Thursday, September 11, 2008

IT'S TIME BJP EMBRACED NUCLEAR DEAL

The BJP is in a terrible bind. Of its own making. It has realised, just too late, that it has committed what may turn out to be it its greatest historical blunder by opposing the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Dr Manmohan Singh, with a generous push from George Bush, has emerged triumphant as a PM whom the nation can blindly trust. How many Indian leaders would have staked their own chair for the sake of securing the nation’s interest? Mr LK Advani, on the other hand, has plummeted into the abyss meant for the many petty, selfish and greedy politicians who place their own interests above that of the nation.

Who does India need to thank for rightfully elevating Dr Manmohan Singh and exposing Mr Advani and the BJP? For once, the Chinese have inadvertently helped Indians to see the high ‘highs’ and the low ‘lows’ of India’s political landscape. Nail-biting and agonisingly protracted negotiations preceded the exceptional waiver that was finally granted to India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group(NSG) in Vienna. Till the last minute, there was opposition from some countries to the preferential treatment being given to India by way of a clean waiver, without it having signed the NPT and the CTBT.

At one point it appeared that the waiver would not come through. That was when the hidden hand of the Chinese was revealed. They had all along been lobbying quietly with 30 odd nations to ensure that India did not get the deal. The whole nation waited as President Bush spoke to the Chinese President and others to literally bulldoze them into a ‘unanimous’ agreement. When that finally happened in the last meeting of the NSG, the decision was tellingly greeted by silence, not clapping. In fact, the Chinese, finding that they had been exposed and defeated, chose to skip that final meeting where India emerged victorious and in another league altogether.

For really petty political considerations, spurred by greed to get into power prematurely by toppling the government, the BJP had been opposing the deal on many specious grounds, including that India’s sovereignty had been compromised. Indian communists had been saying exactly that for long. Although nobody was buying the BJP’s argument even then, the party was deluding itself into believing that its strategy of saying that it would re-negotiate the deal if it came to power was being swallowed by a gullible nation.

The Chinese have left the BJP with absolutely no place to hide. India’s commies are in any case expected to be, and were, consistent in placing ‘ideology’ over national interest even it means that they promote the interests of India’s biggest and intrinsically hostile neighbour and rival. But the BJP on the same side? A party that claims that it is a nationalist party also working against India’s interests just as the the Chinese were, only for petty political gain? That is a blot that the BJP will never be able to erase.

Already, the party is looking for a way out. Unfortunately, seeing the way some of its leaders have conducted themselves during the past few months, there is little doubt that it will again look for a less than honourable and a dishonest and devious way to make peace with what will prove to be a historic deal for this country.

Swapan Dasgupta has already started that process. Writing in The Times of India of September 10, 2008, he admits that the BJP “cannot escape the opprobrium for refusing to share India’s moment of glory last Saturday” and that the party is in the “bizarre predicament of appearing on the same side as China.” He further goes on to say that the party has to now accept the deal and deliberate how best it can use it to promote India’s interests if it comes to power next year.

Even before the 123 Agreement has been cleared by the US Congress, the US is saying that its next aim is to make India a “full partner” in the NSG as it believes that such a status for India is important from a “strategic, political, economic and energy standpoint.” India has not even thought that far ahead yet for itself, which gives a clear idea of the vacuum of strategic planning that exists at the highest levels in a hierarchy dominated by generalist career bureaucrats who have neither the ability nor the motivation to look beyond protecting cadre supremacy. Putting dysfunctional pettiness above national interest is a malaise that afflicts not just India’s politicians.

The enormous benefits that will accrue to India due to the Nuclear Deal are becoming increasingly visible. As India opens up for nuclear trade, it will generate worldwide business worth $40 billion. India plans to set up 24 imported nuclear power plants in the next 11 to 15 years. As per the CII, the NSG green signal has directly opened up opportunities worth Rs 1,20,000 crore for global and Indian firms over the next 15 years. The benefits of the waiver will also be visible in other hi-technology areas like pharma, space, defence, chemicals, robotics, engineering, electronics etc.

All these economic benefits will not worry the Chinese in the least. What concerns them is the fact that with this deal, India will be in a position to quickly address the hopeless asymmetry that exists between these two giant Asian countries in their nuclear weapon and delivery system capabilities. That is why they tried to sabotage the NSG waiver. They were sure that India was not bartering away its sovereignty and becoming a vassal state of the US. It is not believable that these elementary facts were not known to the BJP too. Yet, the party chose to place itself above the nation. That is about as close to treason as you can get without attracting the charge.

LK Advani missed a historic opportunity to be on the side of India when he forced the government to seek a confidence vote in Parliament on the issue, in the fond hope that the government would be defeated and he would become Prime Minister. That is a blunder from which neither he nor the BJP will recover in hurry. But, the party still does not appear to have learnt the right lesson.

The US is in the middle of a closely fought Presidential election. That has not prevented Obama from supporting the NSG waiver and the 123 Agreement, even though the hated Bush is going to claim all the credit for it. The US would probably never have become the great nation it is had its politicians not shown the wisdom to display honest bipartisanship where it mattered to the country. That is one lesson that India needs to learn in a hurry.

It is no doubt too late for the BJP to recover anything from the wreckage of its stand on the Nuclear Deal. But that is no reason for it to compound its folly by adopting a deviously distorted stance that pretends to justify its opposition to the deal while making grudging peace with it. Arun Shourie is a master without parallel at dissecting every alphabet in a text. Unfortunately, in doing so, he sometimes loses sight of the big picture that matters. That is what his party needs to look at now.

The BJP will do itself and the country great good if it accepts and unflinchingly embraces and celebrates the Nuclear Deal. It is time for the party to manfully accept that it made an honest mistake. That is only way for it minimise the self inflicted damage to its image. Unfortunately, the dismal record of India’s politicians suggests that the BJP will continue to indulge in petty nit picking and wind up harming itself even more.

Let us see whether LK Advani can show some real bipartisan leadership and a bit of statesmanship even at this late stage.

This post was also published by Reuters.com