The India-US nuclear deal, which faced stiff and unprecedented opposition inside the country was finally smuggled through the Indian Parliament by the ruling combine. It is quite interesting that the main opposition to this deal came from within the country and not from the international community. The passage of the deal, despite the stiff resistance from the Left in India, also marks a watershed of sorts in the political landscape of the country and will have implications well into the future.
The origins of India’s nuclear programme go back to the early months of the independent republic. In fact, Jawaharlal Nehru had indicated, as early as June 1946, that the soon to be independent republic would not shy away from using “the atomic force” to “defend herself”. Like with much of India’s foreign and economic policy, India’s decision makers first knocked on the doors of the Western powers, primarily the USA, for help in developing India’s nuclear research and industry. In fact, the first nuclear reactor in India was built with US and Canadian support. It was only after the clear shift of the NATO powers towards Pakistan as their preferred strategic and military ally in South Asia did India policy makers try to get Russian (Soviet) support and work out a policy of relative non-alignment.
The first and early influences on the development of India’s nuclear programme were the war with China and its subsequent overt nuclearisation. This war jolted India’s leadership to the realisation that socialist countries too could wage aggressive nationalist wars for territorial gains and when China went nuclear a few years later, it further underlined the scale of difference in military powers between these two countries. As a caveat it would be necessary to point out that India’s ruling establishment and nationlist opinion was no less aggressively nationalist than the Chinese but Chinese soldiers coming deep into Indian territory over land disputes was a worldview altering event for the Indians. It was this event which got the Americans to help the Indians in starting their nuclear weapons programme. It should not be forgotten that India’s nuclear weapon programme started with the help of Americans to counter the Chinese threat.
The second trigger for the full and final establishment of the Indian nuclear bomb was brazen display of nuclear bully power by the USA in 1971 when it sent it’s 7th Fleet into the Bay of Bengal and within minutes of hitting Indian cities with nuclear missiles, in a clear signal of the US’s support to Pakistan. I would not like to get into a discussion of the Bangladesh war itself, but this one event was equally decisive as far as Indian policy makers were concerned. Unlike now, when the left is ranged against India’s ‘official’ nuclear policy, in 1971 the overwhelming leftwing opinion had coalesced around the natioanlist indigenous bomb. If the humiliating defeat to China in the 1962 war spurred India to start serious work on nuclear bombs, the 1971 intrusion of the US 7th Fleet grounded it on a firm foundation and India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974. It must also be remembered that 1971 was the year that the UK ceded the island of Diego Garcia in the India Ocean to the US to build one of its largest military bases.
It was in this context that the Indian State exploded its first nuclear bomb and refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was also this context which propelled India’s indigenous nuclear research. From its origins, India’s nuclear programme has been a military one with promises of inexpensive nuclear power being the proverbial burqa used to hide its real motivations. Even after this much touted nuclear deal, optimal calculations state that nuclear power will provide only six to nine per cent of India’s electricity needs. In this India has not been unique and merely followed global patterns of using the trojan horse of cheap nuclear electricity to push in nuclear weapons capabilities. Building a bomb is not the proverbial rocket science and as the experience of North Korea, Pakistan, Libya and Iran (?) show, once a country gets nuclear technology its easy to build bombs. Globally, nuclear power has been, without exception, the by-product of nuclear research and industry and remains, at best, a highly dangerous and expensive way to run our air conditioners and televisions.
Pakistan’s military threat has been a minor, and relatively recent, input into the matrix of justifications for India’s nuclear programme. In fact, among a significant section of India’s power elite, Pakistan’s nuclear threat is seen merely as a subset of the nuclear / military threat from China. One of India’s leading nuclear policy makers once publically berated the BJP-led NDA Government for the manner in which it justified the nuclear explosions of 1998 and thereby turned India’s long term strategic nuclear weapons programme into a Pakistan centric one. She took great pains to explain how and why India’s nuclear programme was an effort to build strategic space for the Nation-State.
Today the global context is widely different from what it was when India’s nuclear programme was launched and grounded. Instead of a bipolar world, we are today living in a world seamlessly ruled by international finance capital which is managed by a set of bickering (but never fighting) imperialist countries. India is among the few countries of the world which are now poised to enter this charmed circle of dominant economies, or what we Marxists call, imperialist countries. It is not yet an imperialist country. Whether it finally succeeds or not in transforming itself into a fully paid member of the imperialist club is as yet an unknown event in the future, but the trend is unmistakable and clear. Along with China it is the forerunner for full membership of the G-8, the elite club of imperialist States in the world.
