Questions about the India-U.S. nuclear deal

The drama is rising over a proposed U.S.-India nuclear pact. India’s left-wing parties, which hold 60 seats in Parliament, are united in opposition to the deal and have managed to thwart it for months. But they now have been pushed to withdraw support of the government because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is going ahead with the pact despite the opposition from the left and others.

Singh has succumbed to the pressure exerted by the Bush administration and its needs and timetable, charges the left. The White House is threatening India with “it’s now or never.” The Bush administration has to get the pact through this month — the last time the U.S. Congress could implement it before all attention turns to our November elections.

Clothed in helping India meet its tremendous energy needs, the agreement would give U.S. nuclear corporations the go-ahead to sell nuke technology and fuel to India for non-military purposes. India and the U.S. would develop a “strategic partnership” and India would submit to International Atomic Energy Agency standards for its civilian nuclear reactors.

So, why the solid opposition by India’s left parties? Is it fueled by anti-Americanism, as many right-wing pundits say?

The four allied left parties — Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party — say the pact would make India a junior partner in U.S. imperialism’s strategic plan for Asia and do away with one of the key pillars of post-colonial India: an independent foreign policy.

The U.S. adopted a hostile position towards India for more than five decades because of its nonaligned foreign policy.

The nuclear deal includes an amendment requiring India to follow U.S. policy towards Iran and in particular to block a planned oil pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India. Besides the impossibility of India cutting off deals with Iran, with which it shares centuries of history and commerce, this language is an affront to India’s independent foreign policy and helps the neoconservatives’ push for more isolation of Iran and heightened war danger.

The pact is also seen as a U.S. corporate/military effort to make India a wedge against its neighbor to the east: China. This is not a paranoid assumption by the left, but a notion actively proclaimed in the U.S. corporate media. In an editorial titled “Can India Say Yes?” the Washington Post declared that India and America “share political values and strategic priorities such as blunting Chinese military power.”

An article on the Post’s opinion page, “New Life for the India Nuclear Pact,” notes that the deal “makes a huge exception of India, endorsing its status as a nuclear-weapons state and granting it a more lenient regime of inspections of its nuclear power facilities by the IAEA than is normal. Why? The answer is China. Neither the U.S. nor the Indian government wants to say so, but the basic reason to make India an exception and to bring it closer to the United States is the desire to balance the rising power of China in Asia.”

This is worrisome for peace and progressive forces not only in India but in the U.S. as well.

China is a rising power in Asia and the world. When power centers shift, the world has often seen war. Chinese leaders have projected a “peaceful rise” for their growing might. But the Bush administration has pursued a disastrous militarist, first-strike policy. Closer ties with India are important for peace, but not ties that destabilize Asia in pursuit of an outdated and dangerous “containment” policy. Such policies led to the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The U.S. peace and solidarity movements, understandably preoccupied with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other flashpoints, have not paid much attention to the U.S.-India pact and its implications.

But the left in India has done the world a great service by raising these issues as an early warning. All Americans concerned about peace, stability and the Bush administration’s reckless foreign policy can offer help and solidarity, even at this 11th hour. The pact could be changed to make it a real peace pact. Calls to Rep. Gary Ackerman, Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India, raising concerns about this agreement, would help shed light on this deal for the benefit of the people of the U.S., India and Asia.

Teresa Albano (talbano @pww.org) is editor of People’s Weekly World. She recently attended the congresses of India’s two Communist parties.