On the Record

Delay on U.S.-Indian Nuclear Accord Only a ‘Hiccup’ On Road to Stronger Ties

Bruce Riedel

CFR: After months of back and forth on a nuclear agreement between the United States and India, it came as a bit of a surprise when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told President Bush that because of political problems in his parliament, he’s going to have to put off final action on this agreement. Does this mean the agreement is dead?

RIEDEL: I don’t think it’s dead, but it’s going into hibernation, or into long-term diplomatic cold storage. It will be difficult—not impossible, but difficult—for the Indian government to push this forward. It would take a decision to risk the unity of the coalition and, particularly, to alienate the Communist parties. At this point it looks like the decision of the prime minister and the Congress Party is to stay in power for as long as possible and to appease the Communists on this issue and not force a showdown in the parliament.

CFR: India has had a long tradition of Communist parties. For many Americans, with the fall of Communism in Europe nearly twenty years ago, there has been an assumption that Communism had died out. Obviously it has not died out in China. But what’s the situation with the party in India? Is it a true, Soviet-type Communist party?

RIEDEL: No, in fact there’s more than one Communist party. There’s a coalition of Communist parties. These are not old-fashioned, Cold-War-era Communists. They are in many ways like the current-day Chinese Communists: They welcome foreign investment; they want to work with the private sector; but they also have a strong aversion to seeing India move into a very close strategic partnership with the United States. The aversion to a close relationship with the United States, much more than the details of the nuclear agreement, is what’s pushing the Communists to take a tough line here.

Most Indians welcome strong relationships with the United States, but for the extreme left in India, and that’s the Communists, it means breaking with sixty years of ideology and history, and they’re just extremely reluctant to do that.

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