August 5, 2008BJPForeign Affairsforeign policyIndiamedianuclear powerSecuritystrategic affairsUnited States

BJP is tying itself in knots

…and making avoidable mistakes

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The worst type of errors are the unforced ones. And the BJPs leaders are making them. Sushma Swaraj’s ill-considered accusations gave pause to anyone who thought that the BJP might take internal security a little more seriously than the UPA. And it was followed by Manvendra Singh’s op-ed, of all places in The Hindu, that demonstrates the bind the party has gotten itself in in view of its partisan opposition to the nuclear deal. It is all the more surprising that such an article should come from Mr Singh, who is considered one of those rare politicians who have a good grasp of geopolitical and national security issues.

It is hard to understand why Mr Singh should dismiss India’s sense of confidence because it has come from an access to markets, from an acquired sense of belonging” and not from earning the seat or the role”. To the extent that this is true, it confirms the view that India’s foreign policy is lagging behind its actual geopolitical status. And that the nation and the economy have left the political class behind.

It is also hard to understand why Mr Singh should worry about some fairly simple and laudable foreign policy intransigents” that we have jettisoned. He cites From its stated position of a multi-polar world, India is now a practitioner of uni-polar politics.” He doesn’t support this assertion with any argument, other than contend that India would require Washington’s approvals to import South African, Russian, French or Japanese civilian power reactors. To the extent that this is true, isn’t it better to have a reactor—albeit one that comes with strings—than no reactor at all? Now, it would perhaps be cause for worry if these reactors accounted for a huge fraction of India’s energy supply, but he himself contends that at 40GW they won’t amount to more than 1 single-digit percent of India’s energy mix in 40 years. Surely, needing Washington’s approval for a mere 1 single-digit percent of India’s energy requirements isn’t something to lose sleep over?

Given its significance for party politics, it is understandable that Mr Singh should seek to justify his party’s position on the deal. But what is more worrisome is the underlying thinking that comes through in the op-ed.

The entire thrust of the deal is to secure for India technology from global civilian nuclear vendors. All of it depends on import. And how imports could make the country more secure is an oxymoron of the most perplexing kind. The only route India has to greater energy security is by implementing efficiency standards and building up on its abundant renewable resources…

What it needs is a re-working of the development vision for the country. Mega-projects and other big-ticket items are politics of the 20th century. India is a country that still refuses to urbanise at the global pace. All that it requires is to implement the panchayat level of thinking. Encourage, and allow, the development of renewable energy projects that are community-based, and sustained. Plan India, and implement village. This is the future, and there are ample examples of its success around the world. But it requires a change of mindset, shifting of gears, from Delhi to the districts. It is there that politics is played out, and there that energy security is available aplenty. [The Hindu]Here Mr Singh is tossing out some simple and laudable intransigents of his own. The path to energy security—ask anyone in India’s nuclear power establishment—is the exploitation of abundant thorium resources. Some criticise Homi Bhabha’s vision as a chimera because it has proven so elusive. Yet the stakes are high enough not to abandon the project.

Now investment in renewable energy is a good idea. But just because India doesn’t have to import wind, water and sunlight it does not follow that renewable energy will not depend on imports—unless Mr Singh believes that all that technology will be developed and manufactured in India.

That brings us to his most perplexing statement: his contention that imports don’t make the country more secure. Unless Mr Singh is arguing that renewable energy will be sufficient to sustain 8 to 10 percent economic growth over the next two decades, India will have to import fuel: oil, natural gas, coal or uranium. Given this situation, India’s energy security lies in diversity: multiple sources of fuel from multiple countries such that no single source or country is large enough to cause trouble. That’s where nuclear power makes sense. Until the time thorium or renewables take us to the promised land, every kilowatt of nuclear power reduces India’s dependence on oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf.

Decentralised power may be the answer for towns and bigger villages (see Reuben Abraham & Atanu Dey’s piece in the August 2007 issue of Pragati). India’s pace of urbanisation might be slower than China’s, but 300 million people live in cities today. This number is expected to increase to 900 million (55 percent of the population) by 2050. Empowering them will need more than panchayat thinking.

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