Indian vote clears path for landmark US nuclear deal
The Indian government on Tuesday night survived a knife-edge parliamentary vote of confidence, clearing the way for a landmark nuclear deal with the United States that marks the end of India’s international isolation as a rogue nuclear weapons state.
The vote came after weeks of political horse-trading saw allegations of MPs being offered million-pound bribes, others being assured of Cabinet posts and bizarre claims that some had been kidnapped.
Just hours before the vote, opposition MPs brought 10-million rupees in cash into Parliament to highlight the corruption claims, which will now be investigated by the parliamentary authorities.
In the end the vote was won with a majority of 19. This was partly owing to sick MPs being brought on hospital trolleys and others convicted for murder being freed from jail to vote. General elections can now take place in May, when the government’s five-year term expires.
The crisis was precipitated when the coalition government, led by the Congress party, lost the support of the 59 MPs of the communist parties.
Those parties said they could not back a government that announced it would go ahead with the long-stalled nuclear accord.
India exists outside of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China to keep atomic weapons. Under the treaty, other countries can have atomic energy for civilian use but not nuclear weapons.
In 2006, US President George Bush offered Delhi a nuclear pact, which allows India to keep its nuclear bombs and access nuclear technology and material in return for separating its military and civilian reactors and accepting international inspections. It is an exceptional offer. Brazil and South Africa had to give up their nuclear weapons programmes before export controls were lifted.
“This is a big move. It signals India coming out of international isolation and that it can be part of the community of nations. This is important for a country that aspires to be on the G8,” said K Subrahmanyam, a defence analyst.
Communist parties had blocked the deal, saying it would make India little more than a US pawn. On Tuesday night in a statement posted on his official website, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said that those parties “wanted a veto over every single step of [nuclear] negotiations, which is not acceptable. They wanted me to behave as their bonded slave.”
The deal has to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which monitors sales of nuclear technology. Most big powers have backed the deal, although Pakistan has raised objections.
The news of the vote was welcomed by the White House. US officials had been openly saying that time was running out for the deal. The US Congress also has to vote on the accord, which Bush had hailed as one of his major policy achievements.
Singh, an economist who was the architect of India’s economic reforms in the 1990s, has emerged as a skilful political operator after being installed by the Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, following India’s 2004 elections.
In the past two weeks, he not only saw off Bharatiya Janata, the main opposition Hindu nationalist party, but also outmanoeuvred Kumari Mayawati, the chief minister of India’s biggest state, Uttar Pradesh. She had convinced two minor parties that were expected to vote with the government to switch sides.
“He’s proven to be a risk-taker and it’s paid off. He believed in [the nuclear deal] intellectually, morally, philosophically and politically. That’s a good thing,” Shekar Gupta, the editor of the Indian Express newspaper, told New Delhi TV.
Seeds of a US nuclear rapprochement with India began in 2005 when Singh visited Washington. The Bush administration, determined to make history, announced it would reverse three decades of policies designed to deter nations from developing nuclear weapons—and aid India’s civilian nuclear power programme.
It was another year before Bush arrived in Delhi, laying out a deal that both countries signed. Since then the accord had been repeatedly blocked by India’s communists until Singh met Bush at the G8 summit this month in Japan and told him he would risk his government and make a last-ditch attempt to rescue it.
India now faces a tight timetable: the deal must make it past the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group in time to get it to the US Congress before Bush leaves office in January to guarantee the deal.—guardian.co.uk