Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
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In the first 53 years of our independence, only three US Presidents visited India: Dwight Eisenhower (1959), Richard Nixon (1969) and Jimmy Carter (1978). Donald Trump’s, next Monday, will be the fifth presidential visit in the past 20 years. Two big nations that remained at strategic odds for half-a-century are making up for lost time.

The end of the Cold War and the Soviet Bloc coincided with the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh economic reforms and the 25 years of Indian growth. A fresh opening up between India and the US was natural. But, if you were asked to name one fact or achievement that characterises this turnaround most of all, what would it be?

I’d say it’s the India-US nuclear deal. I know it will draw two extreme reactions. One, so what is the big deal, everyone knows it. And at the other end, ha ha, big deal! Not one megawatt of nuclear power has been installed since, and an American reactor won’t be producing any for the next 15 years, if ever.

To think that the India-US nuclear deal was either about a bilateral relationship or energy is to miss the point. The degree of difficulty that Manmohan Singh faced in making it a reality underlines how complex it was, and with what wide-ranging implications.

Let us list six here.


Also read: Manmohan Singh is talking, making sense, and India is listening


* The first and the biggest implication of the deal was ideological. It was the first time that India had signed a treaty of any kind bilaterally with the Americans, with high strategic implication. Not only did it mark a 180 (if not 360) degree repositioning of India in the post-Cold War world, it also tested our public opinion on a vital question: Would it trust Americans to be friends after decades of suspicion?

To that extent, it ran contrary to the ideological nationalism the Congress and its Left intellectual vanguard had built so masterfully. That is why it ran into immediate opposition from the Left, but also almost the entire Congress establishment. Besides, there was the usual nonsense, like Muslims will be upset.

Because Manmohan Singh decided to make this the touchstone of his prime ministership and threw into the battle all his carefully conserved political capital, he pretty much arm-twisted a reluctant Sonia Gandhi into agreeing, even as her old guard turned up its nose.

The general election that followed, in 2009, proved that the Indian voter was smarter, a better judge of the national interest, and enormously more honest than the old Left, and frankly, even the Right. The BJP, usually seen as pro-West through India’s decades of Soviet enchantment, opposed the deal even more strongly on nationalist grounds than the Left did ideologically.

Both were defeated. The UPA returned in larger numbers and the ideological ghost of anti-Americanism was buried so deep, you do not see it being exhumed. The post-Cold War India was born.

* The second gain was of strategic principle, although Montek Singh Ahluwalia, former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, talking with me at our show ‘Off The Cuff’ about his latest book, Backstage, put it at the top of his list. He said Manmohan Singh was deeply concerned about India having been subjected to nuclear apartheid as, despite being a declared nuclear weapons power, it wasn’t treated as one for nuclear commerce and technology transfer/exchange regimes because of the old, discriminatory regimes originating from the discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The nuclear deal gave India the opportunity to break out. It was also a fortuitous period when the US President had greater leverage with his Chinese counterpart and could lean on him to ease up on India. India is now accepted as a nuclear weapons power, more or less like any other under the NPT, but also respected as a responsible, non-proliferating one, unlike rival Pakistan.


Also read: India’s foreign relations are in tatters and the Modi government has only itself to blame


* The third is of great domestic significance. Until now, there was no compulsion on India to subject itself to accepted international safeguards and standards of transparency. Because civilian and nuclear programmes were mixed up, and deliberately so to ensure one masked the other. There was zero transparency and oversight. This included the Parliament.

At the same time, because civil and military were mixed up, nuclear scientists in Indian labs struggled to excel in a free, international peer-reviewed environment, as everything was seen as covert and suspect. One big gain of the nuclear deal, therefore, was to bring India’s nuclear programme, including its funding and performance, into a more transparent domain. It also brought more installations, declared civilian, under international safeguards. Overall, it promoted more responsible behaviour, accountability and safety.

* The benefits in the tactical military scientific fields come next. It may have been called a ‘civilian’ deal, but in essence, it was deeply military and strategic. It resulted in rapid relaxation of the US establishment’s old fears of transferring sensitive military technologies and equipment to India.

In the mid-1980s, India and the US struggled to arrive at sufficient confidence for Washington to even sell a supercomputer to India for monsoon prospecting. This, despite a fine personal equation between Rajiv Gandhi and Ronald Reagan. Now, the most sensitive military technologies, data and intelligence resources are being shared. This would not have happened without that one big deal that changed the fundamentals of India-US relations.

* The fifth gain is in the context of regional geopolitics. For 15 years since the Cold War ended, America had moved gingerly towards de-hyphenating its India policy from Pakistan. The nuclear deal changed all that dramatically.

