Wednesday, May 28, 2008

BJP should stay put against the nuke deal

The talks about nuke deal should've been settled by now. That would indeed be possible if we had a PM with real political authority. This is not a cheap aside at Dr Manmohan Singh, though it may seem so; it is a matter of accepted wisdom that a PM like Vajpayee or Indira Gandhi would've had no problem cajoling unruly allies into falling in line--yes, even the communists. Poiticians, who become leaders and acquire political capital through their own charisma, know all to well how to deploy it at crucial times to their advantage. That's a luxury Dr Singh does not possess. His political handicap, in turn, is costing us dearly.

That said, the deal still remains stuck where it was six months ago, and there's no resolution in sight. The topic has descended into an interminable squabble with the strategic establishment pushing for the deal, at times in humorous ways, and BJP, the only other serious side in this debate, holding out.

It should stay put, notwithstanding the barrage of articles appearing in sections of mainstream media. Some are even conveniently dropping sachharine pills to lure the BJP into acceding to their stand.

The Indian Express is hammering in its edits; strategic affairs experts and op-ed writers such as K Subrahmanyam, Shishir Gupta, Uday Bhaskar, Harsh Pant and numerous others have been exhorting BJP in charming tone as if it were a long-separated lover.

Shekhar Gupta's Indian Express, which wasted reams of print bashing BJP, and still does, has miraculously discovered virtues in the party, appealing to its good offices and what not.

K Subrahmanyam, who was reminiscing about the Marxist teachers during his school days and the influence of Marxist ideas on him only a year or two ago (this appeared in his TOI op-ed I don't wish to look for right now), yes, him, too has been busy appeasing the BJP big-wigs.

Shishir Gupta and Uday Bhaskar Nair are relatively non-partisan, but some patronizing comments in their topical articles often less artful.

Most of these commentators claim the following:
  1. This nuke deal is our only hope to turn the ban on high-tech transfer and ensure energy security,
  2. China will eclipse us if we don't ally with the US right now; time will slip away,
  3. US might turn away from us in disappointment and then things will get tough without its diplomatic attention or backing,
  4. (and the more ridiculous) BJP is playing into the hands of Marxists by siding with them and can immeasurably harm its domestic credibility if it fails to support the deal.
  5. (and the dangerous) our strategic weapons program will not be affected.
Most recently, even President Kalam endorsed the deal. Former NSA Brajesh Mishra has come out in support too.

Perhaps the most articulate columnist, Swapan Dasgupta, too has been making the reflex argument: instinctively most Indians are pro-US(true!) and know they have to ally with it if serious about countering the China threat etc.

The lone dissents have come from the indomitable Arun Shourie, analyst Brahma Chellaney, and columnist Arvind Lavakare and Rajeev Srinivasan(writing for rediff). I am not sure as to what strategic affairs analyst Bharat Karnad had to say. Lavakare says he's in opposition.

Anyway, without diverging too much, I wish to primarily address the five points above. I am nowhere near qualified as the luminaries above, but for what it is worth, and as someone who cares about his country no lesser than these folks, here's my ambitious take.

It is worthwhile to remember that the principal factor driving this deal is the threat from Red China rising. As long as we keep that in mind most doubts raised above can be argued with a relatively consistent line of reasoning.

The nuke deal can veritably open a spigot of high-tech transfers to us which have so far languished in bureaucratic mess or take unacceptably long time to clear. Some of these transfers can be useful for our space program. Others for bringing in high-tech industry and jobs.

China achieved few technological breakthroughs in its missile programs through kinks in these tech transfer regime. One example is quite illustrative. Sometime in the '90s China got its hands on multiple satellite launching ability, and few yrs. later their ICBMs had multiple warhead capability with increased accuracy. The wt. carried by satellite launchers and the technique to reorient those satellites in space in desired position is not very different from ensuring the orientation of weapons.

China is accused of piracy and violating the transfer regime, yes, but who's going to prosecute a nuclear power armed with modern ballistic missiles? Clearly, their leaders had the wisdom to weigh their choices. Clearly, high-tech transfer is a positive for this deal.

The other crucial benefit is said to be nuclear power. The end-user cost, establishment and maintenance of facilities, fuel dependence etc., raise serious questions about the claim, and have never been answered quite satisfactorily.

The next issue is our China gap. While China is ahead of us in many ways, the gap isn't something completely unbridgeable. Building infrastructure and policies conducive to industry isn't exactly rocket science. Harnessing human resources that will need and utilize these facilities isn't cryptology either.

If India with its billion plus count cannot give China a run for its money then who will?

Of course, to create such an atmosphere, India will have to stabilize its internal situation, reduce internecine squabbles, and make itself more orderly, better governed, more manageable.

The gap might be exacerbated for want of this deal, but that denouement is not exactly predicated on the completion of the deal itself.

The question of US turning its back is a bit tricky and deserves a longer response. To answer this briefly though, we've to question why they've turned to us in first place. A large democracy with unvarnished strategic interest in containing China, India is important, especially to those who know what existing with authoritarian power entails to your own freedom. This deal is but a tool to achieve seamless coalescence of overlapping strategic interests. It is not the tool but a tool. The need to involve India and for India to get involved is real. If not under this treaty, then under some other one. China knows it very well too. They've adopted a similar strategy after all. They know that it is a question of how, not now. The longer they can postpone it, the better for them. There's no turning away for anyone.

Onto the mischievous one: BJP playing into the hands of Marxists. This is not serious an accusation, obviously. Au contraire, it is the Marxists who might be doing a favor to the BJP by playing in to the BJP's hands. The Marxist penchant to make "South Asia nuke free" is an old one. (why south asia and not asia you dare not ask.) This treaty can ensure a "cap, rollback and elimination" of India's arsenal, a dream come true for the Marxists. Yet they are in opposition to this deal. Why? The answer lies in the CPI(M)'s priority, which is with an ascendant Communist China. A "nuke-free South Asia" aligned to US is still a bigger headache for China than a passive nuclearized one. It is also precarious for the Marxists own future in sub-continent, mostly in India. An economically thriving, religious people are never going to be an incubator for Marxism which feeds on perpetuating poverty and class struggle. Arguably it may be CPI(M)'s survival imperative kicking in.

The last one is the impact of the deal on our strategic weapons program. To which I have a simple set of questions. Can you have strategic weapons if you cannot develop them in the first place? Can you develop weapons if you cannot test them? Can you test weapons if you cannot have the raw materials needed to build them?

Further, without a strategic weapons program, can you defend yourself? If you cannot defend yourself, can you be a republic--and not its banana variety?


bhanu said...

Socal the Hyde Act says that if India tests a nuclear weapon all benefits from the deal will be denied. In fact the deal itself will be rolled back. Is this possible given India's neighbors? We have a no first use policy but others don't.

Saakshi said...

There are two points central to the BJP stance, one is that the nuclear power is not indispensable as pointed out by the congress. And the second that we should renegotiate the deal. These two points are not exactly against the deal and they should stick on these lines. Brahma Chellanny writes the best on the issue giving credence to the BJP position.
On the other hand the people who are for the deal are probably trying to counter the left opposition because left opposes it only because it is with the US. The deal by itself is not objectionable to the BJP, the method of taking concensus and some of the terms are the problem and i agree they should continue in their objection on these lines.