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Showing posts with label Indo-US Relations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indo-US Relations. Show all posts

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Fall of India’s Berlin Wall

Comrades Sent Packing

"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Prakash Karat cuts a sorry figure today. His ideological posturing has cost the Left dearly. In 2004, his predecessor, Harkishan Singh Surjeet offered the UPA support and enabled the Congress-led coalition to form the government. In 2005, Karat replaced Surjeet and almost immediately the relationship between the Congress and the Left turned sour.

The dogmatic new general secretary unveiled a new era of hectoring the Congress and pushing an unreconstructed ideology that survives only in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Elsewhere in the world, the communists have been pushed to the fringes after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Between April 2005, when Karat replaced Surjeet, and Tuesday July 8, 2008, when he foolishly withdrew support to the UPA, the Indian Left enjoyed more influence over the Indian government than Israel has over various US governments. And they blew it.

Karat’s obduracy has painted the Left out of the reckoning. Beijing’s mandarins cannot be very pleased. This is abundantly clear from foreign secretary Menon’s statement that China will support the Indian application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. His dour, immature brinkmanship cost the Left its invaluable influence over government policy. The current crisis is of Karat’s making; it has rocked the India story that the world believes is crucial both in geopolitics as well as in international economics.

What the commissars don’t understand is that the entire world in banking on India’s emergence from a regional to a global power. US President George W Bush was among the first to grasp the importance of the transformation. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says, the whole world is rooting for India to emerge from its poverty and its Third World victim mindset. Should India succeed, it will set an example for poor countries. It did that in the 1940s when the Indian National Congress won independence from Britain and presided over a relatively smooth transfer of power.

India’s economic transformation will send a more powerful signal to the world than China’s phenomenal growth. The only other large nation that succeeded in wiping out mass poverty is the United States more than two centuries ago. Sure, China has lifted more people out of poverty than India; at the same time, it has clamped down on political opposition. “An iron fist in a velvet glove,” a Chinese-American scholar once called it.

What China lacks is soft power. That’s what the Olympics exercise is all about. The fact is that without the fuzzier aspects of power, it will always be an outsider wanting in to the world milieu. On the other hand, between cricket, Bollywood, the increasingly competitive and aggressive business community and the English-speaking, highly accomplished emigrant community in the West, India has more global influence than China.

The charge that India’s communists are a Chinese fifth column is not lightly made. Many in the highest levels of government believe it to be true. Any rational explanation of Karat’s latest move must factor it in. If, we give Karat and his commissars the benefit of the doubt, the only conclusion left to draw is that they are irresponsible and dogmatic. Any which way, they do not deserve to have a veto on government policy. Either as Quislings or as juvenile ideologues, they should be banished to the fringes from whence they sprang.

So Karat has now wrought his masterpiece of absurd theatre. It reminds me of a scene from the acclaimed film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” With the forces of the law closing in on them, the duo found themselves at the edge of a cliff with a river flowing furiously below. They had no option but to jump. Sundance was hesitant because he couldn’t swim. Butch told him not to worry “because the fall will kill you anyway.”

That’s the fate of the Left today. They have pulled the plug and find they are the ones who will be flushed down the drain. The Congress is a mighty political player with over a century’s experience. It ran circles around the juvenile commissars and emerged triumphant.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Indo US Ties Nosedive

Obama Has No Time for India

US President Barack Obama has sent a huge message to India. He visited every major country in Asia: Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, China, and South Korea but could not find time to include India in his itinerary. In Beijing, he acquiesced in a joint communiqué that covered a lot of ground. What struck home in India were media reports focused on a passing reference that urged China to ensure peace and stability in South Asia. It is probably true that what Obama meant was to tell the Chinese to refrain from arming Pakistan.

Nevertheless, the statement was a measure of Obama’s inexperience in dealing with India’s prickly sensibilities, especially with regard to China. India has never forgotten the humiliating backstab in 1962 when the Chinese army attacked India; nor has it come to terms with China’s dubious role at the International Atomic Energy Agency conference to approve the all-important waiver that was necessary for the fruition of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. Plus India treads warily of the Chinese fifth column, the CPM, which did all it could to scupper the deal; every thinking Indian believes that Prakash Karat and company were acting at Beijing’s behest. More recent, the Indian government has had to deal with Beijing’s aggressive stance on Arunachal Pradesh, the northeastern state that it calls southern Tibet.

