Dear Mr Advani

Great powers don’t worry about their rights

You say that you will support a nuclear deal that gives India the right to conduct a nuclear test. Perhaps it may even be able to negotiate such a deal one day.

But getting hung up about the “right to test” is a vestige of the strategic weakness of India’s past. Whether or not India has the right to test is not as relevant as India being able to get away with testing. That’s the story of Pokhran-I and Pokhran-II, by the way, and that will be the story of Pokhran-III if and when it does occur. You know this all too well.

So you should ensure that India will be able to get away with it. A strategic partnership with the United States—which you support—is a good way to ensure this.

If the nuclear deal falls apart, the BJP can’t be forgiven for its role in its unmaking. Your supporters will cite electoral compulsions as the reason for your stand. Perhaps this will help you win the coming election. What is really baffling is that you should think that it is necessary to let the deal fail in order to do so. Not least when the UPA government has no real achievement to speak of.

Related Post: A good deal, but very bad politics

25 thoughts on “Dear Mr Advani”

  1. If Advani really emphasized some notional ‘right to test’ as the central cornerstone of his party’s oppn to the N-deal, then he’s already lost some respect in my eyes.

    However, I doubt that was really the case. The ‘right to test’ nonsense is more rhetoric or polemics, a footnote, a byline that is being played up by a media that has gone hammer and tongs in favor of the deal.

    Takes little analysis to realize how much CNN-IBN and IE’s Shekar Gupta has ‘personally’ fought for in favor of the n-deal. From getting the Brajesh Mishra intview to getting APJ Kalam to speak on the deal, Gupta’s been seeking out Deal supporters from amongst the BJP with a vengeance all the while covering up the BJP’s own reasons for opposing the deal. Arun Shourie in parliament, as also yashwant Sinha made brilliant points questioning the GoI’s stated motives for the N-deal. But you don’t hear the media raise these question to GoI’s face.

    More ominously, media coverage would have it that the GoI didn’t
    (i) flat refused to consider BJP’s request for a JPC on the N-deal way back in 2005
    (ii) refuse to consider BJP’s call for enabling domestic legislation (India’s Jekyll Act against the US Hyde)
    (iii) Ask on what basis GoI expects BJP’s obligation to support a deal they weren’t consulted on (the draft texts are shared with the left and other UPAallies, not with the BJP)
    (iv) Ask the GoI or other high command officeholders why simple steps like seting up another few Dhruva reactors, commissioning a Laser ignition facility etc are nopt being undertaken to guard against the downside of not testing.

    Instead we have titbits coming out that ‘BJP allegedly was willing to put more reactors under safeguards than under this deal’ etc.

    And so on.

    MMS and his media attack dogs have themselves to blame for going about this the wrong way.

    P.S.
    By no means does this mean that I endorse the left’s rabid stand on the issue. They’re doing their stuff for all the wrong reasons. Don’t bracket LKA with the likes of Karat and Surjeet now!

  2. Whether or not India has the right to test is not as relevant as India being able to get away with testing.

    Reminds of a radio Yerevan joke –

    Q: What is the difference between the Constitutions of the USA and USSR? Both guarantee freedom of speech.
    A: In principle yes, but the Constitution of the USA also guarantees freedom after the speech.

  3. How do you get away with nuclear testing when you’re dependent on 10% or more of your countries power supply on fuel from the same countries that you violate your agreement with?

    With the boon of runaway inflation handed on a platter why would Advani or anyone else in his position need other issues–especially a one that most people care little about?

  4. Socal,

    Maybe. But from a leader and a a party who never tire of telling us how different they are, more is expected.

  5. Nitin,

    “If the nuclear deal falls apart, the BJP can’t be forgiven for its role in its unmaking.”

    I don’t understand this completely. As fas i understand, the nuclear deal does not need approval of the parliament, right ? Irrespective of BJP supports or not, the left parties will withdraw support. Once left parties withdraw support, are you saying, BJP should keep the govt alive until the next elections ? Or are you saying BJP should agree to keep the govt alive until the deal is signed and then do whatever it wants after the deal ? Even if BJP promises to support the govt on the deal, will the congress go ahead knowing that the left parties will withdraw support and an earlier election is imminent ?

