was crucial to the passage of the Hyde Act, A.K. Mago of the US-India Political Action Forum, said: “Parties opposing the deal are placing their political interest over national interest.”
South Asian analysts in the US see the stances of the Left and BJP as extremely cynical. The present crisis, says Teresita Schaffer, South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “tells you more about Indian politics than it does about the nuclear agreement. Singh is strong on policy but weak on politics and, hence, vulnerable to demagoguery from the Left.”
Almost no one takes the Left’s fears that the nuclear deal will bind India to an alliance with the US seriously.
“The contention that this deal will make India a lackey of the US is laughable… Certainly, no one in the US government thinks the nuclear deal will miraculously transform India into a subservient ally,” says Ashley Wills, who served as the number two at the US Embassy in New Delhi during the 1998 nuclear tests. “The model I would expect India to adopt would be a bit like de Gaulle’s France. No one accused de Gaulle of lacking in independence,” says Schaffer.
Sumit Ganguly, political scientist at Indian University-Bloomington, is more critical of the Left: “They have conjured up various bogeymen about a putative loss of strategic autonomy [even as] they genuflect before their Chinese ideological masters.”
No group is more upset than the Indian-American community which spent millions and mobilised in the thousands to save the Hyde Act when it seemed doomed in the US Congress. “The community will become disillusioned. The Indian-American community worked very hard to get it approved in the Congress,” says Mago.
There is a consensus that the deal cannot be renegotiated. Says Schaffer, “The 123 Agreement went much further than anyone thought any US government would be able to. There is no more negotiating room left. Getting the present agreement will itself be difficult to get through Congress.”
Even Indian-American lobbyists agree the agreement cannot be reopened.
There is also an acceptance that if the deal is not completed by early next year, its chances of revival are minimal — and India’s nuclear outcast status made permanent.