Mira Kamdar’s confused diatribe

The fastest growing democracy is indeed transforming America and the world.

Mira Kamdar is right about one thing: not “all opponents of the deal (or even those who dare question some of its provisions)” should be smeared as “nonproliferation ayatollahs” and “enemies of India”. Some are merely confused. Like Ms Kamdar herself, for instance.

In her diatribe in the Washington Post she is not even indulging in the flawed guns vs butter argument. Hers is a flawed butter vs butter argument, for “The US-India deal will divert billions of dollars away from India’s real development needs in sustainable agriculture, education, health care, housing, sanitation and roads.” Such a tall claim would have required some logical arguments using facts to connect claim to conclusion. She doesn’t offer any. But just look at some overall numbers and you’ll realise how ridiculous Ms Kamdar is. According to her own figures, the deal will result in US$100 billion of business for US companies over 20 years. That is, on an average, US$5 billion a year. India’s annual GDP is around US$1000 billion. Even if we ignore economic growth, the deal is worth a 0.5% of GDP per year. Even if all of that came from public funds, that still leaves a lot for agriculture, education, health, housing, sanitation and roads. When you consider that the Indian economy is expected to grow between 6-8% per annum and that India could well permit private investment in the power sector, it turns out that it’s not a big deal after all.

Now, money doesn’t mean much to Ms Kamdar. She sees it as a bad thing that the deal will enrich “deep-pocketed” US and Indian corporations. But then at the next moment, money goes from being a bad thing to an invisible thing. For she says “India gets unfettered access to nuclear fuel and technology, and it doesn’t have to do anything in return.” The US$100 billion over 20 years suddenly disappeared. So do “the tens of thousands of jobs”.

She also contends that the deal “will distract India from developing clean energy sources”, for even “under the rosiest of projections, (nuclear contributes) a mere 8 percent of India’s total energy needs—and won’t even do that until 2030.” Now, nuclear energy is clean energy, and it is available now. And it is too presumptive of Ms Kamdar to suggest that other sources will be ignored, not least when India ranks fourth in the world in wind power generation.

Ms Kamdar is even more confused about geopolitics. The deal “risks triggering a new arms race in Asia…a miffed and unstable Pakistan will seek nuclear parity with India, and China will fume at a transparent US ploy to balance Beijing’s rise by building up India as a counterweight next door.” No facts again, but here is one. Pakistan’s arsenal of warheads is estimated to be larger than India’s. It has an opaque deal with China which allows it to continue developing its arsenal. To seek nuclear parity then, Pakistan might have to give up some of its warheads. And why, what’s wrong with China fuming at being balanced? Perhaps Ms Kamdar truly believes narratives of China’s “peaceful rise”. Those who don’t—and India certainly shouldn’t—would do well to buy insurance.

Ms Kamdar’s piece is addressed to the US Congress. She is asking it to give up a lucrative commercial opportunity that could rekindle the United States’ moribund nuclear power industry. She is asking the US not to even attempt to balance the rise of China’s geopolitical power. And she is implicitly asking the US Congress to continue backing a flawed non-proliferation regime that didn’t prevent, apprehend nor punish acts of proliferation when they occurred. Well, that’s for the US Congress to chew on.

The rest of us still have to get back into our chairs, having fallen off after reading that the deal was responsible for corrupting Indian politics.

18 thoughts on “Mira Kamdar’s confused diatribe”

  1. @Nitin,

    Kamdar’s article should not be dignified with a response from serious people. It is all so much nonsense. Not sure if you read her book, but it is another “me-too” effort trying to cash in on the Indian economic boom. Niranjan Rajadhyaksha’s “Rise of India” is far more original and insightful.

  2. @Nitin:

    Every comment doesn’t deserve a response. Although it may have been featured in the WaPo. You could have disposed it off with a single line from Mark Twain:

    Get the facts first. You can distort them later.

  3. @Nitin
    mira kamdar seems confused only because she has not been able to express her thoughts with clarity.there is certain truth in some of her statements.nobody is clear about what the deal is all about.whether is it about meeting the power requirements for the future in that case according to planning commission statistics, we dont require additional power since we already have the requred installed capacity.if its about counterbalancing china than a strategic alliance overarching across continents makes poor geopolitical sense especially if it is aimed at containing a strong neighbour. may be the deal is all about making money and MMs promise to george to get him the coveted noble for contributing to the global nonproliferation regime.by george what a farce that will be in the progress of world peace.

  4. @ghanashyam,

    And Elvis lives. And the US government is doing biology experiments on little green men they found in Block 51, in Texas.

    Dude, don’t know where you live, but “we don’t require additional power since we already have the required installed capacity” is among the best arguments I’ve seen against the deal. You must be Mira Kamdar’s neighbour in downtown Manhattan.

  5. Another illustrious addition to the ranks of the Somini Senguptas, Pallavi Iyers and other dingbat twits who will say anything to please Mr. White man.

    So pathetic.

  6. “we don’t require additional power since we already have the required installed capacity”

    Where did this come from? Is it some silly attempt at humor?

  7. If this deal was such a brilliant decision, why did the US go to such lengths to get it done? Why all the arm twisting and intimidation of opponents?

