There is widespread media speculation on the chances of the India-International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement being finalized and submitted to the board of governors. The issue that is being hotly debated is whether the Left parties will allow the safeguards agreement to be processed further by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government when the Indian delegation concludes the draft agreement with the IAEA.
This is to be decided in the next UPA-Left coordination meeting. Reports have appeared in the press that the UPA will argue that the processing of the safeguards agreement is not a bilateral issue between India and the US but a requirement for civil nuclear cooperation with China, Russia and France which have made offers of such cooperation subject to the finalization of the Safeguards Agreement and obtaining waiver from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
If the finalization of the safeguards agreement is opposed by the Left at this stage it would inevitably lead to the conclusion that the Left is opposed to India's civil nuclear cooperation with China, Russia and France. These are all countries which are opposed to unilateralism of the US and which are keen on building a multi-polar world.
After the leaderships of these countries have publicly pledged cooperation in the civil nuclear field subject to the international safeguards regime, India's going back on it will inevitably generate an impression that India is not interested in the development of a multi-polar, balance of power world and India does not consider itself an adequately significant power to join hands with others to countervail the unilateralism of the US.
The US cold warriors would like nothing better. This would suit the world view of those sections of US diplomats, military and intelligence establishments which would like to see the continued hyphenation of India and Pakistan and India not playing an autonomous great power role along with China, Russia and France in the international system.
The Left should make it clear whether it wants India to play a cooperative role with powers like China, Russia and France to contribute to multi-polarity of the international system or not. It is a question of the mindset whether India, the second largest nation of the world, should play a role appropriate for one-sixth of mankind or have a self-image of itself as a weak power vulnerable to bullying.
It will be an extreme irony of history if those who claim to be opposed to US unilateralism find themselves in the company of the US cold warriors who are opposed to India rising as an autonomous power to contribute to balance unilateralism in the international system.
This is not the age of Cold War and confrontation. Diplomacy in today's world calls for cooperation as well as independent assertion of views among major powers.
Russia and China are going along with the US, Britain, France and Germany in considering sanctions against Iran for its continued opposition to the demand to suspend uranium enrichment but at the same time Russia is completing supplies of enriched uranium fuel for the Busher reactors.
The Left considers China as a countervailer of the US though the Chinese supply of consumer items to the US at very cheap prices by keeping the yuan value low helps the US economy by keeping its inflation down by half percent.
Russia builds and maintains the space station in cooperation with the US and is a member of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) along with the US, Britain, France, Germany and other NATO countries.
Russia and China are today partners in technology denial regimes established by the US during the Cold War. They do not treat the US as an undifferentiated adversary but adopt a policy of selective cooperation and opposition based on issues, which is the distinguishing characteristic of the balance of power system.
India can contribute to the multi-polarity of the world only when it succeeds in getting the international technology apartheid, which was imposed under US leadership at the height of the Cold War, removed. This is what Russia, France and China are aiming at.
Often, the Hyde Act is mixed up with India getting itself liberated from the technology apartheid. The Hyde Act has two roles. The first, it exempts India from the ban on US nuclear cooperation with nations which are not members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Secondly it lays down certain conditions for the US administration to sell nuclear technology to India.
Most of the conditionalities, to which the Left and others have raised objections in India, relate to the second aspect. Exempting India from the ban for nuclear cooperation in principle even though it is not a signatory of the NPT is a one-time waiver and is irrevocable in this context once given.
Conditionalities of the Hyde Act apply only if India were to purchase technology or equipment from the US. Whether India should purchase equipment and technology from the US is a decision New Delhi will have to take much later in the light of the cooperation it is able to mobilize on civil nuclear cooperation from Russia, France and China.
Under the US constitution, foreign policy is the prerogative of the president. The US presidents ignored the Congressional legislation for years in respect of Pakistan acquiring nuclear weapons with Chinese help.
Then President Bill Clinton bluffed the US Congress for six years with the statement that a determination was yet to be made on Chinese missile supplies to Pakistan, even after the Pakistani government had publicly acknowledged the receipt of the missiles. What counts in reality is the state of relationship with the US administration in office at a particular time. Pakistan and China have clearly benefited out of their understanding of the working of the US political system.
Therefore those who are ideologically opposed to unilateralism of the US should support India going ahead with the conclusion of the IAEA safeguards. This is what rationality dictates. But in politics rationality does not always prevail.
History is full of instances of leaders hurting the interests of their own parties because of ego drives, leftist or rightist adventurism and putting personal interests above party or national interests.
But for such mistakes by leaders like Stalin, Brezhnev and Mao Zedong, communism as an ideology would not be finding itself in its present predicament all over the world. Mistakes of those leaders in the former USSR and China are now widely acknowledged.
Mohit Sen has something to say of mistakes committed in India. Other party leaders have committed similar irrational mistakes as well. The late Indira Gandhi's decision to impose emergency and BJP-led mobs demolishing the Babri mosque are instances of similar irrationality. In this case both the Left's opposition to finalization of IAEA safeguards and the UPA's possible caving in to the Left pressure will be irrational. There is no guarantee such developments will not take place.
If the UPA irrationally succumbs to the leftist pressure then in the next election a major issue will be who ruled this country from May 2004 - whether it was Manmohan Singh or Prakash Karat. There is no prize for guessing who will benefit out of this.
(K. Subrahmanyam is a leading analyst on foreign policy and strategic affairs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)