Indias hour
By H. K. Dua

WITH the Vienna conclave of the mighty and influential over, India has now become an essential part of the architecture of global power.

Over three decades after the first Pokhran test and the nuclear explosions 10 years ago, India had been kept out in the cold, denied the status of a nuclear-weapons state and much else that goes with it.

The nuclear apartheid, which was an insult to a nation of 1.3 billion people, denied it not only the status of a nuclear-weapons state, but also the right to acquire wherewithal like enriched uranium, equipment and hi-tech that it badly needed for emerging as a major power of the 21st century.

India now by right can get enriched uranium for its present and future nuclear reactors and sensitive technology to develop further not only its nuclear, aero-space and defence industries, but also vast areas of industrial activity that it wants to indulge in to emerge also as a major economy of the new century.

To cross the nuclear threshold and gain legitimacy as a nuclear-weapon state, the only price India has paid at Vienna is its reiteration of its unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests an intention it had announced on its own from the rooftops some years ago, but only after it had carried the 1998 Pokhran tests.

The NSG has by consensus waived its ban on exports of nuclear fuel and technology and without India having to sign the discriminatory Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the only exception made in the strict NPT regime.

The NSGs doing away with its ingrained resolve not to have any commercial dealings with India, because it had become a fall guy in the nuclear order controlled by a cartel of a handful of countries, is not an insignificant development in international equations.

What is heartening is that neither the waiver, nor the 123 Agreement, debars India from retaining the nuclear weapons whatever their number it has already in its arsenal. India will continue to have the right to develop more nuclear weapons, should it come to face a serious threat to its security.

As it happens in a city club, many members have the inborn tendency not to let new-comers enter its portals. In Vienna, China surprisingly chose to be a party-pooper despite its private assurances to India given during the run-up that it will not oppose the waiver. So much for its recent declarations about its keenness to evolve an enduring friendship and strategic partnership with India!

Not only did China try to block the waiver until the last, it also lobbied hard with smaller powers that they should oppose the pro-India waiver. As China has a strong lobby among the Democrats in the US, there is a possibility that the Howard Berman letter, which George W. Bush wrote to the congressional leader months ago, is said to have been selectively leaked by the Chinese. It was aimed as a last-minute effort to scuttle consensus that was evolving in favour of India.

Once it came to be known that the Chinese were campaigning with the fence-sitters against India, Dr Manmohan Singh and President Bush began calling up various heads of government. The labours of Indian officials, who had dispersed all over to lobby support for India during the last few weeks, also came to be of help. But it can be legitimately asked why the Government of India never came to know about the Berman letter written as far back as January this year. What were the highly-paid Washington lobbyists engaged by India doing all these months?

The NSG waiver, which has come after a tortuous and uncertain journey, now takes the 123 Agreement to the US Congress. It has just about three weeks to take the call. With President Bushs own prestige involved and taking into account the earlier congressional vote on the Agreement, it can be presumed that the US Congress will not stand in the way. This is mainly because of the impression that it is not only the Republicans who are fond of the future of Indo-US Strategic Partnership; but also that the idea conceptually came up during the democratic presidency, although it acquired clarity and vigour from the Bush administration.

It is not only China which is feeling frustrated after Vienna, where at the end of the day it found it was isolated. At home, efforts of the CPM and the BJP which happen to be in strange company these days have come a cropper, the Berman letter they liberally used, notwithstanding.

The two parties even tried to bring the UPA government down over the nuclear deal, maybe for different motivations. The CPMs opposition was partly for ideological reasons, and partly for visceral antipathy to whatever looks American. The BJPs anti-deal stand is harder to understand, particularly when the NDA government had travelled quite a distance when it was discussing the Test-ban Treaty with the Americans.

Once the US Congress has put its seal on the 123 Agreement, which has come unscathed out of the IAEA and the NSG, India can buy nuclear fuel and high-tech from anywhere in the world. Worst-come-to-worst, the US Congress does not get the time to approve of the agreement before it becomes a lame duck on the eve of the presidential polls, the Vienna consensus entitles India to buy the nuclear stuff from France and Russia or any other country willing to do nuclear business with India.

But it is not just nuclear business that is the issue. At centre is the question what place India should have in the world.

Sceptics at home and abroad apart, India can now hold its head high in an imperfect world where power still counts. All that India needs is a vision required of a great nation and confidence in itself to deal with the mightiest of powers.



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