With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserting that China would not pose an obstacle in India pursing its ambition to open up civil nuclear cooperation, the last bastion appears to be crumbling.
Chinese neutrality, bordering on support, is good enough for India. Beijing does not have to proclaim in advance that it's going to back New Delhi when decision time is still to be reached at the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
India's diplomacy has created a conducive international environment to pursue the civil nuclear deal with the United States to its logical conclusion, but domestic opposition remains the hurdle in India's path.
The Chinese position now is quite close to, say, that of Canada and Switzerland, which have been hol-ding for some time now that they
will only announce their position once the nuclear deal advances to the NSG.
In the next 10 days, the leaders of Britain and France, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, will be in New Delhi.
If our domestic house were in order, it would have been time to toast the entry of India into the nuclear club, closed to it since 1974.
It would have been time to put the finishing touches on a tortuous process — one that has seen many ups and downs since the deal with the US was signed in July 2005.
But we are not there as yet. The marathon run is far from over. Russia and the US, to repeat the obvious, are already on board. In fact, Russia and France stand ready to supply India with nuclear reactors once the NSG restrictions are lifted.
In remarks to journalists on board his special aircraft, the Prime Minister chose his words carefully. "When the (civil nuclear) issue comes before the relevant agencies (IAEA & NSG), I don't think that China will be an obstacle. I can't say I have an assu-rance today," he said on Tuesday night.
"I invited the Chinese government to send the chief of their atomic energy agency to come and meet the chairman of our Atomic Energy Commission. The Chinese authorities said they will consider the suggestion," the Prime Minister revealed.
Indian officials told HT in Beijing that Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar had visited Beijing two years ago and his counterpart had now been invited to pay a return visit.
A reading of the "shared vision" document shows that India and China have linked the issue of global energy security and their "pledge" to promote bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy.
"As two countries with advanced scientific capabilities, the two sides pledge to promote bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy, consistent with their international commitments, which will contribute to energy security and to dealing with risks associated with climate change," the document stressed.
If the recent debate in Parliament is any indication, the Left (and, of course, the BJP) remain opposed to the nuclear deal. In clinching the deal, the support of the Left is critical and, by all accounts, both the CPI (M) and CPI remain unrelenting in their opposition.
Though sticking points persist at ongoing India-IAEA talks in Vienna, the fact is that these don't pose the principal obstacle.
The deal may not get a chance to fall in the IAEA board or the NSG for the real danger lies in the Left-United Progressive Alliance panel.
The question is this: should the government keep pushing ahead with its efforts internationally when domestic opposition remains?
Would India's credibility not be affected even more than it has if we have an India-specific safeguards agreement and then the deal falls at the altar of domestic politics?