Wednesday, 1 September 1999

India First-Wafflers Cannot be Winners

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Idiots do not know what they require, which is why they don’t
hesitate to play with fire or rummage through refuse. India 
appears to be full of them, judging by the filth on the roads and 
the prevalence of self-destructive policies. In a fitting tribute to 
the democratic process, most governments in this country have 
paid homage to the mentally deficient among us by refusing to 
acknowledge that self-interest, expressed in macro forms needs 
to be the determinant of policy.

Stable Prices
India needs low and stable petroleum prices, which is why
Saddam Hussein's capture of Kuwait in 1990 went against its
interests. While tens of thousands of Indian nationals were
stranded in Kuwait and Iraq, there was a case for a show of amity
with the Iraqi dictator, though perhaps not to the extent of
External Affairs Minister I. K. Gujral's public demonstration of
physical warmth towards him. However, once Indian nationals
were safely back, national interests called for a policy of support
to the coalition that finally ended the occupation of Kuwait.
Instead, Rajiv Gandhi threw a tantrum when the Chandrasekhar
government allowed US aircraft to refuel in India.
Much is being made by apologists of the policy of
"ambiguity", where transparency is avoided. However,
paradoxically, such a policy will succeed only when there is no
ambiguity whatsoever that the hidden potential actually exists.
For example, the deterrent value of the current policy of "nuclear
ambiguity" will be effective only when joined to a vigorous
programme of development of launch vehicles; creation of
fissionable stockpiles and development towards miniaturisation 
of warheads. Where the Narasimha Rao government erred was
in not backing up its low-key posture with frank development
of defensive capability.

There has been much praise of the "heroic" Indian resistance
to “nuclear hegemonists”. However, if there is no development
of defensive nuclear weapons and carriers, the refusal to sign
CTBT will be meaningless. lndia would then have been better
advised to have bargained for specific advantages in trade and
strategic fields as a quid pro quo for signing CTBT. India needs to
give depth to its policy on CTBT by much more active
development of nuclear and missile technology, despite the risk
of US retaliation.

However, this flouting of Washington's diktat should be in
the context of a policy that clearly recognises the importance of
close strategic and commercial links to the US. While this seems
unlikely during the Clinton administration, the US will eventually
come to recognise that a stable, secular, democratic India is its
best ally in the Asian arc stretching from Vietnam to Oman. This
is why there is no contradiction in opposing the US view on
CTBT while supporting US private investment in India, or
development of ties between the US and Indian armed forces.

Since Eisenhower, US policy towards South Asia appears to
have been formulated by spooks and colonels, both groups
guided by the Wild West concepts of "good" and "bad" guys.
Even today, the Robin Raphels ensure that romanticism rather
than realism dictates Washington's policy towards the countries
that fall within New Delhi's sphere of influence: Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Sadly, the South Asia bureau of the US state department does not
appear to have read Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote that "means
are after all everything". If, for example, Shia fundamentalism is
sought to be countered by Sunni extremism, what will result is
the development of both.

The only antidote to Muslims, Hindu or Christian extremism
is democracy based on sound economic foundations. A powerful
antibiotic against extremism is the education of women, it being
no accident that religious fanatics usually thrive in places where
women are kept uneducated. In India, secular education must be
provided to all citizens. While some may want a religious
education as well, it should be legally obligatory that such 
education should be supplemented with curricula designed for
the future.

Ignoring the Danger
Where the Indian "secularists" go wrong is in ignoring the
danger to democratic society caused by religious or caste
separatism. If the B]P is communal, so is Mulayam Singh Yadav,
with his appeals to Muslim and Yadav groups. However, our
"progressive secularists" have evidently fashioned an approved
list of individuals who can be crooked and communal without
inviting their censure.

While the breast-beating over the "humiliation" suffered by
New Delhi at the UN Security Council elections is uncalled for,
the same cannot be said about the MEA’s pathetic equivocation
over Afghanistan. Instead of declaring its support for President
Burhanuddin Rabbani, the UF government immediately began
referring to the "former" government, thus showing that India
is a fair weather ally. What is needed is a policy of strong
diplomatic and material support to Rabbani’s forces so that they
can beat back the Taliban.

Should the ISI's surrogates win, they will spend the next few
years trying to destabilise Kashmir, before returning to their
natural goal of a unified Pashtun state carved out of Pakistan and
Afghanistan. Then, just as RAW got educated about the LTTE,
the ISI will understand the damage they have done to Islamabad
by arming Pashtun extremists.

Religious Tolerance
This country needs to ensure that the religious tolerance found
in Indonesia or at home spreads over the CIS states and West
Asia, rather than Saudi-Pakistani tribal fanaticism taking root in
other Asian countries. An unexpected ally of such extremism is
the Clinton administration, and not just because of its Pakistan-
centric policy. Thanks to its strategy of "isolating" Iraq and Iran,
Washington has strengthened the extremists in both these
countries against the moderates. By starving the Iraqis, it becomes
easier for Saddam Hussein to hold on to power. By ignoring the
need for links with the bazaaris, the US is cutting itself off from
a group that could help establish democratic traditions in Iran.
New Delhi needs to point this out.

Again, however, pointing out errors is not the same as a
generalised policy of opposition to the US. If reports by some
Indian diplomats are correct, the external affairs ministry sought
to drum up support for India’s security council candidacy by
focusing on the need to challenge "superpower dominance". If
this is so, it is a good thing India lost. It is none of New Delhi’s
concern to challenge any other country, except when its own
interests are involved. With all its faults, the US is a democratic
power with which it is imperative that close relations be forged.
Both countries will need to work together to ensure that secular
and democratic traditions get established in Asia. While it makes
sense to oppose US policies that impinge negatively on Indian
interests, it is quixotic to attempt to reproduce the Nehru-
Krishna Menon diplomacy of the 1950s. The posturing and
bravado thaghas become a staple of India policy needs to get
replaced by measures that closely reflect and advance vital
interests. Ambiguity should not be synonymous with vacuity.

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