Friday 4 May 2012

Crimes in the name of security? (PO)

By M D Nalapat
When President Clinton wanted to give financial assistance to the newly-formed Russian Federation, in view of the policy of its leader Boris Yeltsin to obediently accept any instruction conveyed from Washington, informed individuals claim that he was careful not to place the burden on the US taxpayer. Instead, he made the people of India pay more than $12 billion to Moscow, by ensuring that those in high places in India who follow the US line approved a 1993 deal that set an absurdly high rate for the rouble vis-a-vis the rupee. When then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao as privately asked in 1995 as to why he had approved a deal that cost India more than $12 billion, his startling reply was that “the Clinton administration was very eager that the rupee-rouble deal be signed,and hence the Government of India went along”. The then PM revealed that Boris Yeltsin lobbied extensively with the Clinton administration “to put pressure on India to agree to the rupee-rouble ratio that Moscow wanted”.

The Ministry of Finance in India has historically looked to London and Washington for guidance on important matters,as has the Reserve Bank of India since its inception, so it would be no surprise if both connived at policies which pleased Washington while hurting the interests of India The absurdly high rate that was fixed by the 1993 currency deal for a collapsing Russian rouble to exchange for goods valued in rupees ensured a windfall for several Russian companies and their Indian partners. For over a decade,a pathetically poor country (India) in effect gave huge amounts of foreign aid to Russia through the Rupee-Rouble deal signed when Manmohan Singh was Union Finance Minister. Not that Bill Clinton or Boris Yeltsin showed any gratitude to India. It is still remembered how Clinton sought to interfere in the Kashmir dispute in a way adverse to India,and how he and the agencies under him worked so hard to sabotage India’s strategic programmes,often by purchasing key individuals who worked in them. As for Boris Yeltsin,while he was happy to get cash doles from Delhi, in no way did he reciprocate the favour.

Those who got the rupee-rouble deal implemented had claimed that Moscow would give India preferential treatment,especially in the sale of critical defense equipment.This did not happen.Instead,Moscow sharply raised prices of all defense equipment, blocked supplies of several items and slowed down deliveries of others,including desperately needed spare parts.The huge financial loss caused by the deal to India gained this country nothing During 1993-95,there were a lot of ordnance and other factories in Russia and the Ukraine that were for sale at very low prices. There was also a lot of military hardware that became surplus because of the fall of the USSR. This could have presented a unique opportunity for India to buy up such companies and transfer their technologies to India. Nothing of the sort was even attempted.The chance was allowed to go by,because - according to officials at the time - “the Ministry of Finance was not in favour of the Defense Ministry’s proposals with regard to purchasing former Soviet companies engaged in the manufacture of defense items”. Was this also because Washington advised its people in Delhi to avoid such a route? The people of India may never know,because all such records are sought to be kept secret in perpetuity. Even the Rupee-Rouble deal has been kept secret,with successive governments refusing to divulge details about the same.What is clear is that the Government of India artificially valued the rouble at a rate far in excess of the true value of that currency,and hence caused a huge loss to the national exchequer. In a situation that is unfortunately commonplace,the interests of select foreigners was given prededence over that of the people of India.

A few weeks ago,the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was shamed into reducing its sky-high interest rates by a very small fraction, one far below the cut needed to ensure the start of recovery from the anti-growth policies that the RBI (under the tutelage of foreign financial institutions and their many agents in India) has been following since 2006. Even this small cut was too much for international financial agencies,and almost immediately,a “rating agency” that still values European countries as safe bets,just as it did US and EU banks right up to the 2008 crash,immediately reduced India’s credit status to just a single level above “junk”. The effect of such a move would be to deprive Indian corporates of the small benefit they have got as a result of the lowering of interest rates by the RBI.Clearly,international agencies want to ensure that Indian companies be prevented from emerging as competitors to those from countries that are members of NATO. The so-called “international rating agencies” (which actually should be called “NATO-boosting agencies”,for that is their task) have a single objective, which is to ensure that their dubious ratings be couched in such a form that NATO member-states get an undeserved boost and other economies get pulled down in comparison. Sadly,instead of ignoring such agencies and going ahead with domestic substitutes the way China has, in the case of India,the country’s own rating agencies are being systematically taken over by those from NATO member-states, a process in which the Government of India has given its enthusiastic backing. From the start,India has shown a propensity to bow before alien interests. After all,it was Jawaharlal Nehru who begged Lord Louis Mountbatten to become “independent” India’s first Governor-General. The British aristocrat wanted to act in the same capacity for the newly-created state of Pakistan as well, but the founder of that country, M A Jinnah, had more self-respect than his Indian counterparts and insisted that only a citizen of Pakistan would serve as the country’s first Governor-General.Indeed, Jinnah himself ascended to that post. Not only was Mountbatten the Governor-General,but he was made chief of the Defense Council as well, in which capacity he guided Nehru towards the 1949 ceasefire in Kashmir and the reference of the matter to the UN,where six decades later,the matter still festers.Were the file notings of the period to be made public,it will be seen that Jawaharlal Nehru invariably took the advice of Mountbatten and other British colonial administrators,ignoring that proferred by his own countrymen. In matters of economic policy,the regrettable truth is that such a policy of following external advice,often given by natives who have been totally conditioned to parrot an alien view - is still the norm. Small wonder that India is so far behind China in economic stature, whereas till the 1980s,it was equal to the PRC, and in 1949, was double the PRC’s size economically. Until policies suited to Indian conditions get formulated and implemented,such a situation will continue.

Sadly, successive governments in India have connived at keeping the facts about all such decisions secret. Until a government comes along that - at last - trusts the people of India and treats them as worthy of respect, and makes public files and records that have been kept secret for far too long, we will lack the knowledge needed for an understanding of why a country blessed with such a wonderful people as India has done so badly. “National security” has been used as the reason for depriving the people of India of the truth about those who have governed them. National security,what crimes are committed in thy name!

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