Thursday 1 November 2007

Treating India like Dirt (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India — U.S. diplomats have lorded it over the world's "Untermenschen," or inferior people, for so long that the latter have come to regard even the more obvious and offensive forms of condescension and patronizing behavior as a compliment.

Ever since the United States was informed on Oct. 21 by India that domestic political difficulties were hampering the implementation of the George Bush-Manmohan Singh nuclear deal, a battalion of U.S. officials and wannabe officials have been lecturing India almost daily on what they consider to be the core attributes of a "responsible" and "mature" power -- which is to fulfill the wishes of the United States in every detail. Any deviation from this would be evidence of an inability to be ranked worthy of the support of the "Big Boys" -- presumably Blairite Britain, Sarkozhian France and Merkellian Germany, who amble behind the United States on key issues.

After being informed a week ago that the next steps in finalizing the nuclear deal were negotiating a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group on transfer of civilian technology, France was the first of the Big Boys to kick in, warning that any agreement with it was conditional on the Bush-Singh agreement being signed first.

Next followed Germany, repeating its insistence that India sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons power before Berlin would agree to join the bandwagon. Unusually -- and wisely -- Britain has kept silent, unlike the United States, which has been issuing a stream of statements, warning that placing the deal in cold storage would severely impact relations with Washington.

Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, a prominent wannabe European in the Bush team, once again reiterated the mantra that "responsibility" was identical to following the U.S. lead on major issues, such as policy toward Myanmar, Iran and the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks. Condoleezza Rice repeated that, along with others in the administration.

In addition, just in case any irresponsible Indians missed the point, in came Henry Kissinger to New Delhi, warning that the end of the deal was likely to be the end of New Delhi's hopes of joining the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member and being regarded by the United States as a "reliable" partner. Kissinger's contempt for India and its leaders is a matter of public record, and he must have relished his Oct. 29 sermon.

If the United States was not informed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about his volte face on the deal, and suffered the mortification of learning it from the news channels, the reason was that Singh was himself given less than ten minutes' notice by Congress Party boss Sonia Gandhi that she had decided to save her government from collapse rather than defying pressure from two pro-China communist parties and implementing the deal. Such a course would have meant defeat for the Congress-led United Progressive Front in Parliament, and fresh elections, in which case the Congress Party and its key regional allies would most likely fare poorly.

It is a measure of the political naiveté of Singh and Gandhi -- not to mention the incomprehension of the U.S. side - that they believed that a deal opposed by much of the scientific, strategic, and political elite in India could be made to fly. It is precisely because India is a functional democracy that the deal, regarded by the majority within Parliament as unacceptable, was finally put on hold by a regime that saw it as having the same autocratic power as a King Abdullah or General Secretary Hu.

If the Rice-Kissinger logic is accurate, democracy can be defined as any opinion congruent with that of the West. Thus, in the Palestinian territories, only the Palestine Liberation Organization is democratic and not Hamas, while in Lebanon, it is only the Gemayelist cohort that represents true democracy.

As for India, so what if the majority of members of Parliament are against the nuclear deal? A responsible power would ignore such bagatelle and implement the agreement -- even though it was unacceptable from the time Bush clarified in 2005 that India was expected to join the lowly "recipient" group under his Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, rather than being a "donor" nuclear power, the status given to higher breeds such as Japan and Germany.

If the Bush team ever advised its European partners to demonstrate a similar contempt for elected representatives, that opinion has been conveyed in private and not through klaxons, as has been done with India -- obviously viewed as a lesser breed of nation-state than the NATO allies.

Unfortunately for U.S. and EU diplomats, apart from what may be termed the "Old Elite," modern India does not see itself in a slot subordinate to that of the NATO powers. Corporations, for example, have invested as much as US$36 billion in overseas entities in the past year alone, and made more than 600 acquisitions, an exponential leap from the past. In line with Sonia Gandhi's policy of seeking to return India to the Nehruvian days of a controlled economy, Singh's government has passed a retrogressive Competition Act designed to smother the trend toward overseas expansion. But because of the weakness of the ruling coalition, India's corporations are expected to succeed in diluting its provisions enough to avoid being smothered.

Since the communist-backed United Progressive Alliance came to power in 2004, there has been a slew of restrictive legislation designed to reverse the economic liberalization begun under former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1992. However, the rapid growth of the Indian middle class and corporations has constrained the ability of Gandhi and her team to implement (as distinct from enact) restrictive regulations whose only value is as a source of bribes to politicians and officials.

India has shifted from the Nehru style of big government into an economy where the market has taken on a life of its own. This is evident in the stock market, which has shrugged off several vicious steps taken by the Finance Ministry to scare away investors, and in the more than 20 percent annual growth rates of several leading businesses. In the list of the world's five richest individuals, two -- Lakshmi Mittal and Mukesh Ambani -- hold Indian passports, as do their immediate family members.

By relying on India's Nehruvian "Old Elite" to deliver what the West wants, the United States and the European Union are making the same mistake in India that they are in Africa and Latin America, where they are backing old elites in their losing struggle against modern competitors.

Seeing the world in terms of the West and the Rest, U.S. and EU diplomats are blinded to the resentment that the condescending behavior of their countries' officials and legislatures are creating in India -- a country that is a natural ally of the West in both the War on Terror and the War on Want.

By 2025, India will have half a billion people speaking English, a figure larger than the present populations of the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada combined. Its democracy and Western-style educational and institutional framework will bring this Asian giant ever closer to the West, on condition that the artificial and unacceptable separation between its own rights and status, as compared to those of other U.S. partners such as France and Britain, is pulled down.
Condoleezza Rice, pull down that wall!

-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)

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