Diplomatic tides seem to be favoring New Delhi more than ever before with quite a few countries keen on nuclear deals with India. But seriously speaking, it really is difficult to digest this development. There are no two questions about major powers keen on cashing on India’s market by helping it secure electricity from nuclear power. India has no objections to this. But the deals, inked as well as those being negotiated, have dim chances of progressing at literally a nuclear speed. India and US set the ball rolling by inking their much-publicized nuclear deal in 2006. It has not yet reached the stage of being finalized. If this is reached in a few more months or may be years from now, then would begin the tedious task of ensuring its implementation. This may or may not be ever reached, as in all probability both the countries would then be ruled by different governments, which may or may not favor the nuclear deal as enthusiastically as the present ones. And even if they do, legal, political as well as nuclear barriers are not likely to be swept away smoothly by either country.
Think seriously. The hype that was raised when nuclear deal was inked in 2006 has now been replaced by fairly strong criticism in both US and India. While US critics have objected to India’s civil nuclear liability bill as flawed, the Indians are raising questions on the credibility of the entire nuclear deal. The Indians are against prospects of the deal putting a check on the country’s nuclear policy. It is fairly apparent that Washington wants New Delhi to become a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Japan wants India to guarantee that it would not go for any nuclear explosions after the two have inked a nuclear deal for civilian purposes. The fact that India and Japan have agreed to “boost” their negotiations on the issue, indirectly also indicates, that the two countries are still miles away from inking the deal owing to differences in their approach towards the same.
True, France gives the impression of being serious about moving ahead by actually initiating the process of implementing its nuclear deal with India. During his India-visit, the French President is expected to take steps in this direction. But how much can a reactor or two actually contribute to meeting the requirements of Indian market? Even if all the nuclear deals, at present still being negotiated upon, actually reach the stage of implementation, they will not be able to meet even a quarter of India’s requirements in two decades from now. Besides, they would cost more, consume more water and carry greater risk than other sources of energy, India is dependent upon now.
Despite these limitations, India has not backtracked from the nuclear deals it has entered into. It is not likely to. Neither are other countries, including US expected to suddenly announce a change in their nuclear approach towards India. Irrespective of whether the nuclear deals for civilian purposes ever reach the stage of implementation or not, they shall continue to be focused upon as an important issue for “strengthening” ties with India. Of course, this demands focus on a billion-billion dollar question. Why?
Why not? What is suggested by the Indian political ego being a little too flattered and pampered by diplomatic niceties displayed by President Obama and his wife during their India-visit? India is more than pleased about the sudden boost in its diplomatic importance. Even though, neither spells any major progress in Indo-US nuclear deal reaching the stage of finalization. Elementarily speaking, neither India nor all the countries talking about nuclear deals seem really too concerned about these being finalized in the near future. Nevertheless, initiating talks on this is equivalent to beginning nuclear diplomacy with India along positive lines. It may also be viewed as enhancing the status of India in diplomatic arena by almost regarding the country as a nuclear power. They apparently regard this approach as the crucial key to entering the Indian market for weapons and other goods. India has the market, which they are eager to exploit to boost their respective economies.
During his visit, Obama and his wife played this diplomatic card to its utmost finesse. The other powers are expected to follow the same route. They will talk about nuclear deals with India, but without waiting for the same to be implemented, move forward in enhancing exports in other areas. India can feel pleased about its diplomatic ego being given a boost without its nuclear policy being actually pinched, thanks to it being second most populated country and an emerging economy with increasing needs. Till either of the nuclear deals becomes operational enough to yield results, it may be viewed as nothing more or less than cosmetic diplomacy being deliberately indulged in to move economically closer to India!
NILOFAR SUHRAWARDY is a journalist-writer, based in New Delhi, India.