For the first time, Washington had signed a strategic deal with India which wasn’t — and has still not been — offered to Pakistan. If you do not see it as the final striking out of that dreaded hyphen, ask a Pakistani strategist. Since then, the Americans have done very little to bring it back. It is just that we Indians, especially under the Modi government, keep relapsing into that trap, given how undeservingly important Pakistan is made out to be in our internal politics.

* The sixth and the last, and I say so with trepidation, is my favourite. It is a gain of immeasurable significance in our domestic politics. The nuclear deal, and the way our political Left went out on a limb to fight it, and lost, ended a scourge of our political economy: The Left. In 2008, it owned the central government with 60-plus seats. Now, it struggles to get into double figures in the Lok Sabha.

It made common cause with the BJP in Parliament to bring down Manmohan Singh’s government, and was defeated. It exposed both, the Left’s ideological bull-headedness (blind anti-Americanism) and hypocrisy (joining hands with political Hindutva). Soon enough, it was routed in West Bengal, as if forever.

That’s a gain to keep for generations. So what if it took a little bit of the foreign (American) hand to achieve this?


Also read: Modi gives little to friendly US but wants a lot in return. No wonder Trump isn’t amused


 

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17 Comments Share Your Views

17 COMMENTS

  1. Can’t we think a bit out of the box? We talk Defence what stops us to discuss US investment in Infrastructure? Something like the one that on and off pops up with Japan in Road and connectivity in NE? Given US expertise in Oil and Gas should we try prospecting in the Northern Indian Plains estimated by some to hold more than Gulf?
    Reason being silt from ages make it very difficult to access? Surely The World’s most Technology Intensive country can offer us something with a win for both? What stops us from seeking US investment and technology to access and harvest subsurface resources in Arunachal ? If China can set up it’s Silicon project and defence vitals in POK which is definitely recognised as Indian territory , why we should we stay away from US in NE more so in Arunachal ?
    It will make the Chinese bristle? Too hoots to their ping pong noises now that Respected Modiji has made us in such a short time. Chinese they themselves are there in Shaksgam Valley and in Gilgit Baltistan , busy plundering the region rich in subsurface resources including rare earths precious gems which are rightfully ours.
    So Cheers to Modiji Trump meet but a must in discussion is US investment in Infrastructure in NE , Oil, Nuclear Power and Connectivity projects linking India ASEAN
    Vandematarm

  2. There is lot meaningful info missing. Indira Gandhi ruffled feathers of US in 1971 by creating BD against US will. But M Desai had built bridge with US and country would have progressed much faster, had Gandhi along with C Charansingh had not toppled M Desai’s government. Dynast misplaced socialism even after defeat of Russia and trifurcated Gandhi dynast leveraged communist on its side., where as China though communist took advantage of businesses from US. This would have been given to India beig democracy but never improved governance nor be friends with US for sake of development. Eventually PV Narshih Rao was smart to reform country without dynast interfering, PV was student and assistant of Desai and new Capitalist system is better than freebies which is hurting honest tax payers.

  3. Due to their controversy over the Nuclear Deal Left was exposed. BJP also cut a sorry figure because of its backdoor strategy of smuggling cash into parliament through three of its member just to stall the Nuclear Deal Bill in the parliament. But due to shrewd strategy of the speaker Mr. Somanath Chattergy their effort to stall the bill failed. Manmohan Singh govt had a clear victory in passing the bill. We should praise Mr. Singh for his bravery.

  4. USA has not built a nuclear station in the past 50 plus years This was mainly because the checks and balances required to build a new power station in the USA was so expensive that it made nuclear power not affordable. But more important, its citizenry will not accept the governmental assurance of safety The 1970’s accident in the three mile island (near Harrisburg, PA) more or less killed the future prospects. The Indian agreement is still on paper only because unlike the French and Russian assurances to share safety obligations, the US will not provide any. It is like the potential repeat of the Bhopal tragedy. Mexican stand off between the two still remains on this one issue.

    • Very true, the deal gave us freedom to do trade with many countries and NSG is important membership needed but China is biggest road block. Hope Modi can get it soon.

  5. The opposition of the left showed many of us how the left, even after 60 years, continued to put the interest of China above needs of the Indian people. Not many people know that the left opposed Gandhi in the Quit India movement for the sake of Soviet Union, which they explicitly acknowledged. In 1948 they revolted at the calling of the Soviet Union. In 1971, they refused to acknowledge the death of millions and the untold rapes and atrocities in Bangladesh. With the fall of the Soviet Union, documents were published that showed how the tallest of the Marxist leaders were on foreign patronage. How many people understand that the left wing is largely responsible for the untold poverty, misery and corruption in India? Universities like JNU flourish, and the likes of Yechuri and Karats continued to enjoy media adoration. Kerala is still a bastion of the left. The Indian judiciary continues to be in this thrall. What makes you think that the nuclear deal affected their electoral fortunes or that it has been decimated?