  6. Nitin, I don’t think you can brush off Sri Advani’s concerns so easily. It’s one thing to argue that Advani and Sri Shourie have misread the nuclear agreement document, as is available in public. It’s another think to say even if their concerns are true, we should sign the agreement because we can, presumably as super powers do, get away with not keeping with our side of the agreement.

    That’s dangerous precedence for Bharatiya international obligations. That’s the difference between us and Chinese, N. Korea, Iran and even Land of the Pure. While our babus and politicians may be corrupt, we take the law, especially international treaties very seriously. It’s the reason why Smt Nirupama Rao fought hard against global pressure to make India sign NPT during Sri Narashimha Rao’s government. We could have easily signed NPT and still got on with making nuclear weapons like others have. That’s not how we work.

    We can’t sign an agreement with US, and presumably with IAEA and NSG, and then say let’s see what we can get away with.

  7. Nitin,

    You are wrong on two things. BJP has absolutely nothing to gain from blocking this deal. Infact in opposing the deal, BJP is going against its own vote base namely the pro-US middle class.

    You talk of “getting away” with a nuclear test. As if BJP needs lessons on this. They are the once who showed that it was possible. Even Iran and Korea have gotten away (or trying to) from the commitments they made to the world. But the difference is India didn’t break any commitments it made to the world.

    And what about “getting” what we want thru negotiations. Do you think there is anything that this deal gives which cannot be achieved by negotiating directly with the stakeholders. How incredibly difficult will it be (relative to pleading with NSG) to gain access to dual-use technologies over a period of time.

    We need Uranium for our immediate needs at the existing reactors. That could have been achieved without clubbing with other complicated issues. Heck, we could have got the fuel from US itself as a curtain raiser to a more extensive deal. It was always a waiting game. Vajpayee played it for over 4 years negotiating over the NSSP.

    Manmohan Singh has ruined all that by his indecent haste to ‘achieve’ something and get some 15 mins of media fame. Manmohan’s retarded thinking on this issue was summed up lastweek when the PMO spread rumors that Manmohan is embarrassed about attending the G8 summit. Yeah, this guy wanted to sell his country on the cheap but has been stopped in his track. Thats embarrassing for him!

  8. Chandra,

    That’s dangerous precedence for Bharatiya international obligations….That’s not how we work.

    I support abiding by our international commitments (no, they are never obligations) to the extent that they are in our national interest. But you are right in saying that’s not the way we work. My argument is that this should change. In the international environment, the weak need laws to protect them. The powerful can pick and choose.

    So I advocate changing precedents. There are no points for moral high grounds in international relations. It is not only the states that are consistently vilified in the media that violate treaty obligations. The US unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2001, the US Senate refused to ratify the CTBT in the late 1990s.

  9. Balaji,

    You are wrong on two things. BJP has absolutely nothing to gain from blocking this deal. Infact in opposing the deal, BJP is going against its own vote base namely the pro-US middle class.

    Yes. That’s part of my argument.

    Do you think there is anything that this deal gives which cannot be achieved by negotiating directly with the stakeholders. How incredibly difficult will it be (relative to pleading with NSG) to gain access to dual-use technologies over a period of time.

    It is always possible to argue that we could have always gotten more. It is a commonplace phenomenon called buyer’s remorse. But here’s the thing: first, the people who negotiated this deal (and I don’t mean the politicians, but the diplomats) are not exactly the kind of people who would settle for anything less than the limit. And second, the deal doesn’t stop you from asking for more in future.

  10. Hi all,

    Pardon me if I don’t engage in debate over why I think going ahead with the deal is in India’s interests. I’ve linked to an older post that lays out the arguments, and we have discussed this topic threadbare, not least on this blog.

  11. Chandra,

    Minor corrections:
    It was Ms. Arundhati Ghose, not Smt. Nirupama Rao. It was the CTBT, not NPT. And, it was Mr. Deve Gowda not Mr. Narasimha Rao.

    Since it is quite impossible to do an undetected nuclear test, there was no question of signing CTBT and seeing what we could get away with – the end results would be the same. The same does not hold true for NPT, as many countries have demonstrated already.

    In general, I am all for getting away with whatever we can, regardless of whether we sign an agreement or not.

  12. Ranjith,

    Referring to your link:Speaking exclusively to NDTV, LK Advani hinted that there could be a possible way of signing the nuclear deal.

