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The price of pusillanimity
M P Anil Kumar
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October 25, 2007
To me, the India-US nuclear treaty is not about nuclear energy, clean energy or energy security; it's not about our unleashing from the nuclear doghouse after being kennelled there for more than three decades; it's not about the Americans condescending to stamp their imprimatur on our nuclear weapon status; it's not about seeking strategic parity with our big-brotherly neighbour China; it's not about the lifting of the ironclad technology denial regime since the 1974 Pokharan blast.

It's about the rare spunk displayed by our policymakers after almost six decades of diffidence; it's about the establishment bestirring finally to shake off its characteristic policy inertia; it's about our negotiators digging their heels in to wrest a favourable deal; it's about our newfound pluck that signalled our readiness and desire to be a player to be reckoned with in the cutthroat new world order.

Needless to say, as an Indian, I am deeply disappointed and disturbed at the prime ministerial about-turn to place the N-treaty on life-support.

For Dr Manmohan Singh [Images], credited with rescuing India from the economic doldrums, delivering India from the nuclear yoke would have been as epochal, which was perhaps why he mustered rare courage to call the Left's bluff. Now abandoned by his party and allies, his bravado has come home to roost. If you develop cold feet while pussyfooting the tightrope, you fall between two stools.

I still cannot understand why the Congress party shied from explaining the fruits of the N-treaty to the masses. Self-doubts? Whatever, not doing that was a Himalayan blunder. You expect political parties to fight back when driven into a corner, but the Congress simply buckled under the onslaught of a band of blackmailers.

The Left has been rather crafty in moving the goalposts to wrong-foot the Congress ever since Comrades Karat, Bardhan & Co decided last year to spoil Dr Singh's party. First, their hearts bled for Iran. Never mind not having another Nuclear Weapon State in our troubled neighbourhood was in our national interest. In fact, India should send a 'thank you' note to the US if they foil Iranian nuke ambitions. So, what's wrong in voting against Iran? It beats me.

Then it was surrendering our strategic interests to the hegemonic, imperialist US that gave the Left sleepless nights. Actually, the N-treaty will do our strategic goals a good turn. The need to separate 22 reactors into military and civil will be beneficial as our boffins now need to focus their remit on these eight military nuclear assets only.

Given our scarce uranium ore, we can divert our uranium resources to fuel our military reactors and buy uranium from the NSG to fire our power plants. If the N-treaty isn't implemented soon, our nuclear power plants will soon face fuel starvation leading to its shutdown. The IAEA safeguards will compel our atomic energy department to ensure stringent fail-safe safety standards.

No doubt, we need to test more, but we should have gathered the guts to do that in 1998 itself. With an unsigned moratorium on further tests alive, only an extraordinary upheaval will force countries to break ranks. If push becomes a shove, it's worth dumping the N-treaty for tests. So why sweat over it?

Besides, the availability of dual-use gizmos should help us bring our atomic warheads and the command and control apparatus to world-class levels. So why did the Left see red?

The Left had split hairs over the semantics of the text in the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement. Given the historical American unilateralism, we all know that any treaty entered into with the US will abide only as long as you are in their good books.

If India were to be best friends with the US, the contentious letter of the Hyde Act will always be winked at. I believe India should be thinking of throwing a sprat to catch a mackerel, not waste time in pettifogging.

The latest objection from Comrade Karat is that the nuclear pact is a morganatic alliance, and he fears the US wearing the trousers! I wish he could cook up something less absurd.

Alas, political timidity comes at a price. The common Indian will pay that price, not the UPA ministers who can continue to rest their fundamentals on seats of power, and continue to enjoy its spoils. Not the naysaying politicians either.

Apart from the energy deficit, persistent denial of frontier technology and strategic strangulation, the N-treaty volte face is a big loss of face for our country. I cannot but wonder who will take a frivolous India seriously from now on. And the Russians have just rubbed it in by offering the cold-shoulder to two senior ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A K Antony. The first diplomatic fallout.

Given the resounding triumph of blackmailers of the Leftist persuasion, wannabe blackmailers can roll their sleeves up and expect a field day hereafter. Enterprising policy initiatives by coalition governments are impossible now.

The N-treaty is not bereft of warts and snares. The US hasn't suddenly found India sexy and has had a crush on her. The reason for American indulgence is China. India as an Asian counterweight to China. Given the stakes, China was expected to pull out all the stops to sabotage the N-treaty.

In 1997, both the Republicans and Democrats had made serious allegations about China's designs to illegally influence US Congressional elections -- even the Bill Clinton-Bob Dole presidential fight -- using Chinese slush funds. Remember? So, China can go to any extent, including investing in a cat's paw.

However, New India can learn a trick or two from the generalissimo next door on how to milk the US without stepping on the trapdoors. If we shrewdly play the game, we can convert the N-treaty into an unmixed blessing.

What's the way out? Since the Left, in public, would not touch with a bargepole anything American, a halfway house is assuring the Left that India will buy nuclear reactors from Japan [Images], France [Images] and Russia [Images] only, and thereby furtively bury the impugned Hyde Act into a dead letter.

But will the Left relent? Anybody's guess, but unlikely as they have blinkers on and refuse to see reason. They want to be the bull in china shops. So, countrymen and women, ready yourself to pay the price of pusillanimity.

M P Anil Kumar is a former MiG-21 pilot.

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