It is becoming clear to those of us who champion Indo-US relations that Obama really has no time for India. He’s from Chicago, where I lived for the best part of the 1970s and 1980s. And India is not big in the Chicago political mindset. As such, India is not in his list of priorities.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit Washington later this month. In a patronizing way, the White House has billed it as the first state visit of any world leader. But that’s meaningless. Every major leader has visited the US and met Obama. The “state visit” business is a piece of diplomatic fluff. It is very clear India is very low in the Obama scheme of things.

Nobody is more pained about the Obama administration’s cavalier attitude to India than those of us who have fought for all these years for a closer Indo-US relationship. Manmohan Singh put his government on the line for the civilian nuclear deal. Not just that, the Indian electorate voted his government back to office with an increased majority.

The Obama administration’s Asia policy puts the Singh government in jeopardy; it fought long-held anti-American mindsets to align with America. This is further underlined by the changed Indian positions on world trade and global warming that are now more in line with Washington’s thinking. As a huge supporter of better and more intense Indo-US relations, I am troubled by this president’s neglect of India; it feeds into the knee-jerk anti-US mindset of the establishment.

As such we are headed for a period of rocky relations with the US government. It happened under Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. It was a different India then. Today it is among the world’s fastest growing economies that is raising millions of people out of poverty. Obama does not seem to realize that. I am now not sure Obama is good for India, even though to many Americans and Europeans, he is Jesus Christ resurrected.

Those of us who support a strategic alliance with the US, including the Prime Minister, feel badly let down. The joint communiqué in Beijing apart, Obama has made protectionist noises about the outsourcing business. Little wonder then that the Indian foreign ministry with its deeply-rooted anti-American mindset issued a truculent statement in response to the communiqué.

Obama’s unthinking approach to relations with India will only embarrass and weaken the growing tribe of opinion leaders who support a strategic alignment with America. Willy nilly, it will strengthen the knee-jerk anti-Americanism that is always at play in India’s foreign policy. “I told you so,” is a refrain that is increasingly louder in Delhi. After the romance with Bill Clinton and George W Bush, pro-American opinion is silenced, not knowing what to expect from Obama and his slick PR machine.

The Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to Washington promises to be just a ceremonial exercise. In the event, it will be all style and no substance. There will be a banquet, many speeches, including a stirring one by Obama. Then it will be over. What does the Indian prime minister have to say to Obama in any case?

To begin with, he could take a firm line on the emergent market for nuclear power plants in India. Given Obama’s faux pas, the Indian government could take the view that American firms that do business with China are not welcome in the nuclear power industry for reasons of national security. After all, China has jut asserted that the northeastern state, Arunachal Pradesh, is part of China. It could do the same with other security-related sectors such as the purchase of aircraft and other military hardware. It could disengage from Afghanistan, where it supports the American development effort. Plus, the Indian delegation could take a hard line on Obama’s view on outsourcing.

Time to play hardball.

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2009

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

From The Times of India, September 16, 2008

16 Sep 2008, 0000 hrs IST, RAJIV DESAI

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As Delhi recovers from the shock of the terrorist bombings, it is apparent that India is under sustained attack. Weak governance, an intelligence failure and police bungling are the reasons the chatterati ascribes to the incident. It is almost as though they are inured to the random loss of life on the capital's mean streets.

The real failure lies in the divisiveness of the political class. From Bangalore, where the BJP is holding a convention, saffron grandees have pitched in with vicious criticism of the government. Nobody has come to grips with the real issue: a political consensus is vital in a modern nation state.

Certain issues of national interest are beyond partisan politics. The civilian nuclear deal with the United States was one such issue. The political bickering over it showed very clearly the lack of maturity in the political class. On September 6, 2008, the Vienna-based Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a consortium of 45 countries that seeks to control international trade in nuclear materials, technology and equipment, issued a "clean waiver" that exempted India from its own denial regime. The effort was spearheaded by the US government and supported by most of the original seven members of the NSG.

Where the global community rose to admirable heights to transcend its domestic political concerns, in India, the saffron and red opponents of the deal plumbed new depths of chicanery. Instead of closing ranks with the government, they dug in their heels and refused to acknowledge the importance of the NSG waiver and the potential it offers to transform India's standing in the world.

The intemperate response from the two opposition parties betrayed a poor understanding of the nature of democracy. The government won a confidence vote in Parliament, signalling it had majority political support for the deal. It went on to get its safeguards plan approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and then finally won the confidence of the NSG with its assertion that it was against proliferation and a nuclear arms race.

Having tried every trick in the book to stall the deal, the opposition simply failed. They could have acknowledged that government won both domestic and international political support and as opponents do in a democracy, lined up behind the government to present a united face to the world.

