Manmohan Singh Proposes, Modi Disposes? Not Really As the US Senate Comes in the Way
NEW DELHI: Neither mention each other, but the two Prime Ministers of India---former and current---have a strong affection for the United States in common. This despite the fact that the ruling party today had strongly opposed Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he worked hard to not just strengthen ties with the US but push it into an unequal strategic embrace through the civilian nuclear agreement.
The BJP is now silent, as is the RSS that has been often vocal against the US in the past, with PM Narendra Modi steering the ship of foreign policy. And this, judging from his recent visit to Washington, is riding the high seas of diplomacy with the US as its destination. To the point where even the efforts made by the UPA government to keep China on an even keel have been dispensed with in favour of the burgeoning relations with the US that gives PM Modi eyeballs and acceptability.
Common to both has been now foreign secretary Jaishankar who was also Singh’s blue eyed official to pursue the nuclear deal against all opposition at home. Now he is on firm territory again, having been brought in as the foreign secretary suddenly just days before his retirement by PM Modi. Jaishankar steered the government through the nuclear deal in Parliament and outside, with the BJP leaders coordinating with the Left in Parliament to oppose the agreement that would take India-US relations to another level.
Former media advisor to then PM Manmohan Singh Sanjaya Baru has just noted and applauded the similarities in an article with: “In my book, The Accidental Prime Minister (2014), I named Singh’s foreign policy approach as the ‘Manmohan Doctrine’. What we now have is a “Man-Modi Doctrine”. Both Indian PMs have overcome “the hesitations of history”. It is time their critics also did. India and the US have shared interests and shared values. It is in India’s long-term economic and security interests that it has a strategic partnership with the US now. Ditto-ditto for the US. A more prosperous, stable, secure and open India is in the interests of all – including China!”
Singh more diffident than Modi on most issues, was adamant to get the nuclear deal through. At a time when the Congress president Sonia Gandhi felt the pressure from within the party itself. Singh dug in his heels and on at least two occasions threatened to resign if the party backed off from what had by then become a personal prestige point for him. Eventually the Left pulled out support, and in his second term Singh lost the support of his party and was unable to take it forward because of the Nuclear Liability Law that was Parliament’s brake on a relationship for which a national consensus seemed to be missing.
The carrot dangled before India by the US was membership of the UN Security Council that incidentally is not heard much of now, and of course of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In return India was expected to sign the deal with the enabling Hyde Act under which it was asked to follow a foreign policy ‘congruent’ to that of the US. The Nuclear Liability bill passed by Parliament placing the onus of leakage in a nuclear reactor, on the supplier put paid to Singh’s efforts with the US going into a visible sulk. In fact amongst his first assignments when Jaishankar took over as US Ambassador was to assuage sentiments in Washington through concerted meetings and interactions.
Singh lapsed into silence on this issue towards the end of his second term in office, conceding defeat after religiously pursuing efforts---started by his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee---to take India-US relations to exemplary levels. And PM Modi, contrary to expectations, stepped in with more enthusiasm and zeal, outdoing his predecessor in visits and photo-ops.
Now that the decibels are down, and the dust has settled on the BJP generated media hype over PM Modi’s visit to Washington it is time to look at the fine print that is becoming louder every day. What was supposed to have been achieved seems to be now the opposite, with the US Senate stepping in to deny India the ‘special status’ as a “global strategic and defence partner” that the joint agreement between President Barack Obama and PM Modi was said to have achieved just last week.
New Delhi has of course, sought to play this down but the fact remains that the US has not accepted an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA-17) moved by Republican Senator John McCain. This, if passed, would have recognised India as a global strategic and defence partner. NDAA per se was passed by the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 85-13 but some key amendments, including SA 4618 recognising this special status for India, were rejected.
Significantly, this sets aside the joint agreement between President Obama and PM Modi. And news from Washington now seems to suggest that even the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that was projected as a done deal, might face some difficulty. Business Line has quoted a top US official as saying, “the US government has raised concerns over the final implementation of the agreement. This is because to fully operationalise the LEMOA, both the governments would need to link it with transfer of technology.”
“It is not clear that all levels of the Indian government understand that this linkage, connecting technology to military capabilities, are in the interest of both countries.
“It is a pre-requisite to the most advanced defence technology cooperation with the US,” said Ben Schwartz, Director (Aerospace and Defence), US-India Business Council is quoted as saying, expressing doubts that the two sides were on the same page on this issue. He said that clarity was needed on several issues to do with LEMOA even though PM Modi had “demonstrated its willingness to risk short-term domestic political pressure, including by those who misconstrue the agreement as a concession that weakens Indian sovereignty, in order to reap longer term benefits of defence cooperation with the US.”
New Delhi has of course played down the US Senate decision to reject the specific amendment with Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup maintaining, ““We have seen media reports about non-inclusion of an India-related amendment in the consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by the US Senate.
The preparation of NDAA in the US Congress involves approval of different versions in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and their reconciliation to evolve a single consensual text, which is again put to vote in both chambers.
“The 2017 NDAA is in the process of its formulation and it would be premature to speculate about its final content.”
He further added, “this was an executive decision and already announced in the India-US Joint Statement of June 7. A number of Senators and Congressmen have moved proposals that only seek to reinforce this decision of the US Government.
“It reflects the bipartisan support in the US Congress for stronger defence cooperation between India and the US.”
Meanwhile human rights in India continue to be a major issue in the US with the American media carrying reports with the “hope” that PM Modi would refer to these issues of concern during his visit to Washington. The Citizen reported extensively on the statements of US Senators on the eve of the visit: