India’s diplomatic stock is at an unprecedented high. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s India visit from December 4 to 7 was the third one from a P5 leader this year. British Prime Minister David Cameron came in July and made a lasting impression by lashing out at Pakistan for keeping the terror pot on the boil. The United States’ President Barack Obama came calling in November and enthralled Indians by announcing Washington’s support for India’s candidacy for the United Nations’ still to be reformed Security Council. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, are scheduled to visit later this month, the former from December 15 to 17, and the latter a week later. This means that before the year is over, India will have received all five heads of the permanent members of the UNSC, attention the country hasn't received since it secured independence 63 years ago.
Though Sarkozy’s India visit wasn't necessarily historic, such visits are essential for strengthening bilateral ties. Seven agreements were signed during Sarkozy’s visit, the most important of which was a ‘general framework agreement’ for constructing two nuclear reactors in Jaitapur (Maharashtra). Jaitapur is an ambitious project that will have six reactors that together will generate 10,000 megawatts of power after completion in 2018. Generation of 10,000 MW from one single plant is indeed impressive considering that India currently produces only about 4000 MW, or less than 3 percent, of total power generation.
Of course, India will have to tread carefully with the Jaitapur plant and ensure that the cost of power per unit isn't too high. But for the state of Maharashtra, Jaitapur is certainly welcome as it will generate substantial employment for locals.
However, there's also some long-term risk that has to be guarded against because the government of India is investing a hefty $ 9.3 billion on the Jaitapur plant. Another important area of concern in the context of the Jaitapur plant is that it’s going to have European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs), the first of which is yet to be built, and therefore, the technology remains untested. These twin risks—the pricing of power produced yet to be worked out and very high capital investment—makes Jaitapur a high stakes gamble for the UPA government.
Looking at the larger picture in terms of the Sarkozy visit, India can now expect to wield greater clout at G-20 meets as well as at the United Nations Security Council. Sarkozy cleverly chose India as his first foreign destination after France recently assumed the rotational presidency of the G-20.
India is starting a two-year tenure as one of the 12 non-permanent members of the UNSC on January 1, 2011. Sarkozy alluded to India’s upcoming non-permanent membership of the UNSC while supporting India’s application for permanent membership when he posed the rhetorical question: ‘It is not just an important matter for India but for the equilibrium of the world that after its two-year term. Are we going to ask India to simply to stand down?’
Sarkozy also made the right noises on Pakistan. Both in New Delhi and Mumbai, he slammed Pakistan for allowing safe havens for terrorists in its tribal border areas. Without mincing his words, he said in Mumbai that ‘It's unacceptable for the world that terrorist acts should be masterminded and carried out by terrorist groups in Pakistan.’
Significantly, like Obama, Sarkozy didn't visit Pakistan, suggesting that the world has finally begun to learn to de-hyphenate India from Pakistan.