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No more an area of darkness

In US, there is a deep appreciation for India as it is perhaps the only country which even after bearing the brunt of imperialism has managed walk on the path of democracy, and now has a booming economy.

india Updated: May 07, 2008 00:09 IST

A recent visit to policy-making and academic institutions in the US, including some reputed think tanks, brought forth an interesting array of reactions and interactions on two issues: the Indo-US nuclear deal and India’s economic success. Naturally, the comments and questions on these two issues varied depending on the institution, the questioner and the context; however, some generalisations will not be out of order.

First, on the n-deal, cutting across party affiliations and personal ideologies, there was genuine curiosity and a certain amount of bewilderment at the opposition to the deal in India. But when I explained that India, like the US, is a democracy and dissent is an essential part of any democratic process, the American audience understood the nature of this opposition. Second, there is a feeling that India has been singled out for special treatment by the US and some even questioned why it was done, given India’s refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. When I explained to them our good track record as a de facto nuclear power for decades, the consistency of our stand on non-proliferation and principled opposition to the discriminatory nature of the Treaty, they appreciated it. Many agreed that India’s track record puts it in a unique category and that any comparison with rogue States, unstable dictatorships and fundamentalist regimes is inappropriate.

Third, there was a vigorous (but dignified) opposition by some ideological opponents of the agreement. I was amused by the fact that when I spoke at a leading think tank on international affairs in the forenoon, some very intelligent, articulate and well-informed anti-123 agreement people were present to question me. Interestingly, when I spoke on the same topic in the afternoon at another (the country’s leading republican) think tank, the same people attended it and put their views across strongly. This group works on non-proliferation issues and has even visited the International Atomic Energy Agency and several Nuclear Suppliers Group nations to oppose the approvals sought by India in connection with the 123 Agreement. But their arguments were well-informed and never disrupted the norms of democratic discourse. In response to my somewhat technical and complicated argument — a so-called ‘congressional executive agreement’ like the 123 would not be circumscribed by the Hyde Act — this group produced legal literature, albeit inapplicable and distinguishable, to argue on the contrary, thus reflecting the degree of preparation and belief in their cause.

Fourth, during my meetings with Congressmen of different political groups, I found that those Democrats who are opposed to the 123 Agreement, including some ardent India supporters, did so because they felt that President George W. Bush had unilaterally pushed the deal and that they were not taken into confidence. When I cross-checked this with some Republican politicians, they strongly denied this feeling. But almost all, cutting across party affiliations, agreed that it would be difficult to get the agreement through in its present form if Democrats take over in January 2009.

Fifth, in the academic world and outside Washington, the interest in the 123 Agreement is less. At Yale University, Boston University, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I was asked to speak on ‘Surging India’ i.e. India’s economic story and perspectives of the future. If the organisers had given the listeners a choice between the two topics, most would have opted for the latter. Incidentally, there was a visible presence of people of Indian origin (a prominent and respected category at all top US universities) in the audience, but there were many people from other countries too.

Sixth, there is a deep appreciation of the fact that India is perhaps the only country which even after bearing the brunt of imperialism has managed walk on the path of democracy, and now has a booming economy, while the ruins of constitutionalism litter the landscape of many nations in Asia, Africa and South America. (I usually started my addresses with this observation and it never failed to strike a chord). When I added two other unique characteristics to this — India alone has rewritten democracy or growth equation with an ‘and’, instead of an ‘or’ and, to boot, has done it successfully post-1991 with a cacophonous and not always unidirectional coalition model — it had a shock-and-awe effect on the Americans.

Seventh, I was amazed at the depth and diversity of talent on the university campuses, especially those of Indian origin. The future of the world and our country cannot be bleak if our youngsters are so well- informed, dynamic, inquisitive, articulate, ambitious, hardworking and confident. Most importantly, almost all of them reflected a genuine desire to give back something to their motherland by participating in the diverse processes of India’s civil, and, interestingly, political society. For example, I was flooded with queries about how to join the Congress. There was no cynicism or hesitation — like I found during my student days at Cambridge University, UK — of coming back to India and being a part of the India story. There’s an inexhaustible reservoir of talent, magnetic energy and enthusiasm out there and India needs to harness it for growth.

Abhishek Singhvi is MP, Congress
National Spokesperson and Senior Advocate