The words ‘national interest’ have always been readily pulled out of the nation’s top hat every time there’s a debate over a contentious issue. Oddly enough, everyone pulls out this white rabbit regardless of which side of the fence they are sitting. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for instance, despite what the de jure Opposition (the BJP and its catatonic entourage) and the de facto Opposition (the Left and its Pavlovian responsewallas) might think, has conducted and sealed the Indo-US nuclear deal keeping national interest firmly in mind. One can be similarly hopeful about the reason behind the communists’ extreme discomfiture with the nuclear deal being the same: the upkeep of national interest. As for the BJP’s opposition, we will just have to believe them, won’t we? The problem is ‘national interest’ means different things to these different blocs of people.
So the best way out of this Hall of Mirrors is to look at what the actual text of the deal agreed upon by New Delhi and Washington has to say. But interpreting the contentious passages of the deal seems more about reading the mind (read: ideology) of the interpreter rather than throwing light on what the deal actually says. The business of whether the 123 Agreement can be ‘bent’ by a future domestic law has been taken care of by Article 16.4 of the text that summons the protection of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. But the naysayers in India want more and are busy quibbling over whether that leaves the door open for post-Pokhran-style sanctions and the US’s ‘right of return’ of exported material. Here again, they dangle the ‘supplementary’ Hyde Act, a non-binding legislation passed by the Bush administration to mollify the American equivalent of our Prakash Karats. The textual battle here is over whether the US has the right to ‘deny’ India shopping at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) megastore in case New Delhi conducts tests again, or to ‘stop access’. With the latter being the case, it means that India will still be able to ‘do business’ with non-US NSG States, something that suits countries like Russia and France thank you very much.
Being on a slippery empirical slope — but not necessarily a political one — the Left (and weekend naysayers like the SP) are putting in as many ideologically driven ‘anti-imperialist’ crows into the cage to confuse the issue. If railing against Coca-Cola is passé, howling against the India-US Defence Framework Agreement, the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act, closer economic and business ties with America, etc will keep the constituency hearths crackling. The problem with this line of action is that it may be in national interest, but certainly not in this nation’s interest. But we’ll need theological skills to convince the Left on that one, don’t we?