India's ruling coalition wants the civil nuclear deal with the US very much, but it would be futile to sacrifice the government for its sake, says Abhishek Singhvi, spokesperson of the leading Congress Party.
It would be like "death without martyrdom", said Singhvi who is in Washington to tell the American government and the foreign policy establishment how the landmark deal had been stalled due to opposition from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's leftist supporters.
"We want the deal but the ruling coalition is also conscious that there can' t be a deal without a government," he said in a talk on "Perspectives on the US-India Civil Nuclear Deal" at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.
He said it didn't help matters when visitors from the US suggested that time was running out for the deal with the US Congressional elections due in November. Putting it as a deadline only provoked more opposition.
"It's important to carry all constituents along," said Singhvi. But "we haven't given up. Nor do we accept it as end of the road," he said, noting that the Indian government still had 10 to 12 months to complete it though it would like to finish it with an administration that started it.
"We are fully conscious of time lines from both US and Indian sides," Singhvi said. It was only to save time that New Delhi had negotiated an India specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) without a formal go ahead from the deal's left opponents, he added.
But unless an agreement was reached, no administration can commit to a deadline. "Ultimately it all depends on the exigencies of democracy," he said, adding that a consensus was also necessary to ensure an agreement's durability and longevity.
Asked how non completion of a deal, which has been touted as the symbolic centrepiece of a new strategic partnership between India and the US, would affect their economic ties, Singhvi said: "India-US relations are multi-dimensional, multi-layered and multi-faceted."
There had been a "miraculous" transformation in their relationship in the last few years as if both countries were making up for lost time, he said. The deal "was not the beginning, nor was it going to be the end," he said, taking note of their ties in defence, economic and other fields.
Singhvi also reiterated that India was bound by only the bilateral 123 agreement and not the prescriptive provisions of the US enabling Hyde Act. The US president too had made an explicit declaration that provisions relating to a congruent foreign policy, dealing with Iran, sending troops to Iraq or non-proliferation, were non-binding.
India and the US agree on what binds India, and fears about the Hyde Act in India and some interpretations of it in the US should not be a cause of worry, he said, asking the critics "not to let the perfect to be the enemy of the good" by judging it with non-existent ideal standards.
It is important to see the larger picture, Singhvi said, describing it as a unique dispensation for India. "It's a key that only unlocks a door but opens up a whole universe for India taking it from a nuclear outcast or pariah to vibrant participation."
Singhvi, who arrived in Washington on Sunday, has met with officials at the Pentagon and participated in a closed-door briefing with members of Congress and their senior staff. He also spoke on the issue at the World Affairs Council, another US think tank.