Friday, November 24, 2006

Indo-US roller coaster on the brink again

Today,the Indian-American activists, who have been lobbying for better relations between India and the United States, are in a jubilant mood. They are basking in the glory of the Congressional approval of the India Bill. They are pleasantly surprised that the defeat of the Republicans has not made any difference to the outcome in the Senate.

In fact, it turns out that it was not the substance of the nuclear deal that prompted the Democrats to delay its approval. They simply did not want to hand out a political victory to President Bush. Now that he is down, even though not out, they have no reason to stand in the way of a strategic relationship.

Indian Americans, however, do not want to think of a scenario in which India walks out of the deal because of the conditions attached to it by the United States Congress. Many of them do not even bother to study the additional elements to see how much of it is vital to safeguard US interests before making an exception for India.

I asked a leading Indian American as to how the Indian community and the business circles would react if India backed out of the deal after they had spent so much time and effort to get the deal adopted by the US Congress.

For the first time in history, the US-India Business Council had hired a professional lobbyist to promote the deal. He did not even want to think about it as he felt that it would be a real disaster. Without challenging India's right not to be influenced one way or another on foreign policy issues, he felt strongly that India should focus on the core of the agreement and ignore what are essentially window dressing for internal consumption in the United States. They felt that India should take note of positions of Senators Edward Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, who are no enemies of India.

There is realisation here, as in India, that the deal goes beyond what it does to the nuclear issues between the two countries. It is more of a symbol of a transformation of bilateral relations. It will make a difference as to how the United States and the rest of the world look at India. The Cold War will end when cooperation begins under the deal. India will occupy a unique position in the global hierarchy and gain benefits beyond the terms of the nuclear deal.

Ironically, the opponents of the deal in the US are concerned about the narrow aspects of non-proliferation, while its critics in India are fighting the larger issue of US domination. For this reason, they see ghosts behind every clause in the Bill even before the final shape of the Bill is known. They see a conspiracy to induct CIA agents even behind proposals for scientific studies. The more innocuous the proposals, the more diabolical they become.

As the Senate was debating the Bill and dealing with 'killer amendments', I was speaking to the faculty and students of the James Madison University in Virginia. They were very surprised that there were critics of the deal in India after all the efforts made by the two governments to find an understanding on the nuclear issue. I had to dwell at length on the history of mutual suspicion between the two countries.

A young student asked what it would take America to remove Indian suspicions. Would India be happy only if the United States conceded every point in the negotiations?

I took refuge in the argument that India would be happy if the agreement of July 18, 2005 was left untouched. I did not tell them that there were objections even to the original agreement. I did not tell them also that the subsequent debate had brought the extremists to give up their tantrums about the original agreement.

One question on everybody's lips is where the two democracies will go if there is no deal at the end of December 2006. Will they be estranged again? Or will they be able to keep the relationship on an even keel? The answer is to go back to December 2000 when President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee agreed upon a new architecture of bilateral relations without any understanding on the nuclear issue. The compulsions of cooperation between the two countries are too strong to be underestimated.

The roller coaster falls if it climbs the heights without reaching a plateau. President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have laboriously pulled the roller coaster close to a higher plateau. The fall will be fast and scary if it does not make it up there. But as long as the roller coaster remains on its rails, the landing will be soft and the climb can begin again.

The non-proliferationists in the US and the 'suspicionists' in India should remember that they too have a stake in preventing a steep fall. They should at least refrain from making it difficult for the next long haul.

1 comment:

Rajan said...

Now that the legislation to allow the United States to sell nuclear technology to India has gone through the US Congress, it might be instructive to examine what constraints this legislation places on the US and to then try and see what conditions India would have to face.