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Are we ready for the big league?

According to experts the pact collapse will place India on a lower scale than China, reports Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.

world Updated: Oct 23, 2007 02:50 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

There are no surprises as to which groups are pleased at the present political impasse in New Delhi over consummating the India-US civilian nuclear deal.

Walter Andersen, South Asia expert at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies, recounts how he recently met a prominent member of the nonproliferation lobby in Washington who "could barely contain his glee at what he was convinced was the destruction of the deal by partisan politics in India."

The state-owned Chinese media was noticeably low-key in reporting the Singh government's decision to put the agreement on hold.

China Daily

, after writing reams questioning the deal, confined New Delhi's decision to two sentences in its October 13 issue.

But Mohan Malik, an expert on China's foreign policy towards India at the AsiaPacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, says Beijing is more than pleased. "Chinese writings interpreted the nuclear deal as a realisation of India's 'great power dreams', as the key to unlocking the door to India's entry into the big league of world politics," he says.

The death of the deal "would confirm the widely-held belief in China's national security establishment that despite its recent economic strides, India remains a 'weak state characterised by abject poverty, and religious, political and regional faultlines' that is no match for China."

This is echoed by Anupam Srivastava of the University of Georgia's Center for International Trade and Security. The failure of the nuclear deal, he says, "would immediately place India on a lower scale than China in terms of emerging global powers."

The worst fallout would be on the many groups who argued in Washington that India had arrived as a power and needed to be treated as such. While few in the US establishment are hostile to India, many argued that New Delhi was too immature to be able to handle the nuclear deal. "A lot of people here question whether India is ready to be a great power," said one State Department official.

"Those who are dubious about India will see their scepticism justified. Those who want to move ahead with India will have a sinking feeling the Indian political scene isn't really ready for the international scene, and that things will have to move much more slowly," says Teresita C Schaffer, South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on the impact a dead deal would have inside the Washington establishment. Srivastava feels the ripple effect would make other countries — like Japan, Russia and France — less willing to engage with India as an emerging power.

While everyone agrees the Indo-US relationship will continue to develop, the nuclear deal has a larger than life standing. "So many people have invested in this deal that it has acquired iconic importance," says Ashley Wills of the lobby firm WilmerHale and former number two at the US Embassy in New Delhi.

Failure would also have some negative impact on investment in specific areas like energy and high-technology, both of which are affected by the nonproliferation sanctions that presently burden India. "This sector will be greatly concerned about the implications of the government yielding to any opponent who brandishes an anti-American card," says Schaffer. Other trade and investment ties are unlikely to be affected say most analysts.

However, one group who are likely to be bitter will be the Indian-American community. Without their lobbying efforts, at considerable expenditure of considerable time and money, it would have been impossible to get the legislation supporting the deal through the US Congress.

Says AK Mago of the USINDIA Forum, one of the deal's most effective community supporters, "The Indian American community will always support efforts good for the country of their birth and their adopted homeland. But I am sure in the future, they will ask more questions before getting involved to this extent." Srivastava says Indian-Americans will lose "face and influence with their congressional leaders" and will be sceptical when asked to cooperate in future with the Indian government.

On one point, no one has any doubts: the reaction in Islamabad. "Certainly China and Pakistan would be very happy to see the nuclear deal fall apart," says Lisa Curtis, South Asia expert of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "That goes without saying."