Free Press Journal

Break protocol, but remember we have unfinished nuclear business


Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama shake hands after briefing the media in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Tuesday. PTI Photo by Vijay Verma(PTI Photo)

Mumbai: The thumb rule with Prime Minister Narender Modi seems to be that there is no thumb rule. Deviating from protocol, he was there on the tarmac at the Palam Airport to personally to greet president Barack Obama. It must have been a pleasant surprise for the Obamas, but it was not a very pleasant sight to see Modi stranded on the red carpet as Obama drove off in his armoured limousine. The US secret service apparently does not believe in breaking protocols: reciprocity demanded that they drove off together in their respective cars, if not together in the armoured limousine.

Sure, Modi had extended a personal invitation to Obama which the latter bent backwards to accept. But let us not delude ourselves that Obama, free from the trappings of power as a lame duck president, in the slog overs, is more keen on leaving his imprint on history and less moved by pragmatic considerations.  The President is here to address his unfinished nuclear business and we Indians, too, need to keep our sanity intact and look beyond ceremony. It is here that the personal chemistry of the two leaders ought to come into play. If this visit does not yield the nuclear dividend, the Ministry of External Affairs groundsmen can spend the ensuing week disposing of the hordes of marigold garlands they had deposited at the doorstep of the presidential suite in Hotel Maurya.

The MEA is looking at the visit as a culmination of the ‘quality invigoration’ of ties, but honestly the two leaders have by now had enough of quality time and focussing on common pursuits. Now, they need to find a solution to the prickly nuclear issue and that too within the four walls of the Indian nuclear liability law. Only an agreement would take the visit beyond pageantry. There have already been four meetings of the nuclear contact group in London and Geneva: hopefully, the Delhi meeting would be the last in the quest of the nuclear power grail.

A part of the problem is that the BJP cannot now tinker with the nuclear liability law that they had themselves endorsed in Parliament, albeit with riders. According to an expert, one solution is to call suppliers vendors and thereby avoid the liabilities of suppliers, but whether this can cross the judicial threshold remains to be seen. As our expert points out, the significance of breaking the stalemate is that it will open the doors for other doubting nuclear-power nations, including Japan, for signing a similar agreement with India. So, will there be a nuclear waltz between Obama and Modi? Or will the Indian PM be left stranded on the red carpet?