With implementation of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement remaining uncertain, former ambassador to the US Naresh Chandra said the atomic deal should not be seen as a "litmus test" for bilateral ties between the two countries as progress can be made in other areas.
"While the civil nuclear deal between India and the US is terribly important, it might be better not to make it a kind of a total litmus test of our relationship," Chandra said during a luncheon address to the United States India Business Council in Washington.
"It does not mean that if the agreement is not completed satisfactorily soon, that everything else will fall by the wayside. Progress can be made outside of the treaty," Chandra maintained.
The former ambassador, who presided over a tough era of relations with the US in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests, said the atomic deal has become a magnet that has attracted all kinds of issues and brought along with it not only opinions and discussions but also prejudices and biases. "There is a whole lot of mix here," the former top envoy to Washington remarked.
<b1>"Conventional wisdom dictates that the government of India is resolute... But it wants to do it with consent and approval of as wide a political spectrum as possible," Chandra said, adding that the deal was "in the national interest".
Chandra is a member of the Indian delegation to the US-India Strategic dialogue conducted under the aegis of the Aspen Institute and the CII.
BJ Panda, MP from the Biju Janata Dal, agreed with Chandra that the nuclear deal should not be seen as the "be all and end all" of India's relationship with the US even though it is the centrepiece of today's engagement and "all eyes are on it".
"Perhaps it was not anticipated, least of all by the government, that their left allies would be so dead-set against the deal to the extent they are willing to take the country to an election..." Panda, also a member of the Indian delegation, remarked.
"If you look at the polls, the Left parties' attempt to take it to the people has been a catastrophic failure in the last two or three weeks. I don't think they have an electoral issue as such," he added.
Despite opposition, Panda was optimistic that the deal will be implemented. "I remain cautiously optimistic; I would give a qualified yes," Panda said on the prospects of the 123 agreement becoming operational.
"It still requires some astute manoeuvring by the government. I think it can be done," the MP added.
Doug Hartwick, assistant US Trade Representative for South and South West Asia, said the passage of the Hyde Act, the legislation on the Indo-US nuclear cooperation, was one of the important developments in bilateral ties that took place in the past one year.
It was a critically important vote on Capitol Hill, elevating the nature of the relationship with India, Hartwick said.