Manipal, India — If we take away the near-automatic, and usually fallacious, identification of a country with its government, and use the views within an elected Parliament as a better guide to opinion, then there is a majority against the George W. Bush-Manmohan Singh nuclear deal that crosses 70 percent.
Regrettably for India's ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi gave up her struggles with formal education very early, and since her marriage to a scion of the Nehrus has lived a life as cocooned as any royalty. She chose as prime minister an individual as unschooled in the actual rough-and-tumble of politics as herself. Manmohan Singh was pitchforked into politics by former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1992, and after a disastrous showing in the "safe" and urbanized New Delhi constituency in 1996, has refused to enter an electoral contest.
Small wonder that both misread the chemistry of the country and went ahead with a nuclear deal that does India the "favor" of being accepted as low caste rather than an outcaste, as the country has been treated under the leadership of the United States, China and the European Union since its first nuclear test in 1974. "Low caste" in the context of the nuclear sector can be held to refer to countries that have been given the privilege of supervised and limited access to nuclear technology, a category that includes most countries in the world.
Countries such as Germany and Japan may be termed "medium caste." These have the right to not merely act as receptacles for outside technology, but undertake specific functions such as the reprocessing of spent fuel on their own. These are what Bush has termed as "donor countries" in his proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, as opposed to "recipient" countries denied this privilege.
The "high caste" includes of course the five declared nuclear weapons powers under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Although the nuclear deal accepts the reality of India's being a nuclear weapons state, the contours of the cooperation proposed within its ambit have been drawn on the implicit premise that a steady diminution of India's indigenous capability would be in the international interest. Once the deal becomes operational, an intrusive regime of inspections would kick in, and the limited re-processing that would be permitted under the terms of the "123 Agreement" and the India-specific Hyde Act passed by the U.S. Congress last year would be at a facility that would in effect be under international control.
Over time, almost all of India's nuclear capability would come under the inspections regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and efforts at developing an indigenous energy program based on thorium would have to be given up. Costs would rise substantially, as most foreign technologies are based on "high" rather than "low" enriched uranium, the price of which is shooting up even more than broader-term trends for oil.
Both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have consistently been opposed to the vigorous nuclear program favored by the Indian strategic establishment over four decades. They, as well as their predecessors, limited and slowed the Indian program, which despite such official retardation has developed into a self-sufficient basket of technologies that would find ready and profitable markets, were some exported.
Neither Gandhi nor Singh has thus far dared to challenge the communist parties in India over economic policy, almost always succumbing to their bullying even on key policies related to reform. In contrast, and for reasons that are opaque, both appear willing to stake the very existence of their three-year-old government on getting the nuclear deal administratively approved, despite the parliamentary majority against it. This is the kind of error that is seldom committed by elected leaders, even those who received a helping hand from the Supreme Court.
India is indeed rising, and this despite its government. Among those under 30, especially, there is a confidence about the future of the country that is palpable to most visitors. The new Indian regards herself or himself as the equal of citizens of any other major power, including the United States. Hence, they reject a concession that appears incredibly generous to U.S. policymakers who implicitly regard Indians as different from the natives of Europe.
This includes diplomats such as Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who must no doubt have spent numerous pleasant holidays at "home" in Europe. Burns, however, is more liberal than other under-secretaries such as Robert Joseph, who apparently backs the Bush attempt to monopolize nuclear technologies in the hands of those of European (or regrettably, Chinese) origin. They see the nuclear deal as a way of getting India to retreat from its 47-year quest for strategic equality with the major European powers, a drive manifested not only in the bomb program, but in the space missions being undertaken by the country.
Singh, with the backing of Sonia Gandhi, has reportedly agreed to limit development of the Indian missile system to a range no higher than 5,500 kilometers, uncaring of the effect that this would have on the space program and the quest for developing rockets that can compete with China and the European Union in the profitable space launch business.
Singh and Gandhi are delighted at their "promotion" from nuclear outcastes to nuclear lowlife ("receipent states," in Bush terminology). The majority in India's Parliament disagrees with them, and it is a no-brainer that a policy that does not have the support of the majority of members of Parliament cannot have the force of law. Should Gandhi and Singh choose to go down rather than listen to the majority and renegotiate more acceptable terms, the present nuclear deal will soon follow them.
A successor government is likely to work out a deal with close ally Russia rather than spend time persuading the U.S. Congress that the world's fast-growing and only democracy with a billion-plus population deserves to be treated at least the way Britain and France are. By highlighting U.S. unwillingness to acknowledge Indians as being the equals of their major European partners, the nuclear deal has become an obstacle to, rather than the symbol of, the India-U.S. partnership that is the present era's geopolitical imperative.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University.)