Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to the US, India has begun its biggest diplomatic battle for a membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) by submitting a formal application to the 48-member body.

With the Barrack Obama administration backing India’s NSG membership bid, the South Asian powerhouse is gearing up for the first big test that will take place on June 9-10 when NSG member-countries will hold a closed-door meeting in the Austrian capital of Vienna. A senior Indian diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, said that PM Modi made a number of phone calls to heads of government across the 48-member Group in the last few days to pitch for India’s case. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs, too, confirmed on Friday that a high-power campaign, aimed at “engaging all members of the NSG” in the run-up to the Group’s extraordinary plenary, was under way.

The submission of the application marks the beginning of final phase of India’s seven-year-long diplomatic battle for the NSG membership. In 2009, New Delhi started discussions on its membership with members of prestigious Group and its various forums. Since then, China and some other hard-line NSG members have been opposing India’s bid, saying that a country, which refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), can’t become a member of the Group.

In last week of April, India stepped up its efforts for getting the membership by submitting papers, called the ‘adherence to NSG’ documents, to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In those papers, the Modi administration clearly mentioned all the laws and rules that have been changed or inserted to streamline India’s regime in line with NSG guidelines.

As a part of India’s strategy, President Pranab Mukherjee made a four-day visit to China in the fourth week of May. The main purpose of his visit was to convince the top Chinese leadership for India’s NSG membership. Although the president got no clear response, Beijing agreed to get officials on both sides talking to each other.
Now, Prime Minister Modi is ready to give India’s bid a big diplomatic push during his (more NSG-focused leg of) five-nation trip. According to sources close to the Indian government, 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, as the June 9-10 technical meet will assess India’s application. On June 24, the action will shift to the NSG plenary in Seoul, where India’s case is likely to be put up on the agenda.

The Indian PM knows that he has a tough job on hand, as his upcoming visit to the US, Mexico and Switzerland (the three NSG members) will be crucial as far as India’s membership bid is concerned. Prime Minister Modi, who arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday, will also visit Qatar ahead of his arrival in Switzerland on Monday and going onward to the US on June 6. The premier will also visit Mexico, a critical NSG member, for a day before returning to New Delhi on June 9. Both Mexico and Switzerland are known as “non-proliferation hardliners”, who constitute a strong group in the NSG. So, a positive outcome of the PM’s visit will certainly have a great impact on June 9-10 NSG technical meet and June 23-24 NSG plenary that will take up India’s case.

Currently, hectic diplomatic activities go on in New Delhi, as India has received a clear message from the NSG. The Group has asked the South Asian country to meet its climate change commitments of aiming for 40% non-fossil fuels in the country’s energy mix before becoming a part of the nuclear trading club. Experts are of the opinion that India’s NSG membership will automatically ensure the business environment is kept more predictable and stable regardless of change in governments.

Traditionally, NSG is a closed-door club that makes decisions only by consensus. It doesn’t require a member to be a signatory to the NPT, as the Group’s guidelines are aimed at checking proliferation and misuse of nuclear materials. In fact, the Group was formed as a reaction to India’s first nuclear test in 1974. Since then, the nuclear-armed states of the world had isolated India. However, the scenario changed in 2005-06 when the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal recognised New Delhi’s weapons programme, allowing the two countries to start civilian nuclear trade. Later in 2008, NSG granted waiver for nuclear trade with India and China softened stand on its southern neighbour’s membership bid after US nudge. India stepped up diplomatic efforts to become the 49th member of NSG after Prime Minister Modi and President Obama resolved the nuclear-liability row in 2015. Finally, New Delhi submitted NSG adherence to the IAEA in April 2016 and a formal application for NSG membership on May 12.

“This (membership of NSG) has been an objective that we have pursued for many years now. We believe we made a lot of progress and that has led us to formally apply to NSG some days ago. We are engaging all NSG members regarding this issue,” said Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Friday.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]