Heroism, Hemingway once said in another context, is grace under pressure. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s defence of the Indo-US nuclear deal was poised, polished and passionate. He took on the combined forces of the Left and the Right and undid them through sober argumentation and facts, rather than political rhetoric and half-truths. In another time and place, the debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal would never have taken place. It was simply the outcome of the Big Lie. Which means that if you repeat a calumny long enough, it takes on the air of a truth. Critics of the deal, which included an odd gaggle of retired scientists, diplomats, and politicians, had created their own false narrative of how the government was bent on selling out the interests of the country to the US, and on capping the country’s civil and military nuclear programme.
For that reason it was important for the Prime Minister to confront the issues head on, which he did. And refute the untruths and half-truths, which again by all accounts, he did convincingly. For all those who were willing to see without blinkers, it has been clear that the nuclear deal is nothing less than a coup for India. If all things go well, it will result in the US and the Western countries standing their non-proliferation policies on their head. Not only will they lift their increasingly tight nuclear trade prohibitions on India, but they will do so without any restraint on our nuclear weapons arsenal.
We say ‘if’ because the intricate sequence of obligations that was outlined in the July 18, 2005, agreement between India and the US has yet to be fulfilled. While the huge majority with which the US House of Representatives approved the legislation to back the deal is a good augury, the US legislative process has not ended. It will do so only when the Senate passes its version of the Bill and the process to reconcile this with that of the House is completed. Both the Bush Administration and the Manmohan Singh government have made it clear that they will not accept any language that puts obligations beyond those accepted in the July 18th agreement.
In hindsight, perhaps, Thursday’s debate in the Rajya Sabha, too, may be seen as a good sign. It has in a way reinforced the red lines that were being articulated by Indian officials to their US counterparts. For another, the issue will not be used as political football, at least for a while. This will allow a period of helpful tranquillity in which the remaining negotiations can be brought to a successful conclusion.