Never mind what happens in specific sectors, the Indo-US deal is a strategic move that will help transform the Indian economy. We will engage as a mature power with the big boys and therefore learn that we must take ourselves seriously. We cannot say one thing and do something else. In that sense, the Indo-US agreement takes Manmohan Singh's economic reforms of 1991 to a new level. We will have to play by the rules and not hide behind political barriers as we have done at the WTO.

As it turns out, the business sector is already at it. For all the companies they have bought overseas and for all the foreign investment they have attracted, business leaders have understood the seriousness of contracts, intellectual property rights and the need for professional management. The Indo-US deal simply ensures that government will follow with accountability and transparency.

Concomitant with the rise in India's global status, its political class needs to come together on key issues such as the NSG waiver and terrorism. The opposition parties could play a constructive role in achieving this. Clearly, nobody expects the Left to sign up. The formation is an ideological dinosaur that opposes the deal because of its irrational anti-American mindset. As is now clear, it is China's cat's paw.

But the BJP could definitely play a bridging role. Its over-the-top response to the nuclear deal was based on the fear that the government has given up our right to test nuclear weapons. But the NSG waiver was to allow India the opportunity to do civilian nuclear commerce with the world. There is nothing in the agreement that talks about weapons testing. The waiver in Vienna is an overt acknowledgement by the world that India is a responsible nuclear power.

Remember, the NSG was formed in the aftermath of the Indian nuclear test in 1974 and was strengthened after the 1998 tests. Against this backdrop, the NSG waiver takes on historic and dramatic dimensions. It is a magnanimous gesture by the very countries that led the hostile reaction to India's tests.

It is sad that the BJP, whose support is crucial to achieve a national consensus on vital issues, continues to behave like a street-fighting unit. It must play the role of an opposition. But there is something called a loyal opposition, loyal to the Indian state. The BJP has every right to challenge the government. But it could temper the role it plays to be mindful of national interest.

The BJP's response to the nuclear deal and now to the terror attacks in Delhi underlines the inability of our political class to present a united national front on vital issues. In stark contrast stands the situation in the US in which presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain put aside their differences on September 11 to make a joint appearance at the World Trade Center in New York.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Race, Sex, Age Issues in US Politics

Lessons from the US Primaries

When I was growing up in America as a college student in the 1970s, I was struck by the idealism that seemed to pervade public life. The Woodstock generation rejected the material vision that dominated America in the 1950s and 1960s. Young people challenged the culture of accumulation and the power politics of those years including the GE automated kitchen (advocated by their spokesman Ronald Reagan), the Vietnam War, racial discrimination and favored women's rights, abortion, gun control.

"Why would you challenge the American way of life that has done the greatest good for the greatest number and attracts so many people from so many other countries to make their way in this air-conditioned country," I asked Newsweek's David Swanson, who has been a very close friend for more than three decades since we attended graduate journalism school together. His cryptic answer was, "We can afford it."

Today's "Millenarian Generation" has replaced the "Boomers," who came of age during the Kennedy era; it is in the forefront of a movement against divisive ideology, soulless suburbia and the long-held notion of "manifest destiny," a worldview that was missionary (think Peace Corps) and morphed into a cash-and-carry imperialism that is well-documented in the activities of various American firms in Iraq. Worse, Boomer politics polarized the country as never before. I have a friend, who is so distressed by the new imperialistic mindset that she scours the internet to make herself aware of which companies support the Republicans and refuses to do business with them.

Far more than Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, George W Bush symbolizes the ideological divide in America. Many of us in India admire Bush because he brought a dose of realism to Indo-US relations. Nevertheless, I was shocked in New York, Chicago and elsewhere at the visceral dislike he evokes. While he did put together an international "coalition of the willing" in pursuit of his Iraq policy, back at home he is reviled with such ferocity that it takes my breath away.

After eight years of Bush's aggressive neo-conservative agenda, it was clear that Hillary Clinton, the candidate favored by the Democratic Party as its presidential nominee, would waltz into the White House with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in tow. A respected senator from New York, Clinton was considered a shoo-in…until Barack Obama came along.

The forthcoming election was set to be all about Bush and erasing his divisive legacy. That got sidetracked by the campaign battle between Obama and Clinton. I was struck during my recent sojourn in America at the ugliness of the contest. It is as if the Democrats are divided, with working class whites, Hispanics and older people supporting Clinton and affluent whites, Blacks and youth backing Obama. I heard many say that in this battle of primordial issues of race and gender, the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, would benefit.

