The Rank Hypocrisy of Indian Politics

Sunanda Datta-Ray is one columnist who mostly makes eminent sense, ever since he was the Editor of The Statesman about three decades back. I reproduce one of his recent articles in a leading Indian national daily, here.

PRISONERS OF THE PAST

– There’s a role for Sonia Gandhi in saving India’s nuclear future    by     Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
Karat the anti national

“When
I call on cabinet ministers, the president, or governors, they all
love to talk about their sons, sons-in-law and daughters in the US and
how well they’re doing and how well they like things. The next day I
read in the papers the very same people are denouncing the US as a
totally different kind of country.”
— William B. Saxbe, American ambassador to India, 1975-77.

If
the Chinese are laughing up their sleeves at the prospect of being
spared the awkwardness of striking a dissonant note if and when the
Nuclear Suppliers Group meets, the Americans are probably bemused by a
moralistic hypocrisy of which the Left Front is the last and most
vociferous exponent. Its complaint that the real purpose of the
civilian nuclear agreement is “to promote India-US strategic ties”
points to the curious gap between political and public attitudes that
Saxbe encountered.

There
are sound reasons for resisting American policies like protectionism.
But by no stretch of the imagination can it be claimed that the nuclear
treaty will suck India into a predatory grand design for world
domination. Yes, by helping India to grow the United States of America
hopes to expand the market for American merchandise without necessarily
according equal facilities to Indian exports. Manmohan Singh made the
point earlier this month when he criticized the reluctance of “many
developed countries” to reduce farm subsidies while seeking to sell
goods and services to developing nations. The corrective is not to cut
India’s nuclear nose to spite its diplomatic face but to thrash things
out at trade talks where developing countries like India commendably
refuse to sacrifice the interests of small and marginal farmers.

Nations
relate to one another at many levels, and it is simplistic to imagine
that the ability to stand firm when firmness is needed is impaired by,
say, the Malabar exercises. Or that nuclear cooperation will compel
India to send troops to Iraq or boycott Iran. The treaty — “as good a
text as one can possibly get” according to the national security
adviser, M.K. Narayanan — will end crippling sanctions that have been
in force since 1974. It will give India a unique status within the
nuclear regulatory regime and de facto recognition as a nuclear
weapons state. Access to advanced civilian nuclear technology will
reduce dependence on imported oil and natural gas whose prices are
spiralling, pave the way for military and other high-technology trade,
and enable India to devote indigenous resources to its nuclear weapons
programme.

The
Bharatiya Janata Party complains that the treaty will limit India’s
ability to develop nuclear weapons since the US will be entitled to
cancel the agreement and take back any American-supplied nuclear
technology and fuel if India carries out more weapons tests. But in
office, the BJP proposed a similar accord and hailed the US as India’s
“natural ally”. Given this background, the BJP can still demonstrate
maturity enough to rise above party politics and support the United
Progressive Alliance in the national interest. Lal Krishna Advani
displayed statesmanlike appreciation of the need for bipartisan
consensus in 1991 when P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh sought his
approval for their economic reforms even before discussing them in
cabinet. If India is “Shining” today, it is partly because bipartisan
cooperation removed liberalization from contentious politicking.

Clearly,
no one in today’s Congress can match Narasimha Rao’s astute management
skills. But no point will be served by Manmohan Singh quitting in
frustration. Undoubtedly, it will be embarrassing for him to face
George W. Bush and the other G8 leaders in Tokyo on July 8 with such a
highly-publicized and acrimonious stalemate at home. But to cut and run
would only plunge the country into a crisis, while surrender would
damage our future and lose the world’s respect. The only way of
ensuring both is to summon up the courage to go ahead with an approach
to the International Atomic Energy Agency. That might mean eventually
having to dissolve parliament and seeking a fresh mandate. Singh may
not get it but even failing in the attempt will save his reputation —
as nothing else can — and attest to the seriousness of his commitment
to a cause that is of both material and psychological importance to
India.

Unambiguous
action would also set at rest any lingering doubts about the UPA
chairman. Sonia Gandhi’s support for the treaty has not received as
much notice as Left Front objections. The unfortunate result is the
public perception that mindful of dynastic ambitions, she would rather
not rock the Congress boat. The supposition may be totally wrong,
especially in the light of reports that Rahul Gandhi has thrown his
weight behind the prime minister. His mother’s reticence may not be so
much on account of his or his sister’s future prospects as the need to
carry party and coalition with the government. But since she is under
permanent scrutiny and what she says and does can be misinterpreted,
Sonia Gandhi owes it to her position as well as to Manmohan Singh to go
public on this issue, come what may, much more resoundingly. Then only
will rank and file Congressmen and the UPA’s faint-hearted allies be
convinced that this dance will no further go.

Nothing
is more revealing of the short-term self-interest that determines their
attitudes than the alacrity with which they shift ground, rushing from
pillar to post in search of arguments. High inflation has fallen like a
plum in their laps, producing dire warnings of voter response. They
repeat that the nuclear agreement was not in the UPA’s common minimum
programme, and that the subsequent Congress promise to “engage the US
in scientific, technological, strategic and commercial cooperation”
does not amount to a collective commitment. Lately, the allies have
dredged up the old bogey of Muslim discontent that was one reason for
India’s coldness to Israel for so many years. It was also used to
bludgeon the Chandra Shekhar government for extending airport
facilities to American military planes during the first Gulf War.

These
are excuses, not reasons. Congressmen want to cling to their
parliamentary privileges for as long as they can. Their allies have no
wish to face the electorate a day before they have to. The Left Front’s
calculations, far removed from anything remotely ideological, argue
even more powerfully in favour of a status quo that transforms
its leaders into the larger-than-life shadows thrown by puppets. A
small coterie enjoys a veto that is not justified by its national
vote-bank, certainly not after the West Bengal panchayat polls. Considering
the gamut of objections trotted out, one feels that if some obscure
sadhu in sandalwood paste and vermillion were to denounce the agreement
as inauspicious, Prakash Karat would pounce on it at once. Everything
is grist to a self-serving mill.

But
it would be folly not to recognize that underlying all this posturing —
even of the BJP’s — lies a distinct uneasiness about the US. That’s at
the political level where operators are prisoners of the past. At the
people’s level, India is like Communist Poland where the applicant for
a passport explained he wanted to go to America for President Reagan’s
funeral. Told Reagan wasn’t dead, he said he preferred to wait in the
US for him to die.

It
calls for no American proselytizing for Indians to hanker for the
American Dream. The example of 2.3 million Indian-Americans, the
richest minority group there, is enough. The Pew Research Center’s
report claimed, first, that India is the world’s most pro-US country,
and second, that it is one of the few countries where Bush is more
popular than he is at home. Politicians, whether of the Marxist or Hindutva
brand, who claim that India cannot trust the US are not in touch with
Indians. An astute strategist can still bridge that gulf and save
India’s nuclear future. There’s a role here for Sonia Gandhi.

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

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