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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 40

India and the US in ’nuclear deal’ - The Tribal and the Moneylender

Wednesday 26 September 2007, by Jean Dreze


Those who applaud India’s “nuclear deal” with the United States would do well to read Gopinath Mohanty’s beautiful novel Paraja, where hapless tribals often make “deals” with the local sahukar (moneylender), who has overwhelming power over them. For instance, young men go to the sahukar when they are in dire need of money to get married (bride-price was customary among the Parajas of Orissa), and agree to work as bonded labourers until the money is repaid. But the sahukar keeps shifting the goalpost: just as the tribals think that they are about to regain their freedom, he fiddles the accounts and tells them that more is due. There is nothing they can do. The “deal” is whatever the sahukar decides.

Another recurring insight is that solidarity among the sahukar’s victims is fragile as an egg. Off and on, the tribals resolve to help each other out of his clutches, but it takes little effort for the sahukar to defeat their plans. For instance, at one point Sukru Jani, the central character in the novel, takes the sahukar to court. His friends and neighbours readily agree to act as witnesses, but later turn hostile as the sahukar wields both the carrot and the stick. The old adage “divide and rule” is alive and well.

No doubt those who bask in India’s status as a budding “superpower” would be hurt to see it compared with Mohanty’s helpless tribals. But it is hard to deny that the US has tremendous power in the world today and behaves in many ways like the sahukar of the novel. For one thing, the US Government makes short shrift of international treaties whenever they stop serving its own designs. In fact, in the very process of signing the nuclear deal with India, the US is undermining another “deal”, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As the Financial Times Bureau Chief, Edward Luce, who can hardly be accused of belonging to the loony Left, put it in a recent article:
For India’s sake, the US has driven a coach and horses through an international treaty that is a centerpiece of its foreign policy.

It is touching to hear that the US is doing this “for India’s sake”, and I leave it to the reader to speculate on the real motives. Be that as it may, the point is that the US is wrecking one deal to sign another. What, then, is the status of the new one?

Initial Assurances Broken

Further, the assurances initially given to India in the context of this “nuclear deal” have already been broken through the Hyde Act. And for good measure, the US President went on to reassure India that this Act was “not binding” [sic], and that he would just treat it as “advice”. It seems that the US President (the world’s super-sahukar) considers himself above the law, and presumably above international treaties—including the “nuclear deal”—as well. The situation was aptly summed a few years ago by President George Bush Sr: “What we say goes.”

Instead of seeing the writing on the wall, the Indian Government deludes itself and the public. According to the External Affairs Minister, the Hyde Act is “not binding on India”. This is beside the point, since this Act places no obligations on the Indian Government. The issue is whether the Act is binding on the US Government. The External Affairs Minister seems to endorse the view that it is not. But if the Hyde Act is not binding, then the nuclear deal is not binding either, since the Hyde Act is the legislation that makes this agreement permissible under US law. And indeed, it is quite correct to say that the deal is not binding but we are not supposed to know it!

In short, the credibility of this “nuclear deal” is far from clear. Indeed, in the process of signing this agreement with India, the US Government is not only wrecking the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also violating UN Security Resolution 1172 and flouting the directives of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. No doubt it will also shift the goalposts of the nuclear deal whenever required. To say that the deal is “symmetric and reciprocal”, as its advocates have claimed, is wishful thinking. It amounts to turning a blind eye to the overwhelming power of the US vis-à-vis India.

All this is a matter of common sense, as is the fact that the nuclear deal is part of an effort to draw India into a strategic alliance geared to US interests. Perhaps the reason why this simple message is falling on deaf ears in the corridors of power is that it comes from the Left parties. Interestingly, however, the US Government and its advisers are saying much the same thing. To illustrate, according to Ashley Tellis (an influential US strategic expert and former RAND Corporation analyst), “accommodating India on the issue of nuclear cooperation” would “buttress its potential utility as a hedge against a rising China” and “encourage it to pursue economic and strategic policies aligned with US interests”, helping to “shape the Asian environment in a way that suits our interests”. Prakash Karat could not have put it more clearly.

Mohanty’s novel ends on a dramatic note: pushed to the wall, Sukru Jani crashes his axe on the sahukar’s skull and then surrenders to the police. There ends—for better or worse—the scope for parallels with international politics.

(Courtesy : The Hindu)

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