US-India Nuclear Deal Generates a Domestic Cold War in India by Subhash Kapila SignUp


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US-India Nuclear Deal
Generates a Domestic Cold War in India
by Dr. Subhash Kapila Bookmark and Share

India today is in the midst of a domestic Cold War generated by firstly freezing the text of the Nuclear Deal Agreement by the Indian Government for a number of days and then hurriedly rushing it through the Cabinet for its approval and thereafter presenting a 'fait-accompli' to the nation. This aspect was covered in this Column a couple of weeks ago terming it as an avoidable imbroglio. That the Congress Government should rush through such a critical national security agreement without a national consensus and a full discussion in the Parliament of its controversial and contentious issues smacks of the utter disdain and contempt of the Congress President and the Congress Prime Minister for parliamentary propriety and coalition consensual political processes. 

The Indian Parliament stood provoked by this cavalier approach and parliamentary proceedings have stood paralyzed as a consequence. The main opposition to the US-India Nuclear Deal in its present form has not emerged from the main Opposition alliance but from the leading coalition partner of the Congress Coalition Government on whose political support the Congress Government survives. The Leftist Parties whose political support is critical for the Government's survival have given an ultimatum to the Congress to press the 'pause button' on the Deal or face the consequences. The Congress Prime Minister had earlier provoked the Leftists by daring them to withdraw their support to the Government.

India's domestic Cold War on the Nuclear Deal has manifested itself on many planes and there are no signs that this crisis and the controversy that has been generated will die down soon. The cleavages have become too pronounced.

India's ruling Congress Party today is in an intense Cold War with the Leftist Parties and obdurate that it will not renegotiate the Deal or even slow down discussions with the IAEA and the NSG as demanded by the Leftist Parties. This obduracy on part of the Congress Party Prime Minister and fully supported by the Congress Party President seems to arise from two counts and that is that the Leftist Parties will blink first and back down from their ultimatum. The second calculation seems to be that even if the Leftists withdraw their support, the Congress Government may not fall instantly and could survive as a minority government for some time.

So what we are witnessing today is political brinkmanship of the highest order by the two main constituents of the so-called United Progressive Alliance more reminiscent of the Cold War era. With motives being imputed by both sides to each other the ongoing confrontation has assumed ideological contours.

Peeved by the Leftists opposition, the Congress Party has started accusing the Leftists opposition to the Deal as generated by their toeing the political and strategic line adopted by China and that they are furthering China's strategic interests who oppose a strategic partnership between USA and India. The Leftist Parties accuse the Congress Party of bartering away India's strategic autonomy and making it subservient to United States global strategy. So in a curious way the debate on the merits or demerits of the Nuclear Deal debate has been replaced by an ideological confrontation on India's foreign policy future directions with particular reference to the evolving US-India Strategic Partnership.

The other dimension of the ongoing domestic Cold War has been the attempts by the Congress Party to isolate the Leftist Parties within the UPA ruling alliance and attempting to pre-empt any of the smaller constituents of the UPA siding with the Leftists. This is generating its own tensions within the UPA as at the regional level the smaller parties of the UPA are tied up with the Leftists.

Another undesirable dimension that has emerged in this Cold War has been the emergence of a new breed of 'committed diplomats and civil bureaucrats' more reminiscent of the Emergency days. In the earlier stages the bureaucrats of the Prime Minister's Office came out with public outbursts dismissive of the reservations being raised by the nuclear scientist's community and the strategic community. Lately, in the middle of the furor in the Parliament, India's Ambassador in the United States interjected avoidable provocations by terming the opposition to the Nuclear Deal in India as 'headless chickens' whish included both Members of Parliament and the media and everybody else. His later retraction was not convincing as the journalist stood by his report of the Ambassador's remarks. This is again indicative of the deep divide that exists in India on this Deal and the frayed tempers that have ensued. In any case diplomats and bureaucrats have no business to defend issues I public which are patently political in character.

There is a positive dimension that has emerged in the ongoing Cold War and that attention now stand focused on the formulation, conduct of India's foreign policy and the need for Parliamentary ratification of crucial Agreements and Treaties with foreign countries. Regular readers of this Column would recall that this is a point that I have periodically touched that important Agreements like the Nuclear Deal should be first discussed in Parliament and a consensual national view be taken. This was ignored by the Congress Government and the Cabinet Ministers maintained that they do not need the Parliament's approval. The result is now for all to see.

The ensuing domestic Cold War would have been avoided had the Congress Government not covered the entire negotiating process in a veil of secrecy and generated suspicions of a strategic sellout. It generated needless speculations of a strong pro-US lobby within the Prime Minister's Office and also the Foreign Office pushing the Deal roughshod over reservations of India's nuclear scientists , the strategic community and the polity.

Lastly, how will this domestic Cold War end or resolve itself? Nothing on the horizon suggests that any definite solutions will be found soon. There could be half way political compromises by the Congress Party and the Leftists Parties. But these would be half way compromises only and nothing beyond that.

For all practical purposes the trust between the two major constituents of the ruling alliance in India stands broken in what could be termed as the final year before the next General Elections. This could generate a new set of political dynamics at the national and regional levels in Indian politics in an unpredictable manner. 

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