Were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fond of martial arts, no doubt the ‘gentle art’, jujitsu, would be his sport of choice. The skill with which he yields to the force of the opponent and uses it to create space for his own counter-thrust seems to derive from this Japanese martial art. Nowhere is this more visible than in the case of the Indo-US nuclear deal. In the past few months as Indian and American negotiators have grappled with each other to work out the ‘123 Agreement’ to operationalise the deal, the Prime Minister has chosen to remain silent. Even when it appeared that the deal could be approaching a breakdown point, Mr Singh did not say a word.
Now, sensing that opponents within the country and outside are running out of steam, the Prime Minister has gone on the offensive, obliquely questioning the patriotic credentials of those opposing the deal and signalling that though the negotiations were tough, they were on track. His retort, ‘Why September? Why not earlier?’ to a question on when the deal could be clinched is an indication of the optimism based on new proposals floated by the Indian side. To allay US Congress worries that nuclear fuel from the US could be somehow misused by India, New Delhi has proposed to set up a dedicated fuel storage and reprocessing facility that comes under international safeguards. The offer also places India in the company of other ‘responsible’ nuclear States. India is essentially offering itself for membership to the US-sponsored Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) that has been mooted to promote proliferation-resistant techniques of handling nuclear energy.
This said, there is also some virtue in External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s exhortation to the US that it should not “export its problems” to New Delhi in living up to its commitments on the Indo-US nuclear deal. There are a number of areas in which the Bush administration needs to square with its legislature. But there is only so much India can do to help. What New Delhi can most certainly not do is to compromise on its requirement to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. At the end of the day, the nuclear deal requires not just compromise, but also an ability to take some risks and trust the other party. The sooner the two sides realise this, the better.