Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


The last few months have witnessed many media and street protests in India by left intellectuals, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)-led left parliamentary caucus and other left parties, the champion of Hindutva, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and various environmental groups and anti-nuclear activists – all against the nearly finalized Indo-US nuclear deal (the 123 Deal), which was negotiated by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Since CPM has apparently decided to oppose the deal no matter what, the fate of the deal seems to be sealed, at least for the moment, while the fate of the UPA government itself appears to be in limbo.


INSAF Bulletin has consistently argued that nuclear technology offers a plausible option to India’s growing energy and environmental needs as well as the problem of global climate change. India is now among the world’s top 4 or 5 emitters of greenhouse gases (China and the U.S. are the top 2) and the huge increases planned in coal-fired electric generation, for which nuclear is a possible substitute, will likely catapult India into 3rd place before long. The deal is essential if the nuclear option is to be kept alive as a possibility.  India’s current operating nuclear capacity consists almost entirely of pressurized heavy water reactors, all indigenously built from a basic Canadian design. The plants use natural uranium from India’s limited domestic resources as a fuel.  A few days ago, the Nuclear Power Corporation announced that it was reducing output at some plants because of lack of fuel.


The Indo-US nuclear deal would have allowed India to participate in the global market for both nuclear fuel and technology without necessarily having to acquiesce to the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which India has consistently rejected as discriminatory for many years. Although the 123 deal was only the first step in a process that required further agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency followed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it was a an important step since it was a concession that the US is apparently not prepared to make openly for any other country including Israel (secret dealings aside). Under the terms of the deal, India would also have been able to reprocess spent fuel (used nuclear material), thus adding to its usable nuclear fuel resources.  Moreover, the deal was also mindful of India’s nationalist sensitivities regarding its nuclear arsenal and specifically allowed India to demarcate its civil nuclear facilities, which would come under IAEA safeguards, from its facilities with military applications. Looked at objectively, India obtained more from the deal than the U.S. did as indeed has been pointed out by political figures and arms control specialists in the U.S. who have strongly criticized the U.S. Administration for abandoning its long standing policy against proliferation by agreeing to this deal.


However, in the eyes of CPM these benefits are not worth the loss India would incur if the deal went through. Here we do not deal with the pros and cons of nuclear energy, which have been articulated in the previous issues of the Bulletin. Rather, we address the issues raised by the left that the 123 deal compromises India’s “traditional nonaligned policy” and ties India into the U.S. global imperialist policy. Also implicit in the Left’s objection, which is shared with the Right, is that the deal compromises India’s option to make more (and, perhaps, bigger and better) nuclear bombs.


The nonaligned movement was in its heyday a half century ago and is not, currently, a reality, especially at a time when there is only one superpower. The beginning of the movement reflected a certain idealism on the part of India’s first Prime Minister who felt an identity of interests with the newly liberated countries of China, Egypt and Indonesia, and considered Tito, humiliated by Stalin, as a partner and ally. For a few years, when Nehru, Nasser, Nkrumah, Sukarno and Tito were on the world stage, non-alignment occupied an important place in world affairs. However, world events are not dictated by idealism and the interests of nation states far outweigh other considerations. Neither the Soviet Union nor the US were willing to let go of what they had and the contention between the two superpowers required the recruitment of other states, to put it mildly, in their respective spheres of influence. A decade after the Bandung conference, the US orchestrated the mass murder of Indonesian communists, overthrew the government of Sukarno and made Indonesia, under Suharto, a member of the U.S. camp. Also, not too much time passed after Bandung before the India-China border dispute erupted into an armed conflict. Later, after Vietnam had defeated the U.S. it attacked Cambodia, and China attacked Viet Nam. Moreover, the two socialist countries, the Soviet Union and China, rushed to divide the international working class movement to create their own spheres of influence. To cap it all, India signed a Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union, which could be treated as decisive departure from a nonaligned policy.  So for CPM to claim that the Indo-US nuclear deal compromises India’s traditional nonaligned policy is a non-issue.


The second point made by CPM is that the deal will make India subservient to U.S. policy.  While this claim has, superficially, more substance than the charge of abandoning non-alignment, it is curious that CPM did not raise a hue and cry when the Indian Defence Minister, Pranab Mookerjee, signed an Indo-US defense agreement with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, in June 2005, before the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was negotiated by Manmohan Singh and Bush.  One would have thought that a military deal that called for joint exercises, substantial purchases of military hardware and software, and closer relationships between the militaries of the two countries was something that would be regarded as much more consequential to bringing India into the U.S. camp than an agreement whose major goal is to allow India to participate in global commerce in civilian nuclear technology.  But CPM did not threaten to stop supporting the UPA regime if that defense agreement was consummated.  So naturally a question arises as to why CPM is so exercised over the 123 deal.  Before answering that, it is useful to briefly review and examine where the US and India stand today and what they gain or lose by this deal.


