New Delhi: The tenth anniversary of the Indo-US nuclear deal has passed by without much celebration in India. Perhaps celebrations are not very much in order. It is not the same as victory in war. It is not Independence Day or Republic Day. The strengthening of bilateral ties and movements into new areas may be cherished without loud proclamations. With these qualifications, perhaps there is something to the Indo-US nuclear deal which makes it a milestone in India’s emergence as a midsized power.

It is fair to say that the nuclear deal did not turn out as the George W. Bush administration originally conceived it. Its real designs were never transparent but they had some link to the interventionist nature of the Bush regime. The United States had gone into Afghanistan and leaving the job unfinished intervened to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It had two major interventions proceeding simultaneously and neither successful. Britain backed the fraught enterprise whilst France and the rest of Western Europe sulked.

The United States and India had grown closer during A. B. Vajpayee’s prime ministry and it was not exceptional that America would move further along that plane. The nuclear deal was in the works during Vajpayee’s time but the decisive moves came when Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush were in office. The initiative came from the United States and the Bush administration did all the heavy lifting. It was not in Manmohan Singh’s nature to be bold and India was a lightweight to have its way with a superpower.

At the most initial stages of the nuclear deal, there was a hint that it was directed against China. India and the United States denied this. But the Chinese were suspicious and alarmed. From that flowed all their future opposition to the deal and they also made strenuous efforts to bring Pakistan on parity with India. Along the way, however, the Bush administration moved the goalposts. It is unlikely that President Bush took the lead. But the president cannot heedlessly oppose the departments. The State Department likely pushed for turning the nuclear screws on India and the White House went along.

This is the old US line against India since the first nuclear test of 1974 and reinforced by the second of 1998. India is not part of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) regime and seeks a status of nuclear power without. The status is not so important for its military nuclear capability which is established and irreversible as its need for uranium fuel and dual-use technology. When India did not wholeheartedly embrace the Bush regime’s interventionist philosophy despite an enabling and sympathetic defence framework agreement, the non-proliferation resolve of the United States kicked in.

In return for the nuclear deal, Indian reactors connected or suspected to be connected to the weapons’ programme were sought to be safeguarded. Their numbers kept increasing during negotiations. The aim was to “cap, rollback and eliminate” the country’s weapons’ programme. Officials belonging to the previous government say Manmohan Singh baulked at the US’s aims and underhand methods and communicated his intention to withdraw. The second US reason for the deal fell through. The final one was US reactor sales to India, which the strong Indian liability law, provoked by the Bhopal gas tragedy, has kept in abeyance.

The nuclear deal, therefore, is a story of shifting US goalposts. As originally intended by President Bush, it was not unfavourable to India. But the concessions demanded of India’s independent and non-aligned foreign policy could not be met. At which point, the United States returned to a more transactional posture in relation to the deal, linked to non-proliferation, reactor sales and so on, which struck against insuperable Indian opposition. The fact that Manmohan Singh was running ahead of his own government and party to secure the deal as a feather-in-the-cap also ultimately tainted it.

If the nuclear deal still got done, it was for one reason. It has given India access to foreign fuel. Indian power reactors are running to higher load factors than earlier. Did this happen by design or accident? Probably a mixture of the two. In the process of negotiations, the United States lost control of the deal. Whatever residual initiative was left with the Manmohan Singh government was overwhelmed by Parliament and public opinion. The second spinoff of the deal was gained access to US military technology and weapons.

All in all, the nuclear deal has worked to India’s advantage. If it must be celebrated, it ought to be for the Indian political and strategical establishment’s successful resistance to attempts to circumscribe the country’s deterrence. For the pains of this resistance, gains have flowed. India’s future membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group would cement its position as a nuclear power outside the NPT regime.

The nuclear deal indeed has led India to a happier place than intended.

But you don’t get lucky twice.

Editor’s Note: The film called Network was released almost forty years ago. Its relevance to America remains but it also provides a reference to how awful is the news television scene in this country. There is a dialogue between William Holden’s Max Schumacher, a fired news executive, and his successor and partner, Faye Dunaway’s Diana Christensen, which tells all there is to about the soulless news business:

Max Schumacher: You need me. You need me badly. Because I'm your last contact with human reality. I love you. And that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day.

Diana Christensen: [hesitatingly] Then, don't leave me.

Max Schumacher: It’s too late, Diana. There’s nothing left in you that I can live with. You’re one of Howard’s humanoids. If I stay with you, I’ll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. You’re television incarnate, Diana: Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You’re madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure, and pain... and love.