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Mainstream, VOL LV No 19 New Delhi April 29, 2017

The Indo-US nuclear deal is dead. Amen

Sunday 30 April 2017, by M K Bhadrakumar

The Westinghouse company’s bankruptcy filing underscores that the entire range of criticism that was levelled by the Left in our country against the Indo-US nuclear deal has been proven right. The people who were lionised by the Indian media for negotiating the deal have gone into hiding. There is a saying that success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.

Fundamentally, what went wrong was that a decision was taken by the Indian ruling elites without due deliberation or national debate to accept the offer made by the US to conclude a nuclear deal with India. President George W. Bush surprised our then PM Mnmohan Singh with the stunning proposal when they met in the White House in 2005. We impromptu accepted the proposal. Whereas the objectives of such a deal ought to have been examined first, the decision to conclude the deal somehow became the priority. That decision, in turn, was predicated on the conviction that India and the US were ‘natural allies’.

The strange concept of ‘natural allies’ was the brainwave of the Bharatiya Janata Party Government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee. But the Congress Party was only too happy to adopt it. It is only we Indians who regard folks in another country as ‘natural allies’. Not even the Anglo-Saxon countries say such absurdities about each other.

The breakdown of the US-India nuclear deal exposes a comprador mentality. The mother of all ironies was that the greedy Americans extracted out of us an additional promise as well that we would import reactors exclusively from their vendors to manufacture 20,000 MW of power. In sum, we promised to be a captive market for their vendors in the downstream of the nuclear deal. Now their vendor is pulling down shutters and claiming bankruptcy. This must be God’s wrath.

Then, apparently to justify the deal to the US Congress, Washington enacted a legislation known as Hyde Act, which virtually outlined India’s future foreign-policy trajectory—specifically, that Indians are good guys because they are agreeable to stymie their relations with Iran. We simply began mothballing the Iran-India gas pipeline project.

In retrospect, what are the gains of the nuclear deal? For the Americans, it opened the door for lucrative arms exports to India. They have done exceedingly well. The US is now the number one vendor of weapons to our country. But what have we got? Has there been any global recognition of India as a nuclear weapon state? Do we have access to cutting edge reprocessing technology? Have we generated even 1 MW of power additionally, thanks to the nuclear deal? Our government’s claim that the nuclear deal was necessary to ensure India’s energy security turns out to be baloney. (China will smirk if we still maintain energy security is what drives us to seek membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.)

In political terms, too, the parting of ways between the Congress and the Left in 2008 proved a watershed event in Indian politics. The Congress party’s renewed mandate in the 2009 poll became a Phyrrhic victory insofar as without the Left’s moderating influence, UPA-II took to neo-liberalism with gusto and the scams that followed inevitably became its legacy, spelling doom for Congress in the 2014 elections, from which the party is finding it difficult to stage recovery. The ascendancy of Right-wing politics ensued.

Some Indian papers have taken seriously the claim by the Westinghouse that it still intends to go ahead with setting up nuclear power plants in India. Let us hope that the government now doesn’t offer a multi-billion dollar bailout to the Westinghouse! To be sure, it will be ‘anti-national’ to touch Westinghouse even with a barge pole.

This is a moment for reality check. We should take a fresh look at nuclear energy. In the context of Kudankulam, robust public opinion had surfaced regarding the inadvisability of setting up nuclear power plants, but we smothered it.

The Fukushima disaster highlighted the grave dangers. Besides, new factors have appeared, necessitating a fresh cost-benefit analysis of the country’s energy mix. The rapid progress in technology in other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, the sharp fall in oil prices and the expansion in gas projects as a viable and clean alternative are compelling factors. Simply put, nuclear power balance-sheet makes no sense today in the changed circumstances. In fact, the only guys selling reactors in the world of tomorrow might be the Russians and the Chinese. The geopolitics of nuclear commerce is phenomenally trans-forming.

The bottom-line is that the ideological foundation on which the nuclear deal was erected itself has become shaky with the ascendancy of Donald Trump as the US President. In Trump’s scheme of ‘America First’, there is simply no space for natural allies. This becomes a moment for the BJP and Congress to jointly organise the last rites of the India-US nuclear deal—amidst Vedic chants, of course.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).