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What the big deal is about

Ten years from now when the achievements of this Govt are recalled, the N-deal shall clearly stand out as something that had positive ramifications for India’s forward march, writes Pankaj Vohra.
By Pankaj Vohra | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JUN 16, 2008 12:47 AM IST

The UPA government appears to have made up its mind on signing the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement, even as the Left parties continue to stick to their original position. The ritual of the UPA-Left meeting on the issue may take place on June 18, but indications made from the comments by both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi over the last few days point towards the government’s renewed resolve to go ahead with the controversial deal. How the matter will unfold is something that has to be seen.

Significantly, the PM expressed hope that the deal would go through as it was in the country’s best interests. It had run into some difficulties on account of domestic politics, but if it materialises, it will open up new possibilities of cooperation, not only with the US but also with all the other nuclear powers like Russia and France “who are very keen that once we have this deal through, India should become eligible for nuclear cooperation”. Singh also stated that the government wished to create an international environment in which nuclear technology was used not for destructive purposes but to help India meet its national development goals and our energy security.

Within two days of the PM’s statement, Sonia Gandhi, too, underlined the need for nuclear energy. Nuclear power, she added, could be key to India’s rising energy requirement. It was in the interest of the country’s future. These were strong words to put her weight behind the PM. Even External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, a key player in the deal’s negotiations, also stated that nuclear power appears to offer India the most potent means to realise its long-term energy security.

The statements, coming within days of each other, are not coincidental. They seem to have been made consciously with a definite agenda in mind — that of going ahead with the agreement. The top UPA leadership realises that the deal will not only help in making India self-reliant so far as energy requirements go, but will also help in ending the country’s nuclear apartheid.

In fact, ten years from now when the achievements of this government are recalled, the agreement shall clearly stand out as something that had positive ramifications for India’s forward march in a highly competitive global environment. There would be no other issue that would pass the test of time and get attributed to this government, which has, by and large, failed to derive political dividends from many of its programmes in absence of any concrete strategy. It will also help in diverting the attention from the present economic crisis.

There are those who argue that Singh had been virtually isolated last year when he showed keenness to go ahead with the deal. UPA partners like Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, who were a party to the resolution in support of the deal, had expressed their unwillingness to go ahead in the face of stiff opposition from the Left. But with elections likely to be held sooner than expected, they may fall in line. They may either keep quiet or not oppose the deal in a very vocal manner.

Unfortunately, there were some political players who had tried to link the deal with the dim view a large number of Muslims living in India have about the US, particularly after its attack on Iraq. But the deal is about getting India energy resources. There is no evidence to suggest that Muslims would behave differently on an issue that seeks to make India self-reliant. Like everyone else, India’s Muslims understand that this deal does not compromise our sovereignty. Fears raised by the Left parties, despite assurances from the PM, are more political in nature than actual.

The Congress and the UPA also realise that whenever the polls are held, the coalition and the Left parties may be facing each other and not fighting alongside. The Left has been attacking the UPA for its ‘anti poor’ policies. The attacks will become more pronounced in the future. There has always been a difference between the approach of the Left and the Congress on various issues and this could be one of them.

If the UPA decides to sign the deal, it may lead to an announcement by the Left that it will be withdrawing support. If that happens, then so be it. There may be voices that state that the government was in minority, without understanding that the deal had been signed by a government that enjoyed the majority. The government that signs the deal shall be deemed to enjoy the majority till it is shown to be in a minority on the floor of the house. And unless something extraordinary happens, the deal should be through in a not-too-distant future. Between us.

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