A firm handshake. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama at the White House. (File photo)
A firm handshake. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama at the White House. (File photo)

NEW DELHI (TIP): India’s biggest diplomatic battle since the nuclear deal has begun in earnest — New Delhi has quietly submitted its formal application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group ( NSG ) ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the US starting June 4.

India’s application will be assessed in the NSG Meeting which will take place in Vienna on 8-9 June. For India, membership in the NSG is important for two immediate reasons. India must be part of the group to meet its climate change agenda of targeting 40 percent non-fossil fuels in the country’s “energy mix”. Besides, India’s membership in the NSG will automatically mean that business opportunities for India will be more or less stable, regardless of change in governments, according to an Economic Times report.

The application was pushed through on May 12, almost a week before Pakistan sent its case. And the first big test will be on June 9-10 at a closed-door NSG meet in Vienna.

Senior diplomats, who didn’t want to be identified, told ET that the PM himself has been burning the telephone lines, reaching out to heads of government across the 48-member body to pitch for India’s case.

The submission of the application, which comes after nearly seven years of talks with NSG and its various forums, has set Modi regime up for a big fight with China, an NSG member that is batting for Pakistan.

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The process began in last week of April when India transmitted what is called the ‘adherence to NSG’ document to International Atomic Energy Agency. This lists all the laws and rules that have been changed or inserted to streamline India’s regime in line with NSG guidelines. India submitted its application on May 12.

As part of an overall strategy, President Pranab Mukherjee undertook a visit to China on May 24 to sound out Beijing. There was no clear response, but China agreed to get officials on both sides talking to each other. China was a hold-out even when NSG gave a one-time waiver to the Indo-US nuclear deal, but gave in after then US president George W Bush called up his then Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao to persuade Beijing.

Now, big diplomatic push will come from the PM when he goes to the US on June 4. New Delhi is counting on Washington to send out a strong and clear message that will set the tone for the crucial NSG technical meet on June 9-10, where India’s application will be assessed. The action will then shift to the June 24 NSG plenary in Seoul, where the case is likely to be put up on the agenda.

Hectic diplomatic activity has started. The message has been two-fold: First, if India needs to meet its climate change commitments of aiming for 40% non-fossil fuels in the country’s energy mix, it needs to be formally a part of the nuclear trading club. Second, India’s NSG membership will automatically ensure the business environment is kept more predictable and stable regardless of change in governments.

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