India: Nuclear Pact Causes Deep Rift

By Ridge, Mian | The Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 2007 | Go to article overview

India: Nuclear Pact Causes Deep Rift


Ridge, Mian, The Christian Science Monitor


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is steadfastly refusing to renege on a historic nuclear deal with the United States, even though the row threatens to bring down his government.

This weekend, communist allies to India's United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the coalition headed by Mr. Singh's Congress party, made a thinly veiled threat that they would withdraw from the government if it did not cease negotiations with the US over a nuclear-energy pact.

The pact, agreed to this month after two years of discussions, has attracted international criticism because it allows India to buy civil nuclear technology from the US, despite the fact that India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has tested nuclear weapons. In return, India would open its civil nuclear reactors to inspectors.

The deal is regarded as the most important act between the world's two biggest democracies since India's independence 60 years ago, laying the foundation for a new strategic alliance between them - and a major foreign-policy triumph for Singh.

But critics in India argue it would give the US too much influence over their country's foreign policy and threaten India's weapons program. Even if the dispute does not result in early elections, analysts say, it has exposed a serious gulf between the government and its communist allies, raising doubts about whether Singh will succeed in establishing closer ties with the US - or manage to pass a number of urgently needed economic reforms.

Singh, however, reiterated on Monday that he was committed to developing nuclear energy. With both sides refusing to back down, the impasse constitutes the most serious crisis of the government's three years in power.

"I would say this is the beginning of a big comedown for the government," says Mahesh Rangarajan, an independent political analyst. "Even if the collapse doesn't happen immediately, I would bet on early elections before they are scheduled in 2009."

Singh expected to hang tough

Though not part of the ruling coalition, India's four communist parties - united around the Communist Party of India (Marxist) - have 60 members of parliament in the 545-member lower house. If they withdraw support, Singh's government will either collapse or be reduced to a feeble minority.

Hamstrung by his leftist allies since he came to power in 2004, Singh, who, as finance minister in the 1990s was the architect of India's economist reforms, has failed to pass any significant reforms as prime minister.

On this occasion, however, the famously gentle Singh is expected to hang tough for what may turn out to be his legacy.

For his government, the nuclear-energy deal with the US is simply too important to go back on. Not only does it constitute a major stride forward in Indo-US relations, it also addresses the critical need to find new sources of the energy upon which India's economic growth depends. …

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