Guest post: A dissenting note on the nuclear deal

Trust, then verify

by Primary Red

Trust but verify Ronald Reagan once cautioned America. Similar counsel holds for India too.

The 123-agreement is a revolutionary step in the two nations’ blossoming relationship. Its implementation can symbolically overturn a half-century of mutual suspicion. It will help India advance her nuclear capabilities and address her energy needs.

It’s also highly technical and complex. The obligations it imposes leave India far short of full nuclear recognition. We wouldn’t be pariahs like Iran, yes, but not like the US either.

Is it really traitorous then to give the deal a thorough once-over before committing to it?

Comrade Karat does not like America. BJP likes America but not the Congress. Congress’ non-left allies like political power more than nuclear power. Politics inevitably has made its appearance, forcing us to really make sure that we’re doing the right thing. Why is this surprising or bad in a parliamentary democracy?

Deal proponents are screaming foul. Their near-religious conviction about the deal is quite disturbing. Most support the deal because the partnership is with America, not necessarily because of its minutiae. Many likely have never read the deal text — or if they have, not grasped it all.

I take second place to no one in favoring India’s strategic engagement with America. I also support the deal. But, for the life of me, I cannot see why it needs to be barreled through absent a legitimate political consensus.

The deal is likely the best possible at the present time. This, however, does not imply that its likely failure dooms us forever in a nuclear limbo. The deal is a consequence of India’s emergent power and America’s strategic calculus. Failure will change neither.

We’ll get a deal at some point. It’s better if we have it now but, if not, later is fine too.

This is why I am puzzled by the nascent murmur that BJP will bail the Government out. Taking this course, if available, would be a colossal political misjudgment by Dr. Singh. It’d rehabilitate a floundering party in the eyes of shining India lusting after the deal.

Could there be anything worse for India’s secular polity?

Instead, the case needs to be made to India’s people. If the deal really has merit, they will voice their approval in their vote. The left will be wiped out and BJP left in the cold. If not, the deal should rightfully be tranquilized for possible revival later. Courageously wagering the Government’s fate over strategic conviction is the stuff of legacy and lore.

Could there be anything better for India’s democracy than trusting our people to do the right thing, then daring to verify their intent?

12 thoughts on “Guest post: A dissenting note on the nuclear deal”

  1. Have you read the deal text? What are your objections to the deal to ask for a once-over again – the deal itself went through many iterations? In case you haven’t noticed only commies – that legitimate political party – opposes the deal, that too not based any thing in the text. Even if this deal is renegotiated, what else would India gain from US or NSG? And I am not really sure why any country will put in any time to negotiate any deal with India if India wants to do a once over without any reason (at least with the text itself) after the deal is finalized and agreed upon. It’s like asking for additional dowry at muhurtham because one’s aunt asked for it.

    As for making the nuclear deal a referendum in nation election, it’s bit naive to think people would vote for congress I because of this deal or against BJP or commies for opposing the deal. For most people there are other more pressing issues. As commies, BJP, and Congress I have long identified, based on their behaviour, the deal is a non-negative and minor-plus.

  2. >>Comrade Karat does not like America. BJP likes America but not the Congress. Congress’ non-left allies like political power more than nuclear power. Politics inevitably has made its appearance,

    and

    >>This is why I am puzzled by the nascent murmur that BJP will bail the Government out.Taking this course, if available, would be a colossal political misjudgment by Dr. Singh. It’d rehabilitate a floundering party in the eyes of shining India lusting after the deal.

    The author likes the deal but not the BJP. Only two paragrahps after ruing the inveitable appearance of politics in the debate on the deal, Primary Red demonstrates the point succinctly. 🙂

  3. I think the “legitimate political consensus” part is a bit of a red herring. In India’s parliamentary system, the Cabinet gets to make such decisions; collective responsibility and all that. Is it worth ditching the entire system, with long precedent, just because of this one deal? I think not.

    “Legitimate political consensus” is implicit as long as the action has constitutional validity. If we don’t accept this, we open a can of worms that questions the validity of so many laws and acts of parliamentary that’s a recipe for confusion and crisis.

    If we trust the Cabinet with decisions to make high policy, why should we not trust it on this issue?

