India is watching with bated breath as pollsters predict a close contest in the race to the US Senate. After years of cheering the Democrats, the Indian establishment is quietly rooting for the Republicans.

And it has much to do with the nuclear deal President George Bush signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this year. While the Republicans are strongly behind the deal which will allow the US nuclear industry to build reactors for civilian use without bringing India within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT), a victory by the Democrats in the 435-member House of Representatives could make things difficult.

Amidst fears that President Bush could end up a lame-duck president till 2008, pragmatists in the Indian establishment have begun to woo the Democrats as well.

Indications from Delhi are that the Indian government may call off the nuclear deal with the US if the new Democratic-led dispensation tries to squeeze more concessions out of India. India’s nuclear establishment and the opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are all set to pull out the knives against the Congress Party led government at the first sign of a compromise.

India’s nuclear scientists insist that they would come up with alternative technologies to generate nuclear power with some fissile material left over for a nuclear arsenal if the country’s politicians do not sell out at the negotiation tables.

Though India’s uranium reserves are negligible, the country is rich in thorium, another radioactive metal. Indian nuclear scientists are working on reactors that use thorium as a fuel instead of uranium thereby freeing the country from international controls.

Indians have an impressive track record at finding workable alternatives. When the US government banned the sale of Cray Supercomputers to India in the 1980s and 1990s, Indian scientists harnessed the power of several smaller computers and came up with the Param Supercomputer. Subsequently, the Param was sold commercially in markets where the US policy did not allow the sale of supercomputers.

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