    He said that India only needs to amend one of its laws on nuclear issues so that the Hyde Act does not apply to it, and that may be enough protection for India to go ahead and sign the deal.

    That’s absurd. There’s no way the Hyde Act can constrain the Indian government. Similarly there’s no way that modifying an Indian act will constrain the US government. We don’t need a law that says that the Hyde Act doesn’t apply to us, just like we don’t need a law that says that the US constitution doesn’t apply in Kerala, or that the Privy Council doesn’t have jurisdiction over Gorakhpur.

    So even if we were to accept that Mr Advani has a point, why should amending an Indian law hold back operationalising the nuclear deal. We have all the time in the world for this don’t we?

    There’s huge cognitive dissonance among the BJP leadership on this. Mr Advani, Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie etc are very intelligent people, and they know that the deal is a good one. It so happens that the BJP has painted itself into a corner and is unable to break out of the partisan norms that characterise Indian electoral politics. This leaves some of the most intelligent people in the political spectrum offering absurd arguments to justify their position.

    To your earlier comment about supporting the government. It doesn’t work the way you suggested. If the Communists call a vote of no-confidence against the UPA on the issue of the nuclear deal, then the BJP can vote in support of the UPA.

  13. Nitin,

    If the Communists call a vote of no-confidence against the UPA on the issue of the nuclear deal, then the BJP can vote in support of the UPA.

    The UPA has given the BJP not even a fig leaf to do that. And voting for the government’s action when the Left & UPA allies themselves wont do it is a huge political gamble for the BJP – considering that the Indian electorate/politicians havent matured enough to appreciate/depict consensus/bi-partisan politics in the right manner.

  14. BangaloreGuy,

    The UPA has given the BJP not even a fig leaf to do that.

    That is very true. You might have seen my posts criticising the manner in which the UPA government went about selling the deal in public.

    But I think it is not impossible for the BJP to support the deal anyway and bolster their claim to be the (only) party that had the national interest in mind, in this whole saga. It would certainly convince many thinking people, and selling that decision to the electorate is anyway a matter of political skill.

  15. The deal is toast if Obama wins(assuming it’s not signed now), but if John McCain wins it is possible that there will be room for renegotiations, with a new govt. in India too. McCain’s foreign policy advisers have supported the deal so far.

  16. #4

    Rohit,

    You very well might expect more from him but, it seems far fetched that Advani and Co. is blocking the deal for political purposes. How many seats are they going to win or loose assuming they flip on the deal?

    #14
    During the no-confidence vote, BJP can choose to abstain if it decides to flip and support the deal. Does it not depend on who will bring the vote of no-confidence–Communists or the BJP? If the BJP sponsors it the communists will abstain. Vice-versa may be true if the BJP supports the deal. But the govt. may collapse on some other issue.

  17. >>If the nuclear deal falls apart, the BJP can’t be forgiven for its role in its unmaking

    I expect the Congress to be prepared to sacrifice its government for the sake of the deal, placing national interest above the survival of its government. Why is BJP to blame for Congress’s lust for power?

    >>If the Communists call a vote of no-confidence against the UPA on the issue of the nuclear deal, then the BJP can vote in support of the UPA.

    That would be a ridiculous thing to do, even if the Congress itself asks for BJP’s support. The BJP _should_ vote against the government, and then, if it comes to power, take the deal forward.

    Consider the consequences of this government falling. Suppose BJP comes to power. Since the BJP’s stance is believed to be motivated by politics, not conviction, then is it going to junk the deal just because its rival initiated it? Hugely unlikely. Recall BJP’s swadeshi rhetoric in the wake of early 90’s liberalization of the economy. In power, the BJP opened up a lot more sectors of the industry to foreign investment than Narsimha Rao did.

    Suppose the Congress is re-elected. Then again, the deal survives.

    Either way, the BJP knows, to itself, that it’s not jeopardizing national interest by voting Congress out: the nuclear deal will go through in any case.

    But suppose the BJP is really acting out of conviction, then, from its pov, the argument for voting the government out is doubly strong: not only is it opposition dharma, but is also a matter of principle.

    Slice it whichever way, it’s really the Congress that is on trial here.

  18. Oldtimer,

    You offer the most convincing of the optimistic readings of the situation. I hope you are right, although I’m at a loss to understand how the deal could actually survive two elections (in India and in the US).

