By Seema Mustafa
It is perhaps in the fitness of things, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh celebrates his birthday in the United States. This time, as officials informed accompanying scribes in New York, it was double celebration time, as the Prime Minister had got full assurance from US President George W.Bush that the nuclear deal would be sealed and ready for signing when Minister of external affairs Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice meet here in New Delhi on October 3-4.
Singh has been receiving glowing tributes from the NRI community in the US that has developed a vested interest in getting the deal through. A strategic alliance with India will further their business interests, and it is small wonder then that Singh and his team are being wined and dined as heroes. He has also given his more than little bit back, despite being a man given to few words, and reticent in appearance. In dramatics rarely seen when he meets Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who he recognizes as his leader, Singh rushed to embrace Bush and tell him that he is "deeply loved" by India. He did not define what "India" meant for him, and one can only hope that he had not been as presumptuous as to speak for all her citizens. And that when he said "India" he basically meant the Congress party, sections of the corporate media, and of course his little team that has been working hard to tie India into strategic knots.
The accompanying journalists have been hammering out reports of the great relationship, and the great victory of Singh and his men in getting the deal through. No one has focused on the additional clauses that the Senate and the House of Representatives have added, making a mockery of the 123 agreement, and in effect strengthening even the stringent stipulations of the Hyde Act. India cannot test, and the US under the new amendments will now work to ensure that in case it tests and the deal is scrapped it will "prevent" other nuclear suppliers group members from continuing their nuclear cooperation with India. Reprocessing rights, of course, no longer exist, and transfer of sensitive technology will remain a dream.
The point is that if a government is prepared to sink its self interest and compromise its sovereignty, there is no deal in the world that will not go through. Agreements stall because nations stand up for their rights, and refuse the other to brow beat them into accepting conditions that are at best demeaning and humiliating. It is a tragedy that at this point, the Manmohan Singh government has not done the country proud, and has compromised her strategic interests in a manner that is detrimental to national interest.
It is strange, how even the Presidential determination that spelt out the real US nuclear policy viz a viz India did not deter Prime Minister Singh. And his bureaucrats, after the initial hesitation, bounced back insisting that this was applicable only to the US and not to India. What do they mean by that? Do they mean that if India decides to go in for a nuclear test, it will not pay any price when the US President and the US Congress decide to scrap the nuclear agreement? In that Washington will roll back the cooperation, while New Delhi will continue insisting that the deal is on and nothing has happened. And that the decision of the US Congress does not apply because we are bound only by the 123 agreement? But they can get away with even these surprisingly absurd assertions because the media has stopped asking questions a long time ago, and is pursuing the nuclear deal with the same determination as Singh and his government.
Parliament has not been allowed to meet, and for the first time in its history, a government has unilaterally scrapped the monsoon session altogether. By the time it is convened, that is later in October, the nuclear deal will be sealed, signed and delivered and any debate or protest will be totally meaningless. India is currently facing tremendous challenges but the Prime Minister is embracing Bush, and there is no leadership here to even fathom the problems. Inflation is spiraling out of control, unrest is growing by the day, the communal forces are on the ascendant but the government under Singh is preoccupied only with the nuclear deal and the US. Only Singh, with his adulation for Bush rarely concealed, could hug the US President and speak of deep love (that he unfortunately rested at India's door). For the Americans Bush is history, and at best a target for the comedians on television. For West Asia he is evil, a President who has destroyed Iraq, Afghanistan and is now finishing Pakistan. For the rest of the world he is at best passé, a man no one really wants to do business with.
Prime Minister Singh does not give the impression of a leader weighed down by domestic troubles. Like the Pakistan President Asif Zardari, Singh too was busy paying compliments to those who are at the receiving end of the American stick. Singh to Bush, and Zardari to Palin. But at least in the last case, Palin might be the US future. Bush is definitely its past. Unfortunately the troubles in India will not have disappeared, and Singh will return to the chaos that he left behind. Parliament will take some of the glow off his face, and the forthcoming Assembly elections might just leave a pallor that will increase as the general elections draw near.
Prime Ministers and governments are expected to be accountable to Parliament and the will of the people. The Constitution did not envisage a situation where the executive would become totally reckless, and override the checks and balances woven into this parliamentary democracy. It has, thus, left it to the people of India to decide the course they want their country to take every five years, and the millions whose condition has worsened in recent years are now waiting to cast their ballot.