There are palpable fears today in India that the Indian Prime Minister may compromise on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. These fears stand generated by a curious accumulation of a host of developments, utterances of US Administration officials, a sustained number of Indian media Opinion-Editorials and analyses and finally public assertions at the highest levels from two different ends of India’s political spectrum, namely, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main coalition partners of the Congress Government, the Communist Parties, cautioning the Congress Government against finalizing the deal without a debate in Parliament.
The air of suspicion and speculation would have been cleared had the Indian Prime Minister chosen to once again re-assert what he had asserted twice on the floor of the Parliament that India’s strategic autonomy, its strategic nuclear programme, and the attendant questions of reprocessing and future nuclear tests would not be compromised. Curiously, as the flurry of US pressures are building up on India to speedily sign the Deal, the Prime Minister has not chosen to publicly reassure that no compromises would be made in the process. This adds to the speculation that today pervades in India.
This issue has been addressed enough in this Column and elsewhere by me. Most recently in an Opinion-Editorial in the English Daily, THE PIONEER (May 12, 2007) in light of my earlier assertions, it was stressed that if at all a “political comprise “ had to be made, it should be made by the United States and not by India. What was at stake was not India’s national security or future but United States future embedment in Asia. It was emphasized that the Indian Prime Minister should exercise the tremendous global leverages that India enjoys today and not politically compromise on vital national security interests. I had kept the title of the media-piece simple but the Editor chose to change it to “India Should Dare US to Walk Out”. And that probably reflects broadly the prevalent sentiment on the issue in India.
In terms of developments on the issue, the latest is the arrival of the US Assistant Secretary of State Burns in New Delhi for further discussions and break the stalemate. It was earlier announced in Washington that he would come only when the deal is fully finalized and ready for signature by the two countries leaders. Since Indian diplomats are presently reticent and guarded in their reactions and statements, are we to take it that the Indian Prime Minister has given in to US pressures?
The utterances by US Administration officials in Washington before Burns departure for India seem to be pointers in that direction. They have asserted that India was fully aware that the 123 Agreement will have to strictly adhere to the provisions of the Hyde Act and no compromises could be made, and that Indians (read Indian Prime Minister) were fully aboard on this. If that be so are we to take it that India had already politically compromised on US restrictions on India’s strategic autonomy and the present Indo-US discussions are more to arrive at an appropriate text which could camouflage the compromises made and soften the impact in India of the Congress Government’s sell-out on the nuclear deal ?
In the run-up to the present Burns visit to New Delhi the Indian print media has been flooded by India’s strategic community and top nuclear scientists with Opinion-Editorials and analyses cautioning the Congress Government against strategic compromises by a “political decision” by the Prime Minister. This fear was reinforced by statements from Washington that the Deal could only materialize by a “political decision” by India’s Prime Minister, implying that India’s official negotiators were unyielding on the safeguards of India’s strategic autonomy. The studied silence of the Indian Prime Minister continues and is ominous.
Sensing the widespread fears and speculation in India that the Prime Minister may go in for a political comprise on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, India’s political spectrum across the political divide has reacted to caution the Prime Minister on a hasty step. The BJP and he Communist Parties at the apex level have publicly declared that the Indian Prime Minister should not finalize the Deal without a full debate on it in the Parliament and taking the country into confidence. Earlier the Prime Minister is reported to have declared that as per the Constitution he was not obliged to obtain Parliament’s approval. He may be technically correct but in terms of political morality and political propriety he can be gravely faulted.
The United States too would be well advised not to rush into a finalization of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal at the political leadership level until this Deal stands fully debated in the Indian Parliament.
If done otherwise the United States runs the risk of the Deal being repudiated by a future political dispensation. India’s public opinion cannot be ignored by either the Congress Government in power today or by the United States. The matter is also still before the Supreme Court who gave a breather to the Government by listing its hearing after the summer break.
Before concluding, what has gone unnoticed in media analyses is the fact that lately the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, Shyam Saran who was specially deputed for negotiating this Deal stands quietly replaced by Foreign Secretary Menon in the final negotiations with the Americans. Is it that he was unyielding on American pressures for a political compromise?
Concluding, the saying goes that there is no smoke without a fire and the speculative smoke that has been generated by the studied silence of the Indian Prime Minister on this grave issue of India’s strategic autonomy in the nuclear sphere, can only be cleared by a prompt reassurance by the Indian Prime Minister that no ‘political compromise” has been made in both letter and spirit as far as the Indo-US Nuclear Deal is concerned.