  19. BOK, thanks for correcting me. I was thinking of NPT extension in 1995 when Narashima Rao was the PM. But the fight was during CD in mid-96 when Gowda took over after Vajpayee’s defeat in April – although Narashima Rao make the switch from support to conditional support to CTBT in 1995 when he was still PM. And of course Smt. Arundathi Goush, the diplomat extraordinary. (Now I am not sure what Smt Nirupama Rao’s, current ambassador to China – same one, I think, role was?)

    In any case, I can never get my specifics about history right 🙁

    Nitin, one has to sign agreement based on good faith – not based on what we can get away with attitude. There is always an alternative. Also commitment or obligation depends on what it is that one does after an agreement. If we commit to separation of nuclear/military facilities by a certain date, it does become an obligation. Else don’t commit.

    Anyway, as far as I can see Congress I doesn’t care about the it’s own agreement – willing to let it go for few more months in power. BJP has no commitment or ensuing obligation 🙂

  20. Bangalore Guy: “Indian electorate/politicians havent matured enough to appreciate/depict consensus/bi-partisan politics in the right manner.”

    There’s always a start. And this would be a very good start. While I think its a pipe-dream to expect the BJP to vote for the UPA esp in the current climate where it *thinks* its on a roll, it would be a terrific gesture of responsible politics. The fig leaf would probably be arranged if there was any assurance from the BJP on this score. OTOH if its guaranteed to vote against, the govt looks weak and silly for offering it apriori.

    rgds,
    Jai

  21. Does anybody recollect what was the first official reaction of the Congress Party after the NDA Govt did the Nuclear tests in 1998? That should be interesting!

  22. I wish to see what will be the face value of NSG waiver & exemptions if India go to do a Nuclear test TOMORROW or ANYTIME or If India decides to go ahead with LPG pipeline project with Iran. Legacy Of Americans tell us they will lick as long as one being obedient to them otherwise they will suck. Also, I hope Manmohan singh would be alive that time.

    As always, Illiterate (Sorry, I meant to say common man is still don”t know what is this deal, they just know their daily life is MISERABLE because of UNAFFORDABLE COST OF LIVING) and comic goons are on the street celebrating beating drums as if they got independence from Americans!!.

    Almost 75% of Indians are still living in utter poverty not because our country didn”t have NSG waiver and Nuclear deal. Now we are forced to believe that India remains the poorest because we didn”t have this deal.They people who are going to prosper by this deal are a group of American businessmen,a section of NRIs acting as middlemen and CROOKED POLITICIANS IN INDIA.That will remain as a truth.

    If this deal is all about ending acute power crisis in this country, the people all the way praising this deal should wait and see whether this will end the electricity appetite of this nation and how it is going to elevate the poor people of this country. A country with no specific and strict protocols to stop the simple technical faults, transmission leaks and THEFT in electrical transmission systems yet. A country where disaster management,planning & coordination is a myth even in this 21st Century. Still millions are left out homeless in floods every year. who care about them???? I am wondering what this deal is all about!.

    “INDIA IS MY COUNTRY AND I AM PROUD OF BEING AN INDIAN” But that words never matched the deeds in this country by its leaders.It is 21st century and India became worst than certain improvished African countries in many aspects if not all.Look at the the utter poverty,Illiteracy,uncontrolled population growth,rampant corruption,bribery,beurocracy,violence,dirty politics,Pseudo-secularism,appeasement politics..WHAT NOT THERE.

    Unless and until you correct the fundamentals and basic needs of this country It is just a fantasy dream that India become a superpower.For that we need is a realistic approach..visionary leaders..national integrity and patriotism.

    Nuclear deal will not fill the stomach of poor people in this country.It is rubbish and foolishness when someone said Nuclear deal will bring down inflation!!!!.What a pity state of affair!

    What kind of leaders our people choose and send to parliament, and the people shall have to pay the price for it. What a pity situation of my country!.People are being treated as idiots by their own leaders. This what is Indian democracy!.

    Indians will have to wait for many years and luckly if there is a visionary leader with strong political will and nationalistic agenda, then their dreams can be fullfilled. Otherwise the pockets of polticians are only going to be filled with currencies!

    “PEOPLE GET WHAT THEY DESERVE”

    GOD SAVE THIS COUNTRY.

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