When the NSG “adjusted its guidelines” for India on Saturday, after 76 hours of high drama, it marked a delicious irony. It came into being 34 years ago as a response to India’s 1974 Pokharan test and yet, on Saturday, the NSG was bending its rules to accommodate India’s nuclear ambitions.
The NSG’s approval was also Manmohan Singh’s moment. The Prime Minister, who had quietly worked out the architecture of the Indo-US nuclear deal with US President George Bush, made history on Saturday by salvaging the agreement, while staving off the threat to his government and political career.
Singh described the NSG waiver as a “forward-looking and momentous decision”. Bush praised Singh for his “strong leadership” in ensuring success at Vienna. Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon said the waiver gives India access to full civilian nuclear cooperation with the rest of the world. The text of the waiver is yet to be made public.
The deal will not just give India access to nuclear fissile material and technology to mount a credible nuclear energy programme, it will also open up certain key high-tech industries such as pharma, IT, space and defence.
But the implications go much beyond energy and technology. In strategic terms, it now brings India closer to the US and several key European countries. At the same time, it might bring a certain frostiness to India’s relations with China as expected after Beijing’s sudden objections in Vienna to the waiver. Even so, Beijing formally welcomed New Delhi to the nuclear club after the NSG finally nodded it through.
The NSG’s exception for India did not come easily but happened because of recognition for India as an emerging power with a stable democratic system, growing market economy and business appeal. India’s earlier unilateral moratorium to nuclear testing — made by the Vajpayee government and cited by foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday morning — helped winning over the last naysayers.