Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hysteria Over Nukes and Nano

Drama, hysteria and hype have become the staple diet in India when it comes to contentious issues. So carried are we by propaganda that mere controversies become life and death issues for the nation. Two such controversies have hogged the headlines persistently for more than a year and reveal the absurd lengths to which analysts, pundits and the media can go to put forth their point of view. One is the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the other is the Nano project of the Tata group.

If you go by media reports, the very future of India’s energy security will be jeopardised forever if the nuclear deal doesn’t go through. There are dire warnings that Indian homes, offices and factories will remain dark and desolate without nuclear power. Similarly, if you go by media reports, a catastrophe worse than the famine of 1943 will strike Bengal if Ratan Tata gets fed up and shifts the Nano project to another one of the many states that are laying down the red carpet for him. In some media outlets, you will read alarming stories of how the plug will be pulled on Rs.800 billion worth of planned investments in Bengal if the Nano project is shifted from Singur.

It is ironical; but in both the cases, the media has officially branded as anti-national villains two sets of people and parties, both of whom predominantly belong to Bengal. In the case of the nuclear deal, the Left has been excoriated as a spoilsport that doesn’t want India to become prosperous. In the Singur case, it is Mamta Bannerjee who has been cast as a stubborn naysayer who doesn’t want Bengal to become prosperous.

Even those who make such doomsday predictions and projections privately admit that their forecasts are grossly exaggerated. Take energy security. Sure nuclear energy will be a big plus, once it is fully operational around 2020 if the deal goes through now. If basic reforms in the sector are not implemented now, power cuts will anyway cripple India long before nuclear power arrives. And who says that the deal can never ever be revived if it fails this time? Nobody seems to be talking about that. Then again, it will be good for Bengal if the Nano project is kick started at Singur. But will its relocation forever destroy Bengal as an investment destination? If the state, like India, can provide the right environment, the right infrastructure and a lucrative market, investors – both domestic and international automatically flow. And one nuclear deal and one Nano project will not permanently change that equation.

I recall two such examples of ‘life or death’ scenarios projected over controversies. The first one was when pro-American pundits insisted that India must send troops to Iraq to help Uncle Sam in 2003. There were forecasts that India will forever lose a chance to emerge as a Big Boy if the opportunity was lost. Mercifully for India, the Vajpayee government did not send any troops. Then there was the hysteria over the Enron project where pundits – like the nuclear deal – condemned India to darkness if the controversial deal was not allowed to go through. The Enron deal was allowed. And we all know what happened to India, the power sector and Enron after that!


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