However, once the Democrats have resolved the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the next major issue that will come up is about McCain's age; he is 71 years old and as such would be the oldest person to assume the office of US President. "We are going to address all our primordial issues of age, race and sex in this election," a lawyer friend told me.

The US media have already written off Hillary Clinton; indeed there is a growing debate about the possibilities of a Democratic ticket in November that has Obama as the presidential candidate and Clinton as his running mate (for vice president). Gnawing questions remains, which Hillary has posed by winning all the major states like California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio: can Obama win over the large numbers of urban working class and rural whites, who gave Clinton huge victories in these states? Or will they simply shift their support to John McCain?

These and other questions persist in keeping the Democratic primary race open. Clearly, Obama has won the popular vote and Clinton has no way of catching up. Even the so-called super delegates, senior leaders of the party, have lined up behind Obama, including Ted Kennedy and now Jimmy Carter. But Clinton has raised the issue of two crucial states, Florida and Michigan that were disqualified for holding their primary elections early in defiance of a party edict.

Clinton maintains that she would have handily won a majority in both states. This, she claims, would have given her a majority of the so-called pledged delegates that are divided proportionately among the candidates based on the popular vote. Combined with her sweeping victory in the large industrial states, her campaign managers assert, this would have pushed her ahead of Obama. Many people think Clinton is right and believe that Obama will lose to McCain in November. Nevertheless, Obama has evoked widespread enthusiasm across the country with his charisma and message of hope in a fragmented body politic.

On relations with India, it is clear that McCain would continue the favorable policies of Bush as would Clinton. Obama remains an unknown and he is seemingly unreachable because his campaign has been driven by popular small-time donations rather than fat-cat funding. I can only hope that South Block has found channels that lead to him through the IT community in Silicon Valley, which energized his campaign with technology.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Indo-US Nuclear Deal

Juvenile Delinquency as Ideology

Someone needs to explain to the dour and dyspeptic leaders of the Left that governance is a serious business, worlds apart from a JNU power play in student and teacher union politics. Many people in the government look upon them as recalcitrant juveniles, who must be mollycoddled and yet told firmly where to get off.

Take the most recent standoff on the civilian nuclear deal that the US is facilitating to enable India to end its isolation in the global community. Not being a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and having conducted several nuclear tests, India has been denied access to all manner of advanced technology, not just in the nuclear field but in every other sphere.At the turn of the millennium, egged on by its business community and the increasingly powerful lobby of Indian Americans, US policymakers decided it was important to engage with India. The Americans say they admire India’s democracy that has survived the pushes and pulls of its mind-boggling cultural diversity and has put its economy on a fast track that will benefit the whole world.

The Left’s commissars believe that the Americans have a devious intent, mostly to challenge China, their lord and God. Never mind that they don’t accept America’s stated intent at face value; they seem to have no faith in the Indian government, especially Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who they demonize as an agent of US imperialism. In May 2004, after Sonia Gandhi spurned the highest office in the land that was constitutionally hers, several left supporters were disappointed. “We admire her but her decision to make Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister is a betrayal,” a CPM activist told me.

Congress politicians have historically devised electoral strategies based on caste and religion; the so-called progressives, proudly wearing their Nehru and Indira loyalties on their sleeve have focused on Left ideology and turned to the Left for ideas and tactics. This is the main reason why the Congress has become a moribund formation: unable to fight the aggressive caste-based parties like the DMK and the BSP. The progressives within it have proved unequal to the task of formulating a new ideological charter, preferring instead to walk the primrose path to the socialist hell of corrupt governance and inept politics.

So now we have this conundrum: the progressives are with the Left in opposing the civilian nuclear deal; the traditional caste and religion based factions couldn’t care less, Meanwhile, the newly emergent force of young politicians have no say in what happens because both progressives and traditionalists in the party still value “seniority.” The Prime Minister’s Office is today the only truly pragmatic and visionary influence on policy; as such, it is, along with most informed and influential opinion in the country, the major supporter of the civilian nuclear agreement.

When family members fight among themselves, children have a field day; they play one off against the other and manage to scream and shout to be heard, hoping one or the other of the elders will support them. This is exactly what Prakash Karat and his band of juveniles are doing. When the Prime Minister recently spoke out in favor of the deal and the Delhi Chief Minister accused them of being agents of Beijing, they screamed and caterwauled, prompting the foreign minister to say what amounted to “there, there, children, we won’t do anything to hurt you.”

copyright: rajiv desai 2008