Life will go on, but at what cost?

Stalling of the Indo-US nuclear deal will be an opportunity betrayed, says Dr Sumit Ganguly, South Asia Analyst.

The Indo-US civil nuclear agreement, the Manmohan Singh government’s most important foreign policy initiative, has been stymied by stiff opposition from the Left parties, the ambivalent attitude of the BJP and its NDA allies and lukewarm support from the UPA allies of the Congress party. 

In the United States, the reactions to this unforeseen development have varied from disbelief to glee, Dr Sumit Ganguly, Tagore Professor, Indiana University, Bloomington and well-known South Asia analyst, tells Gurmeet Kanwal, Additional Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. 

In Dr Ganguly’s view the deal could still be salvaged, but under a Democratic administration India will lose out some of the present concessions. Excerpts from the interview:

The Indian government has succumbed to pressure from the Left parties to go slow on the Indo-US nuclear deal. How is this backtracking being viewed by the US government and by the US Congress?

There is a distinct sense of bewilderment and dismay within the US government. Congressional reactions are mixed. It all depends on whom you talk to. 

Obviously, many Republicans who had hoped to see lucrative contracts ensue for their districts and also hand the besieged President an important foreign policy victory are unhappy. 

Some Democrats passionately committed to non-proliferation are gleeful.

What impact will a go-slow on the deal have on India’s larger relationship with the US, especially on defence cooperation?

I think that the US government will watch very, very carefully to see if there is any slackening on the defence cooperation front and weapons purchases.

Can the nuclear deal be revived in future, particularly if a Democratic administration takes office in 2009? How difficult will it be to do so?

The deal could be revived but its scope and dimensions, almost inevitably, will change considerably under a Democratic administration. 

With such changes, I doubt that it would remain especially attractive to India any longer.

The deal with the US was expected to hasten international civil nuclear cooperation with India. What options does India have to commence nuclear trade and seek technology transfers if the deal with the US remains in limbo?

Indians options will be drastically curtailed unless it accepts full-scope IAEA safeguards.

Would it be practicable for India to seek an NSG waiver for nuclear cooperation without the 123 agreement being approved by the US Congress?

Yes, I do not see why India could not. They do not believe that the sequencing is that critical.

Do you see the stalling of the nuclear deal as an opportunity betrayed?

I do not think that either the Prime Minister or his advisers or members of India’s larger foreign policy community fully grasp the significance of the loss of this extraordinary opportunity. 

If the deal is not salvaged, even at this late hour, it will damage India’s international credibility. 

Of course, as the PM has said, “life will go on”. However, he needs to honestly ask himself, at what cost?