U.S.-India Nuclear Deal Follies

It looks like William Burns has pulled double duty, because according to this report from The Times of India, he’s stopping over in Vienna for today’s IAEA briefing on the U.S.-India nuclear deal before continuing on to Geneva for tomorrow’s talks on the Iranian nuclear program. Meanwhile, The Hindu reports that one of India’s opposition parties has demanded that PM Manmohan Singh promise to withdraw the safeguard agreement from the IAEA should his government lose next week’s confidence vote. The demand comes in the wake of rumors that Singh plans to forge ahead with the deal even if next week’s vote forces new parliamentary elections, leaving him without a working majority.

That possibility is looking all the more possible as dissension spreads within one of Singh’s crucial coalition partners, the SP. According to the Hindustan Times, fewer than half of the party’s 39 MP’s showed up at a whip meeting, although the reasons varied:

While MPs Ateeq Ahmed and Afzal Ansari are in jail, Raj Babbar and Beni Prasad Verma have been suspended from the party.

Munawwar Hasan is a known rebel, who has announced that he would vote against the motion. Same is the case with Rajnarain Budholiya, MP from Hamiripur, and Jai Prakash, who represents Mohanlalganj.

According to the Times of London (via today’s WPR Media Roundup), Singh is planning to free the jailed SP MP’s, as well as others (including four convicted murderers), and has been accused by an opposition MP of engaging in a massive vote-buying operation to secure his majority. With the price for a yes vote allegedly at £3 million, Indian politics is looking like a pretty lucrative career path.

Seriously, though, I’m having a tough time coming down on one side or the other regarding the deal itself, because I find the arguments for it — the value of strategic partnership with India — and against it — the danger of undermining the NPT — are both pretty compelling. But it’s hard to see how the deal can be sold with any credibility to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the U.S. Congress (both of whom still have to sign off on it) if it’s being snuck out the back door in New Delhi like a piece of stolen merchandise.