The Japan nuclear crisis has added greater weight to opponents of the much publicized nuclear deal inked between India and United States in 2006. Perhaps had Japanese-case not hit headlines, the media may have remained silent on possibility of other powers -heading for nuclear energy- facing a similar crisis. Notwithstanding the attempts made by Indian government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to remain committed to the nuclear deal, the Japanese nuclear crisis has acted like an eye-opener for those who were earlier unaware of risks posed by such nuclear tragedies. The opposition to the nuclear deal has received further impetus with WikiLeaks suggesting that the Congress, which heads the Indian coalition government, paid bribes to win the Parliament’s trust vote of confidence in July 2008. The trust-vote was necessitated as several supporters of the coalition withdrew their support over the controversial nuclear deal.
Ironically, what seemed at one stage a major diplomatic and political triumph for Prime Minister Singh is now taking shape of almost a nuclear shock for him and his party-members. Diplomatically, major powers still seem keen on cashing on India’s market by helping it secure electricity from nuclear power. But for a change, they have stopped talking too much about their intentions. Japan-crisis has only lengthened the period of their maintaining a low profile over their nuclear understanding with India. Seriously speaking, there is nothing surprising about this. From the beginning, the deals, inked as well as those being negotiated, have had dim chances of progressing at literally a nuclear speed.
Undeniably, India and United States 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, the tedious task of ensuring its implementation would then begin. 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 appear to. And even if they do, legal, political as well as nuclear barriers are not likely to be swept away smoothly by either country.
Besides, the Japanese nuclear crisis and the WikiLeaks have totally changed the atmosphere that prevailed earlier about India going for nuclear energy. The hype raised when nuclear deal was inked in 2006 has now been replaced by fairly strong criticism in both US and India.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 held in certain quarters that deal is just a step towards Washington convincing New Delhi to become a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Even if countries like France give the impression of being serious about moving ahead by actually initiating the process of implementing nuclear deal with India, how much can they really proceed? A reactor or two cannot meet the requirements of the entire 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.
True, 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. In fact, the supporters of deal are making extra-efforts to emphatically state that India cannot afford to backtrack from its nuclear deal with United States. This is one side of the nuclear deal. At the same time, there are no two questions about the Japanese nuclear crisis and WikiLeaks having totally reversed the image of the Indo-US nuclear deal as well as the approach of their supporters and opponents. Prime Minister Singh cannot, at this stage, play upon the deal’s importance to convince people at home. The hype raised earlier about it being an important issue for “strengthening” ties between India and United States has now been reduced to almost pits. Shocked by images of Japanese-crisis, the Indians are primarily concerned about not being locked in a similar situation. In fact, even if WikiLeaks about several legislators’ confidence having been “bought” still remained sealed, the Japanese nuclear-crisis would have been sufficient to puncture nuclear egos of the deal’s supporters and add more strength to the opponents’ stand.
Practically speaking, though Indo-US nuclear deal is still several stages away from being finalized, it had been earlier viewed as an important chapter in taking their nuclear diplomacy to new heights. India had enough reason to be more than pleased about the “nuclear” boost in its diplomatic importance. It is as yet too early to confine this nuclear importance of India to history. There remains however no doubt about Japanese nuclear-crisis and WikiLeaks spelling a major blow for India’s nuclear ego and a shock for US nuclear diplomacy!
NILOFAR SUHRAWARDY is a journalist based in New Delhi, India.