What will Manmohan Singh tell Bush?


New Delhi : With the nuclear deal looking more uncertain by the day, it has become a now or never situation for the government as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prepares to meet US President George W. Bush in July in Japan.

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Manmohan Singh will meet Bush on the sidelines of the G8 summit of the world’s wealthiest nations in the Japanese island of Hokkaido in the first week of July.

India, along with China, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, are invited as outreach partners, also called G5, at the G8 summit.

As leaders of other Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries will also be there, especially those of Russia, Britain and France that have a stake in the success of the deal, the Manmohan Singh government has stepped up backroom political activity in a last-ditch effort to cobble a coalition of nuclear-friendly political allies.

The prime minister will also meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy whose country has initialled a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India. The two countries can, however, act on the agreement only after the 45-nation NSG changes its guidelines to allow global nuclear commerce with New Delhi.

India has to first finalise a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That agreement is also bogged down in domestic opposition before the deal can go to the NSG.

“India’s international credibility will be at stake. The Manmohan Singh government should be prepared to go ahead with the deal. He has to take a bold decision,” K. Subrahmanyam, strategic expert who is often consulted by the government on nuclear issues, told IANS.

“Otherwise, Manmohan Singh will go down in history as the prime minister who wound up India’s civil nuclear programme and dented the country’s international credibility,” Subrahmanyam said.

“June could be a make-or-break time for the nuclear deal. There is very little time left,” a top source privy to the government’s thinking on the deal told IANS.

The prime minister may call a meeting of all political parties and make a final plea to them to support the deal in the larger national interest, the source said.

He will reportedly tell them about the serious uranium supply crunch, which may paralyse India’s budding civil nuclear programme. He may also refer to the rethink on nuclear energy as an environmentally clean fuel in major world capitals. The prime minister will use these arguments to once again make the point that India stands to miss the nuclear bus if the deal does not go through.

But in the end, any breakthrough will depend on the Left parties dropping their opposition to the deal which they suspect will make India subservient to US strategic interests.

The last option is a more radical one: the government takes the Left head-on and risks losing their support in parliament.

“The caretaker government can still do the deal. If the final break-up comes through in July, the caretaker government goes on till January next year,” points out Subrahmanyam. But that does not seem to be a viable option for now, given the Congress’ declining electoral graph and an assertive Bharatiya Janata Party suggesting that it can do a better deal if it comes to power.