Is it time to write an epitaph for the INDO-US nuclear deal? Going by the pronouncements of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, it does seem so.
The Left parties, it appears, have won this game of brinkmanship quite decisively. In previous editorials, Business Today had vocally supported the nuclear deal and urged the government to call the Left’s bluff. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Government managers have obviously decided that discretion is the better part of valour. They may have prevented a premature collapse of this regime, but it is a pyrrhic victory.
Why? The Prime Minister and senior government leaders have themselves listed the benefits the nuclear deal would have brought for the country. The estimates of this benefit have ranged between $40 billion (Rs 1,60,000 crore) and $100 billion (Rs 4,00,000 crore) over the next 5-7 years in direct trade terms.
Then, the velocity of economic activity kicked off by this huge infusion into the economy, and the additional megawatts of power generated, would have created additional benefits whose quantum hasn’t been calculated. The effective burial of the deal means that all this will remain in the realms of dreams.
Then, what does this backtracking say about the credibility of the government? A political grouping with a little more than 10 per cent representation in the Lok Sabha and 5 per cent of the popular vote has overturned a major international treaty that had the backing of the Prime Minister and the Union Cabinet.
It shows that the government lacks the courage of conviction to stand up for its own decisions. Obviously, foreign governments and large investors will conclude, with justification, that doing business with such a government can be dodgy. In the long term, this will do even more damage to the country’s credibility in the international arena.
The changing geo-strategic and economic scenario of the world, and Asia, in particular, had thrown open a unique window of opportunity for India. Based on its size, rising economic clout and strategic location, India was emerging as another pole, albeit a very small one at present, in world affairs.
The nuclear deal was another step towards increasing the size of this pole; the long-term goal should have been the leadership of a new “arc of democracy and prosperity” in the Asia Pacific region and, later, the world.
The government’s pusillanimity means that the Indian foreign policy matrix will remain hostage to the insular Third World mindset that has shaped it for much of the time since Independence. Backtracking on the nuclear deal sends out this message. India’s leadership, it seems, still doesn’t have the gumption to play The Great Game according to its unwritten rules.