After several hours of debate, the US House of Representatives approved the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal with an overwhelming majority but has unfortunately raked partisan politicking in India even though the Government looks resolute in defending the deal.The 359-68 in favor saw many policy makers saying that the deal would “strengthen global non-proliferation regime” while opponents say that the deal will fuel a nuclear arms race in South Asia.
The idea of a nuclear arms race is basic fear-mongering since India already has fissile materials to make so many more bombs if necessary and Pakistan will be unable to catch up. However, India has already publicized a “minimal” deterrent and no-first use policy arguing that it only needs nuclear weapons for a debilitating 2nd strike and therefore it is not in India’s interest to create large number of nuclear weapons. Besides, unless funded by other powers, an economically-anemic and economic aid-dependent Pakistan cannot afford a large nuclear weapons arsenal.
The deal is not in the bag yet. The next step is for the Senate to vote on it and then have a committee reconcile both bills that will be finally sent to the President for signature. After the US approves the bill, it needs to be channeled through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) while India strikes an implementation deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It also needs to close on a so-called “123 deal” with the US that would get into the nitty-gritty of implementing the broad Agreement. Additionally, the Indian Government would have to look at the final product from the US to ensure that it does not depart from last summer’s Agreement and wrestle with its communist allies and right wing Opposition to ensure that one of them does not insist on a deal-scuttling exercise.
Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans founder Frank Pallone emphasized that as a strong ally of the US India should be viewed as a credible and worthy nation of “our help and support.” However, nuclear Ayatollahs have taken a tactical retreat to fight it out in the Senate where the support for the deal is expected to be stronger. Ranking Democratic Member of the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) and Californian Representative Tom Lantos, normally a political extremist baiting India but is also a major supporter of this deal, said that Congress vote is certainly a “tidal shift” ending “the Cold War paradigm governing” US India policy. Ranking Republican and HIRC Chairman Henry Hyde minimized fears, threats, and paranoia infused into the of “major improvements” in the Bill including Presidential certifications based on India creating a “credible” plan separating civilian and military facilities. Four deal-killer amendments, unacceptable to New Delhi, were defeated at the House Rules Committee. But two more, one requiring India to stop fissile material production and another requiring India to cap its uranium production, made it to the floor but were defeated conclusively. But the remarkable and defining moment of the debate was when traditional anti-Indian policy makers supported the deal. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, head of the Pakistan Caucus on Capitol Hill, expressed support for the deal seconded by Congressman Dan Burton, a life-long opponent of India supporting the Khalistan cause.
Hyde surmised that “A major argument in favor” of the deal is “that a closer
relationship with India is needed to offset the rising power of China. Hyde’s
comment on China has caught the attention of the Communist allies of the
Government who are now demanding a full debate in the Parliament and even sought
to co-opt the right wing
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to sponsor a discussion. The BJP, normally at severe ideological, philosophical, and policy odds with the communists ridiculed the offer saying that they only want to include the BJP citing national consensus because they could not convince the Government on their own. Besides, foreign policy decisions are not decided in a debate by the Parliament and the communists are always keen to avoid discussion on subjects that suit their agenda although the communists have cited a precedent where the Parliament had voted against sending troops to Iraq.
The BJP has said that the deal is not good for India because of the separation of the civilian and military facilities but apart from public posturing is not opposed to the philosophy of the deal as the communists are. Senior Congressman and Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee met with communist Members of Parliament (MPs) and told that a full-scale debate would mean “an end of the day” for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) meaning the dissolution of the Government and the marriage of convenience. The communists have finally settled for a statement from Singh spelling out the “parameters” of the deal. However the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have taken the lead to embarrass the Government in the Rajya Sabha.
In another tactic, there was a move calling on India to commit more on Iran which won a large-scale support including that of Lantos, a holocaust survivor normally paranoid about Tehran’s nuclear intentions, and 200 members voted to recommit the Bill back to the Committee. But this move by Democrats failed as Hyde reiterated that the deal will clear the way for the two nations “to reinforce an already strong, strategic alliance” arguing that although the “world has known that India possesses nuclear weapons, yet India has not had a seat at the table of nuclear stakeholders.”