It's a good time to be an Indian diplomat anywhere, but it's particularly a good time to be an Indian diplomat here.
B.S. Prakash, India's Consul General in San Francisco, told an audience of students and scholars at UCLA that the recent India-U.S. nuclear deal marks a shift in Indo-U.S. relations in a March 13, 2006, talk sponsored by the UCLA Center for India and South Asia. On March 14, Prakash joined India's Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen, and wife Kalpana Sen in meetings with several UCLA professors and UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale.
"The crux of the nuclear deal, really, is that an India which is growing by 8 percent has huge energy needs, and we have very, very limited options," said Prakash at the public talk. "The key to understanding this issue is to really look at India's energy needs and not so much on India's weapons program, on which there has been an excessive focus."
Prakash, who has a degree in physics, argued that India's tremendous growth is matched by tremendous energy needs. In the next twenty to thirty years, India will become a major economic force in Asia, along with China and Japan, he said.
On a visit to India in early March, President George Bush announced a bilateral deal giving India access to U.S. nuclear technology and allowing India to expand its nuclear programs. In exchange, India will allow international inspections of 14 of its 22 reactors, while retaining the right to decide whether to open new reactors to inspection or not. Critics say the deal, which must be ratified by the U.S. Congress to take effect, undermines the United States' ability to negotiate with states such as Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan that have or may be seeking nuclear weapons, and reverses a longstanding U.S. policy of making nuclear agreements only with nations that have signed the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Prakash said, however, that India should be held to a different standard. India has invested in nuclear energy over a long period of time and developed "a mastery over the nuclear fuel cycle indigenously." India's track record of development and "impeccable record of nonproliferation" make its case unique, he said.
Several audience members questioned what the United States has to gain from this deal. "Is there anything in particular that the U.S. government has asked of India?" asked one student. "Any nuclear information, whether it's military or otherwise, is very coveted."
The United States can benefit from an Indian economy that has strong sources of energy, Prakash said. Furthermore, it benefits from equilibrium in Asia, and India is moving into a position to compete with China and Japan. Still, he said, the deal "is not going to solve India's energy problems—we will continue to need all the other sources as well. But it is our hope that it will be a major chunk, that it will make a difference."
About 3 percent of India's electricity is supplied by nuclear energy, an amount expected to grow to 25 percent by 2050.
Prakash said that India and United States are natural allies that value diversity and oppose extremism. Both countries are confident in globalization: "To be plugged into the world, to be integrated, to be global is a good thing."
"It's an oft-repeated cliché to say that the relationship between the U.S. and India is a relationship between the most powerful democracy and world's largest democracy...It's a cliché but it is true as well." Strained during the Cold War because of India's perceived Soviet ties, Indo-U.S.relations are warmer, especially following Bush's two-day visit to India, Prakash said. He argued that the "much maligned non-aligned" of the Cold War were misunderstood.
"The U.S. said, most of the time, 'Either you are with us, or you are against us.' This is a formulation which we didn't understand, we don't understand even now. … If you're not with us, well, you're independent," said Prakash (right).
The end of Cold War spurred a change in the "estranged" Indo-U.S. relationship, Prakash said. "This whole question of every issue being seen through the prism of Cold War politics just disappeared," he explained. India's rapid economic growth and interest in trade and technology also helped to better relations.
Ironically, Prakash said, Americans and Indians sometimes diverge personally because of similar natures: "Both Americans and Indians are very preachy people. Not only do we differ, we also revel in expounding those differences." While personalities have not changed, cultural exchange has grown immensely. The 2000 U.S. Census says that 1.7 million people in the United States identify themselves as first- or second-generation Indians.
The Indian press, however, has been critical of U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the war in Iraq and visa restrictions. "There is a streak of anti-Americanism in some parts of the Indian establishment. It's in the academics, it's in the media, it's in what we call the 'chattering classes,'" Prakash said. He attributed this animosity to Indians' argumentative culture and said that it is "sometimes excessive, sometimes well-deserved." Prakash himself has written regularly for Rediff.com since taking up his post in San Francisco in February 2005.
"It's a good time to be an Indian diplomat anywhere, but it's particularly a good time to be an Indian diplomat here," Prakash said. Questions about conflict in Kashmir, Khalistanis in Punjab, and Indo-Pakistani relations are "on the back burner." More often, Prakash explained, he finds himself addressing outsourcing and technology, as well as India's nuclear program.