The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US rush to gauge BJP mood

New Delhi, April 30: After much introspection and internal debate, the BJP has finally taken an unambiguous stand: it is to vigorously oppose the Indo-US nuclear deal in its present form.

Alarmed at the prospect that growing opposition within the US Congress to the July 18, 2005, deal will now be compounded by a rejection of the pact by India’s main Opposition party, American heavyweights just outside the Bush administration ' who have huge influence on the White House ' are flying into New Delhi to assess the new mood in the BJP and to report back to Washington.

Robert Blackwill, former US ambassador to India, former White House aide and a “guru” to President George W. Bush on foreign policy, spent several hours with Jaswant Singh, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, on Friday night over dinner on a flying visit to New Delhi to gauge the situation.

Blackwill, who is now a lobbyist for the Indian government, is the prime strategist in Washington directing the difficult process of congressional approval for the nuclear agreement between Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Richard Haas, the influential president of the Council on Foreign Relations and director of policy planning in the US state department during Bush’s first presidential term, similarly fixed up a meeting with the BJP leader for Thursday during a stopover in New Delhi, but it was aborted by a change in Haas’s travel plans.

Jaswant Singh wrote a nine-page letter to Manmohan Singh on April 14, giving a final chance to the UPA regime to clear the BJP’s doubts about the deal, but the Prime Minister has been unable to reply to his queries though a fortnight has elapsed since the communication changed hands.

The Prime Minister’s inability to clear specific doubts in the minds of BJP leaders epitomises the current confusion in both Washington and Delhi about the spin-off from the deal and follow-up steps to which there is growing opposition in both countries.

Following the letter, the BJP’s top leadership last week held discussions here with key members of the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), the party’s influential pressure group in the US, which has the widest Indian-American network in the US and contacts with Congressmen.

Even as the BJP was crystallising its stand on the deal, some OFBJP leaders who were in India for the talks expressed their inability to work for congressional approval of the deal as the Indian embassy in Washington has excluded them from the efforts to secure such approval.

Supporters of the BJP in the US were the only major group that was pointedly kept out of a lunch at Washington’s Cosmos Club last month and a follow-up briefing by the embassy the following day as part of finalising Indian-American strategy to broaden support in the US for the bilateral nuclear agreement.

Apart from the BJP’s opposition to bringing in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty through the backdoor as part of the nuclear deal, the party’s opinion appears to have crystallised against the agreement for the following reasons.

Jaswant Singh wrote to Manmohan Singh that after all the “significant erosion in our strategic space, an abandoning of our autonomy of action and 90 per cent of our nuclear plants for an intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regime”, India would meet merely 8 per cent of its energy requirements, that too in two decades.

The BJP believes, therefore, that the deal is simply not worth all the sacrifices that are demanded of India.

Jaswant Singh wrote that Indians are learning about various strings attached to the deal from US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and hearings in the US Congress, an example being the ongoing Indo-US talks on the global Proliferation Security Initiative.

“The government should keep the country informed rather than our learning of such developments from the US,” he told Manmohan Singh.

Jaswant Singh suspected that opaque commitments made by the UPA government to Washington to secure the deal will lead to curbs on India’s missile development and a nuclear fuel cap: the BJP is opposed to both.

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