There is little doubt that the US today is a belligerent and hegemonic state with no respect for international norms as clearly expressed in its attack on and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, its threats to attack Iran, its long-standing embargo against Cuba, and its general posture of intimidation towards any country that departs from the so-called Washington consensus. But the adventurous policy of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan also reveals the isolation the US hawks led by President Bush feel both at home and abroad. Many who had decided to be “with” the US (the so-called coalition of the willing) in its unjust war against Iraq have either left or are threatening to leave the war zone. NATO is badly split on its Afghanistan policy and faces the same dilemma, which plagued Soviet Union at one time. Both the US economy and the U.S. military are overextended and respected analysts have opined that the U.S. will be unable to mount further aggressive adventures at this time.  While Russia and China did not unequivocally oppose the US invasion of Iraq, neither did they support it and both seem to be in a process of building their own offensive power bases.  Clearly, the US is in search of allies but does it expect India to play a role similar to that of Britain, Australia, Japan, or other western or eastern European countries of the so-called coalition of the willing?  Even in the days of the NDA regime led by the BJP, India (and Pakistan) had refused to contribute troops to the Iraq invasion and it is very unlikely that George Bush thinks that the 123 deal will somehow cause a seismic shift in Indian foreign policy. In this sense the US probably expects India not to be in the opposite camp but also does not expect India to join its aggressive maneuvers as was provided by Britain, Australia and other western countries with the exception of France. Moreover, the Indo-US nuclear deal promises some economic benefit to a few US companies, which can export nuclear technology to India, and promises an expansion of Indo-US trade.


The situation with India is different. The call center boom and the rapid growth in software expertise have made India an exciting destination for many large multinational companies, in addition to its traditional destination as a haven for spirituality seekers. With the rapid growth of its economy and the transformation of many Indian companies into multinational outfits, India aspires to a larger economic and political role in the region, but many of the South East Asian countries are more interested in seeking accommodation with China than with India. Both China and India are seeking to develop and establish access to secure energy supplies to fuel their rapid growth and the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is one project that has been discussed extensively.  Given that, it is clear, however, that as far as Iranian nuclear ambitions are concerned, no government of India could expect to contribute to Iran acquiring nuclear weapon capability. Of course Iran should have access to nuclear energy as is the right of every country, but there is no reason why any Indian regime would wish to be drawn into a Middle-East conflict that would ensue if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. Iran-Pakistan-India negotiations on the gas pipeline are still going on and there is no reason to assume that the 123 deal will necessarily torpedo the import of Iranian gas into India. India’s position to have access to Iran’s gas without contributing to its nuclear weapons ambition can be defended as reasonable in view of India’s relations with Iran’s neighbors.    


The Indian policy of accommodation with the US is as natural as the desire of China and Viet Nam to mend fences with the US.  Vietnam, in particular, which fought one of the longest lasting brutal wars with the U.S. for almost two decades, is now involved in developing closer economic and trade ties with the U.S.  Despite the potential decline in its power, the U.S. is still the world’s largest economy and power. CPI General Secretary Bardhan declared that his party is for “unconstrained” nuclear energy. But, apart from unconditional surrender of countries that lose wars, there is no such thing as an unconstrained relationship between countries. There is a definite element of constraint in every relationship, especially between two nation states. Nation states are not friends. They enter into relationship on the basis of give and take. In reaching the nuclear deal, India has surrendered less than the U.S. has done and that is why there is a hue and cry within the U.S. establishment against the deal. It is quite possible that the U.S. Congress or the government that follows the Bush regime one year from now may reject this deal.


So why is CPM up in arms? Left intellectuals may oppose the deal but CPM rules in three states where it makes compromises with capitalism in order to develop the state economy. In fact, both Jyoti Basu and Buddhadev Bhattacharya made statements supporting both the 123 deal and nuclear energy a couple of months ago but they seem to have fallen silent lately in deference to the wishes of other CPM leaders. The argument of certain intellectuals within CPM that the claim of nuclear energy meeting India’s energy needs is a myth is baseless. Of course the 123 deal cannot meet India’s energy needs completely just as Barga land reform cannot meet the needs of the Bengal peasantry completely.  The reason CPM seems so agitated about the nuclear deal seems to be a desire to use this issue to regain some popular ground lost by its Singur and Nandigram policies. Both after Singur and especially after Nandigram, CPM has been subject to merciless criticism and opposition by many of its erstwhile supporters and by other left groups and parties. But gaining short-term popularity by pandering to irrational arguments and policies is not a recipe for success. And herein lays the dilemma of not only CPM but also of Congress. Congress does not wish to go it alone because it is not sure it can win a majority in the next election if the present government falls.  CPM perhaps lacks the wisdom to realize that if the present government falls, the results of the next election for it may not be palatable

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