The Manmohan Singh government has been asking the US for an indefinite additional period of time to sell the
India-US civilian nuclear deal at home. However, this has raised the question of whether New Delhi can hope to
negotiate the N-deal after George W Bush leaves office.
The answer, say analysts, is possibly yes but not on the generous terms and conditions Bush had provided the deal for.
The first problem that the Indian government might face trying to operationalise the deal after the November 2008 elections is that the entire process would have to start all over again.
"The congressional process on the 123 agreement, which outlines the nature of the India-US nuclear cooperation, goes back to the beginning, no matter how long it may have 'sat' on Capitol Hill before the previous Congress went out," says Teresita Schaffer, South Asia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Secondly, a new administration would simply take time to get up and running. Nothing would happen before July 2009, says Schaffer, as it would take time to get key officials in various posts. If a new administration decides that the nuclear deal was not a priority then India might not even get to approach them until the year 2010. And almost no one in Washington believes that any other US president would be as enthusiastic about India as Bush has been.
The other problem India might confront is that the next administration would be lead by the Democrats and that both the houses of Congress would be held by the same party.
"The nonproliferation lobby has more influence among Democrats than the Republicans," says Walter Andersen of Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies.
Anupam Srivastava, a nonproliferation expert at the University of Georgia, expects the lobby to make a train wreck of the nuclear deal. "They will delay and insert amendments and conditionalities that would be considered clearly unacceptable by the Indian nuclear scientists, foreign policy establishments and the government." He says, "India should bury expectations for a similar deal from a Democratic administration."
The hard-won nuclear fuel guarantees and buffers against nuclear testing sanctions included in the present agreement would be targeted for removal from the 123 agreement. In addition, Democrats would be expected to demand a fissile material cap and probably an Indian signature to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Schaffer is uncertain how far a new administration would go in eviscerating a new nuclear deal. "They might be looking for some new demonstration of India's devotion to nonproliferation," she agrees. But they might be interested in putting their own symbolic stamp on the deal rather than rewriting it wholesale.
AK Mago, head of USINDIA Forum, one of the most successful Indo-American lobby groups for the nuclear deal, has no doubts that the Democrats spell trouble. "All one needs to do is to look at the list of the chairs of the different House and Senate committees and compare it to the names of the congressmen and senators who opposed it," he says. "A new administration will have its own agenda and priorities. I doubt very much that this bill will be on top of that list."