    My concern has been of the precedent of using extra-constitutional political committees with the power to override Cabinet decisions. Why are unelected politicians sitting in a committee that has an ostensible veto over a Cabinet decision, but also involves sensitive issues like India’s nuclear deterrent?

    Why the BJP and the Congress could join hands on this issue? It’s still wishful thinking, but remember the adage about alliances being transient but interests being permanent?

  4. I agree with the point on extra-constitutional committees dictating the fate of executive decisions, but I believe that in general, foreign policy issues of far-reaching import, ie, the kind that bind generations down the road to certain agreements, must enjoy “legitimate political consensus”. In this instance, that would mean the government securing the support of the principal opposition party. The irony is it’s hankering after the Left’s approval. Ironically, though Primary Red also feels the need for consensus, he doesn’t like a consensus that includes — and will at any rate HAVE to include by democractic imperatives — the BJP.

  5. It’s not a secret that I do not favor BJP. I’ve written extensively on this at my long-lapsed blog.

    The point is broader though. Why are we so dismissive of our people’s judgment on issues of such significance? Chandra’s notion that they will not vote on these issues is somewhat patronizing — it suggests that a small elite knows what’s best for India while she herself is distracted by more basic issues. Aruna, I have not made any reference to a “compromise of National Security”.

    To Nitin’s point, I’m not suggesting a deal veto because of objections from an “extra-constitutional cmmittee”. I agree that power should remain with the Cabinet. All I’m saying is that going to the people on issues of such import is a reasonable precedent and surely cannot be termed “extra-constitutional”.

    Best regards

  6. With Kissinger doing a hard-sell to the BJP they may find some middle ground. Politically it doesnt hurt the BJP to fine tune its strategy at this stage as the CPM is already committed against the deal and if the Govt manages to push it with overt or covert help from the BJP it will only worsen UPA-Left relations. The question really is whether the Congress party is committed to pushing it or is it looking at sense of Parliament as a face saver to get out of the deal, as argued by Karan Thapar.

    On the larger question of consensus, going to the legislature is not without precedent. Nehru did that in the Constituent Assembly on the issue of India joining the Commonwealth, see my post on this.

    Yes we have had many years of precedent on Executive Privilege but we have never really debate how much Executive Privilege can a Minority Government lay claim to. Especially when it derives its legitimacy from those sitting outside the Government with the ability to wield an extra constitutional veto on Executive Decision Making and in the process undermining the Cabinet System.

    If you didnt have a Minority Government we wouldnt be having this debate.

  7. “Chandra’s notion that they will not vote on these issues is somewhat patronizing — it suggests that a small elite knows what’s best for India while she herself is distracted by more basic issues.”

    Not at all PR. If it were so, Congress I, which normally doesn’t care about constitutional propriety, would have called for elections yesterday.

    In fact small elite do care and control most foreign policy issues – just as in any country. Bharat is nothing special.

  8. In another context, keeping in view our past experience with the US on Tarapur 1&2 spent fuel issue, our policy should actually be Verify, and then if found acceptable, Trust.

    Let us first get an acceptable solution to the Tarapur spent fuel issue that does not demean us. We can think and negotiate about getting technology from the US / NSG later. “Advantages” of the deal, peddled by the protagonists have been rebutted many times over so no need to repeat. Technologically, in the long run, the deal as it has been negotiated now, will do India much more harm than good.

  9. If someone in the BJP (Advani?) had been planning the course of the debate on the nuclear deal, he is being really smart. Or perhaps too smart! BJP laid a trap for the UPA-Left alliance by insisting on a debate with voting. After two months, the Left is firmly in the hole while UPA just dusted itself off. Now its time to push UPA back in the hole too. Whether the deal is consummated by Dr. Singh or a possible BJP govt later, its the BJP that is going to claim credit for it!

  10. The nuclear deal is the last thing that India needs. Don’t believe, check out Brahma Chellaney’s articles at the homepage of The Asian Age newspaper.

  11. Dear Kshitij,

    This blog holds Dr Chellaney in high regard. But disagrees with his arguments on the nuclear deal.

    For reasons why, you may want to read my arguments in favour of the deal here; as well as check out Dr Gopi Rethinaraj’s article in the September 2007 issue of Pragati.

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