Seen in this context, the India-US nuclear deal is not about making India into a subordinate ally of the USA. All countries in the world, with the brave exceptions of Cuba and Venezuela, are subordinate allies of the USA today in as much as they are part of the global financial system. The fight, unfortunately, has been reduced to merely one over degree of subordination. But there is no indication that this deal would turn the Indian State into what the Pakistan State has been to the US. The size and scope of the Indian economy and the strength of India’s industrialist-agriculturalist ruling class combine make it difficult for it to be so subdued. The manner in which India stood up to the combined might of the EU, USA and countries like Brazil during the recent Doha round negotiations of the WTO point to the fact that such banana-republic scenarios are facile and unwarranted.
In the opinion of this columnist, the main reason for the global complicity in support of the India-US nuclear deal is that India remains the only ‘dominant’ economy in the world today which is outside the legal framework of the NPT. This imposes significant obstacles to the fuller integration of India into the global economy and power structures through denial of technology and legal obstacles to corporate and scientific collaborations between Indian entities and global players. You cannot have a situation where an ‘emergent superpower’ is kept outside the global legal system of sharing power and technology. It is for this reason that India gets preferred treatment of being offered an agreement outside the NPT which even that loyal lapdog of the USA – Israel – has not managed to wrangle. And it is for this reason that Pakistan will not ever be offered anything remotely similar by the US or the global community.
Fairy tales about how this nuclear deal will solve India’s energy crisis or how it will provide electricity to poor households are merely that! This nuclear deal is not about electricity but about allowing India to develop an independent and credible nuclear arsenal which can be of use to maintain the stability of the global system. The Orwellian use of “civilian” to refer to this nuclear deal should not fool any credible observer of the openly military and strategic basis of the deal. Today India’s nuclear missiles can reach not only the east coast of China but equally importantly, they can hit Diego Garcia, the Persian Gulf, the Suez canal and the straits of Malacca. India is today well poised to take over the role of the global gendarme of the Indian Ocean and the world community (aka the imperialist club) is welcoming its new role with open arms.
It is here that the left opposition to this deal has got it wrong. By founding their opposition on the specious grounds of India’s ‘national interest’, the left has scored an own goal. It was a battle lost even before it was engaged since it is difficult to defend the argument that the Indian State has become subordinate to the United States or other imperialist powers. If anything, this nuclear deal is unprecedented for the favours it grants India. Few countries in the world have got anything remotely similar. If India has truly become a lackey of the US, then the recent Indian stand resisting the combined pressure of the Americans, the Europeans and third world allies like Brazil, on agricultural subsidies in the WTO would be inexplicable. The existence of the Farkhor Air base would be inexplicable as would the US $ 1.2 billion Indian aid to Afghanistan which is not aligned to Western / NATO aid efforts in that country. India remains less subordinate to the US and global imperialism than NATO member states like Germany, France and Britain.
The real danger of this nuclear deal is not that it makes India a subordinate ally but that it formally recognises India as a legal nuclear weapons’ State and provides the platform for a closer integration of the Indian Nation-State and its economy with the global economy and power structure. The danger is that India is turning into an imperialist State and being welcomed with open arms into that despicable club of global parasites and plunderers. This simple truth is evident to almost all leftists outside India who have pitched their opposition to the India-US nuclear deal on the issues of non-proliferation and denuclearisation. By opposing this nuclear deal on the grounds of national interest, the left in India stands in danger of becoming left-nationalists and losing their internationalist and humanist moorings. It is no mere accident that the scientists opposing the nuclear deal from the national interest standpoint were equally at ease with the fascist-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as they were with the communist parties.
It needs some introspection among us leftists as to why India’s missile tests, which are clearly meant for nuclear weapons do not get criticised by the left parties. Globally the left has been in the forefront of opposing the militarisation and nuclearisation of their own governments and States; why has India and its communist party been an exception? Is this also a symptom of the nationalisation of the left? Why is it that the establishment of an Indian military base at Farkhor in Tajikistan with upto 14 MiG-29s and 500 military personnel has not got any comment from the left? In fact the history of this air base is itself an example of how specious the supposed subordinate ally argument is. Farkhor used to be a Soviet era air base which was subsequently taken over by the Tajik Government which, after 2001’s NATO foray into Central Asia, was almost handing over to the USA. The Russians intervened, removed the Americans and got the Tajik’s to offer this air base to India on the promise that India will base Russian equipment there. For this deal, India gave “aid” of US $ 5 million to Tajikistan, which was but a feebly veiled bribe to its corrupt president. Farkhor is two kilometres from the Afghanistan border and a shorter flying time to Islamabad than from the Ambala air base of the India Air Force. It is shocking that there has been not one word on this from the left in India. Is it again national interest which stops the left in India from expressing opposition to India’s expansion of military might? Where will this defence of national interest end? Or are their no limits to defending national interest? Addressing and answering these and similar questions will define the very nature and trajectory of the left movement in India. Even if we don’t speak, history is not going to remain silent.
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A shorter version and different version of this will be published in The Post, on Wednesday, 6 August, 2008.
A somewhat different version of this argument, drawing on stuff from my earlier article on nationalism, was published in the Economic and Political Weekly in their 27 September, 2008 edition.