The struggle over the Indo-US nuclear deal could show up Indian politics at its worst. Party political interests may triumph over those of the nation. Easy options could be preferred to tough decisions. Survival in office might take precedence over a creative response to challenges. And this could be as true of the opposition as it is of the government. Whoever they maybe, our politicians seem to only care about themselves.
Let’s start with the government. Speaking in Parliament in August, the Prime Minister called the nuclear deal “an historic initiative” that secured “major gains for India”. He added: “It is another step in our journey to regain our due place in global councils.” And he concluded: “When future generations look back, they will come to acknowledge the significance of this historic deal.”
Two months later, Sonia Gandhi was even more outspoken. “The opponents of the Indo-US nuclear deal are anti-development, prosperity and peace. We should all join hands in giving them a strong response… such elements are not only the enemies of Congress but they are also the enemies of progress and development.”
So what should we concl-ude if now the same two individuals choose to shelve the deal to protect their alliance with the Left and continue in office for a few months more? Would it not suggest that “major gains for India” have been sacrificed so the UPA can survive a little longer? Won’t this be a victory for “the enemies of progress and development”?
Either Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi did not mean what they said or they care more for themselves and their party’s interest than they do for the country they claim to serve. There can be no other conclusion.
The position of the BJP is only marginally better. The thin difference is the fact it’s not in power and cannot directly influence developments. But the party’s hypocrisy and its determination to place its own interests ahead of India’s is the same.
The BJP knows it tried for a similar deal when it was in office and would have settled for a lot less than what is on offer today. So, logically, it should have welcomed the Indo-US deal, even justifiably claiming it is the culmination of efforts started by the party. But because the deal is happening under a Congress-led government, the BJP has forgotten the past and rejected the deal. The BJP believes its interest lies in opposing anything the Congress does, even if it ends up opposing developments that are in India’s interest.
However, what is truly inexplicable is the BJP’s claim it’s opposing the deal because it does not permit India to carry out further nuclear tests. That’s simply not true. None other than the American Ambassador has said India would retain the right to test. In fact, even the words “nuclear test” don’t feature in the 123 Agreement.
The truth is that if India does test after signing the 123 it would face a more understanding response from Washington than otherwise. This is because the 123 provides for talks and hints at ameliorating circumstances that could condone a test before sanctions kick in. So, if the BJP is really concerned about future tests, the 123 makes them a shade easier. These are grounds for embracing the deal not re-buffing it.
But do our politicians care about the truth or about the national interest? Their attitude to the deal suggests not. And certainly not if either have to be defended at the cost of their party or their own interests.
How different this is to the ethos of the armed forces. I recall the stirring words of Field Marshall Chetwode at the inauguration of the Indian Military Academy in 1932. Today they are the credo of the IMA. “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
I wonder what our politicians make of that? In fact, do they even understand?