    The original post here and all the comments ignore a central point in Kamdar’s op-ed — the total and unconditional release of India from any regulatory oversight. There is no justification for this, except the collective greed of the players, and the collective ignorance of India’s supporters.

  8. Emily,

    You are fully entitled to hold that opinion. But then you cannot complain if you are labelled a “non proliferation ayatollah” or even an “enemy of India”.

  9. @Udayan,
    going by your comment it seems that your more familier with mira kamdars country of residence than i am because i come from a small village called tikota from your country of origin, of which you may not be familier!.this is the place where children study under poor lighting conditions due to inefficient power supply and thats what prompted me to carry out an analysis of the power sector. i was surprised as to what i found and i can share my findings with you so that you can check it out independently. i will stand by it.
    i also served india’s national interest not on the website though! but in uniform for 25 years out at sea.i have been a diplomat and inside the SB having experienced the workings of the government from within. and now after i have hung my uniform i teach youngsters how to be a good seafarer and know the seas around them so that they understand that they have a stake in it.
    this i hope suffices for my credentials.learning to respect opinions without calling names and branding someone as ‘enemy of india’ becuase he/she carries an opposite view would be contributary to india’s national interest.i am not sure whether i came to the right blog it seems more of a private club. by the way if anyone is interested to know about our power sector,my e mail is sondy_80@hotmail.com

  10. @ghanashyam,

    Dude, all that is fine. But unless you justify why you say we have excess of power, your credentials don’t matter. So shall we stop claiming personal authority and starting using arguments?

  11. Nitin,

    I have noticed the “nuclear power will contribute to a mere 8% of India’s total energy needs” argument being bandied about for too long without being challenged. I wonder who did the calculations behind these “rosy projections”? Are these people experts in power production and/or nuclear technology? Because the experts I know quote different figures. The IAEA says it’s more like 26% by 2006, while Dr. Kakodkar states that it will be much more (~13% by 2020 and ~50% by 2050). I would like to think that Dr. Kakodkar’s expertise in this field is matched by few in India.

  12. Nitin,

    A well-argued post, as usual. But then I completely agree with Udayan’s first comment. People might (unnecessarily) get the impression that you are taking up the issue with an intellectual.

    Probably a better place for such people like Mira Kamdar is a ‘weekday levity’ section!

  13. People,

    It is one thing to (rightly) consider Nitin’s opinion to be superior to that of whoever the POI happens to be, but completely another to suggest that Nitin is going to do add significantly to someone’s popularity beyond what has already been done by WaPo.

    No matter how simplistic, stupid, idiotic or moronic (etc.) you find an article to be (and I know the feeling), fact remains that articles published in influential newspapers/magazines end up influencing people (sometimes, influencing influential people as well). Ergo, their shortcomings need to be exposed.

    Bad articles in WaPo, NYT etc need to be fisked. Every time. By someone (it doesn’t have to be Nitin, of course).

    BTW, anything published on FP magazine’s blog (called ‘Passport’, get it? haha) can be safely ignored. AFAIK, their loudly shouted “open threads” and “what say you, readers?” have never attracted more than 10 people in the comment threads. So yes, Nitin shouldn’t fisk those.

  14. >> The IAEA says it’s more like 26% by 2006 >>

    Please tell me this is a typo.

    Currently, all the nuclear power produced in India is less than the output of a handful of BHEL Gas Turbines in Neyveli or Ramagundam. (Note : I am not talking about installed capacity). Do you agree this is the status today ?

    Sure, by 2020 we can achieve 13% nuclear power (that would mean ~45,000 MW of the projected 4 lakh MW capacity). Translated to 9 giant plants of 5000 MW each. These cost $15 BN and up at todays prices. Note that each of these plants would have to be among the largest in the world. (The largest in the USA Palo Verde, AZ Units I, II, and III supplies about 4000 MW). Maybe Mr Kakodkar can explain the 13% figure.

    It is not like I do not support the deal. I just want arguments for or against the deal to be along either of these two tracks

    1) Security centered : For those who want the deterrent to be made stronger. You cant talk economics to them because they believe we have unfinished business that must come first. This groups believes that our neighbor is intractable by nature and will challenge us by testing more and more advanced weapons. Answer, make coal and gas plants. Re-evaluate after 5 years (is this familiar?)

    2) Energy centered : For those who can relax the deterrent factor a bit (or a lot). You need to be reasonable in projecting your arguments to this group. If you think we can do 25% by 2020 (just about 10 years away) then state the basis for your claims. Do you know that each plant requires square kilometers of land ?

    Currently, I am in group -1 (but can be persuaded to group – II) if the economics add up.

  15. Hi RC… that was indeed a typo. I meant to say, “26% by 2052”.

    The explanation for Dr. Kakodkar’s figures can be found here.

    Coal and gas are not without severe problems of their own.

    And we can re-evaluate after five years… but what is the problem with signing the deal, getting an IAEA agreement on safeguards, and an NSG waiver now and taking the next five years to evaluate the need for reactors? At least we’ll be able to get fuel for Tarapur.

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