  6. Most importantly, more then anything else the nuclear deal exposed the hypocrisy of the BJP and it’s then chief. It finished the political career of L.K. Advani who out of spite/vindictiveness or cussedness, opposed what began as an initiative of his own party. That more than praising Jinnah sealed his fate.

  7. What Shekhar is writing is a piece of National History. But going ahead, it will be in National Interest when Modi signs a trade deal with Trump. We are doing fine with USA on defense and Indo Pacific side as well in anti terrorism area. But we need to engage with USA on trade by giving away something but clawing back much more in services ! Besides, if we undertake deep structural reforms, we will reduce our bloated costs, improve efficiency and make our goods competitive to imports from USA. But USA can come with big investments and help our economy grow. On Kashmir, Modi should seek Trump’s mediation by offering him a State of Kashmir (POK and our Kashmir excluding Jammu) to be constituted under (original) Art 370 or as a one nation-two system of Hong Kong pattern along with Gilgit-Baltistan. Trump will like this as China Pakistan physical link will be broken. Russia will surely stay quiet. Trump will get his Noble Prize for his brilliant formula – whether finally implemented or not!! And of course, Modi can offer similar solution to Baluchees and Sindhees too and earn a well deserved Bharta Ratna at home! Howdy Modi and Trump?!!

  8. It is really hard to police the world, Pacific ocean is the main weak spot. America, is tired of flying in body bags regularly and it hurts ALL US presidents. But… a south Vietnam can not fight the North Vietnam and it lost. South Korea had to sign a peace treaty with North Korea. Iraq was never really won. Afghanistan is asking the Americans to leave. Who will do its job???? Not the Russians and .the Chinese. Japan and Qatar are too small for the assignment. Australia flat out ruled out the role. Guess who is left?? Affection towards India is increasing over the last 20 years. It is large and it has manpower, Americans were always of the opinion weaponizing any country will make them adequate military. Pakistan failed them in Afghanistan, India seems reluctant to police pacific ocean when the most likely enemies are land locked countries up in the north India, I mean what business does a Indian Navy have against Indian enemies? The attempt to militarize India for sea policing continues,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  9. You may be allergic to left but eventually America will also turn left. Leftism have different forms. Americans are seriously considering Nordic examples.

    • Nope, a certain segment of USA is attracted towards left. Thats around half of Democratic Party. Mainly millennials. This has happened because of predatory leftist mentors in education system. These leftist are far more racists. I am a physician originally from India, who did MBBS back home, was doing specialization in surgical field, came to USA for PhD in Oncology. First 3 months of training was useful. The advanced biochemistry subject, the leftist professor force fully taught us evolution. Why should I care, whether God exists or not. None of my business, if my patient thinks he exists, he exists for me. If my patient thinks he does not exists, he does not exists for me.
      A leftist Hindu professor, used to hire only Indian students, but he was paying 5000 USD for PhD per year and 10,000 USD for for doc per year. He was giving them only J1 Visa and after using them used to send them back to India. That POS who could not make to engineering or medical college in India, now is a professor and was getting his dirty MSc, BSC culture here too.
      One of my colleague who was a Indian physician, joined him. He taught he will be his slave. But he had given USMLE and he went to MD residency. This guy sent a email don’t take Indian doctors for all faculty. The another leftist professor came to me and told me, you are a physician from India, are you trying to become physician here. I said yes I am a physician, at present I am doing research. Then he said lets wait, whether to take you or not. That was a first discrimination, I endured (Because I had topped the university in 1st and 2nd semester). I just sent email to another scientist, I joined hime and got 10 pairs during PhD, one was in Cell cover page. While doing PhD gave USMLE, 99 percentile and afterwards had joined post doc in another university.
      I had told the scientist who wanted to hire me that I have finished USMLE and going back to residency in a year or so. I got interviews to good places like Cleveland Clinic. The moment I attended Cleveland clinic interview, the post doctoral mentor (another leftist) he told me “You guys don’t make 40,000 USD in India, you are trying to be a physician and trying to take our jobs” I will ruin you and send you to India. This same guy used to call him liberal. That year I got married, my wife was a physician in USA, doing oncology fellowship (super specialization). The moment he came to know my wife is a doctor, he closed the door and told me “You are a Hindu and I am Jewish” we should be in good terms and united. I asked to myself united against whom. This is a hypocrisiy of left. Now I am a practicing physician and never have to deal with leftists.

    • BTW ANON nordic countries are not socialist. This is a lie by Bernie Sanders. They tax poor people more, but tax the corporations less. Use. the tax of poor people for installing social programs for poor. They work on assumption, that poor cannot handle the money properly, so government taxes them more and uses the money to provide them health care, education and other benefits

      • America will follow Nordic countries inspite of opposition by people like you. After all self and collective interest of majority rules a democracy.

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