On August 14th and 15th, as Pakistan and India rang in their 60th birthdays and Asian markets began to tumble reacting to the credit woes originating in the United States, I was watching the local news in my hotel room in Jaipur, Rajasthan. My travels thus far, have taken me to New Delhi, Agra (Uttar Pradesh), Jaipur, and now Udaipur (cities in Rajasthan). Being in India during this time gave me the opportunity to observe the domestic debate over the nuclear deal.
For better or worse, Indian news has adopted the American model of filtering the day’s goings-on through political pundits and partisan figureheads that pepper the facts with spirited opinions. Troublingly, political opponents of the nuclear cooperative agreement, represented in large part by the Communist party, are against the deal because they fear India is conceding too much sovereignty by submitting to the U.S. enabling legislation, the Hyde Act. So proponents of the bill in India are trying their very best to ensure the public that no such concession is being made. This back-and-forth has produced some rather unsettling debates on TV talk shows and reassurances displayed on scrolling legends that read something like, “Prime Minister says India’s right to conduct nuclear tests preserved in agreement”. While this falls short of indicating that India intends to use the agreement for military purposes, it certainly betrays the lurking desire of India’s leadership to enhance its military prowess.
Demonstrating similar concerns, former U.N. weapons-inspector Hans-Blix characterized the nuclear deal as another step in the wrong direction and one that is informed by Cold-War tactics aimed at containing China. The Hindu reported that Blix also worries about the increased sale of Australian uranium as an additional destabilizing factor in the region.
The United Progressive Alliance, India’s ruling coalition of political parties, cites India’s ever-increasing energy needs as a central issue which the nuclear deal aims to address. The Communist-led opposition whose support is crucial to the deal’s survival, rejects this justification as contrived citing the high costs attendant with extracting nuclear energy. As reported by the New Statesman, the nuclear deal would satisfy 7% of India’s energy needs up from the 2% that nuclear fuel currently provides.