Sunday 22 September 2013

Dr Singh, follow Dilma Rousseff, not Obama (Sunday Guardian)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talks with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Sanya, on the southern Chinese island of Hainan on 14 April 2011. REUTERS
razilian President Dilma Rouseff's refusal to meet the United States President is in contrast to Manmohan Singh, whose staff were scurrying between the US and India to ensure that the Prime Minister was given the (for him) extraordinary privilege of settling down with Obama for a brief chat. During the six years that Obama has been in charge, he has shown next to no interest in crafting a relationship with India other than on the standard 90:10 model (where the US side gets 90% of what it seeks and India has to be satisfied with 10%). Bush-era initiatives such as cooperation in space and in other hi-tech applications have been slowed down to stall speed, while pressure on India to cap and ultimately eliminate its missile and nuclear weapons program is relentless, while hidden from public view.
The manner in which Manmohan Singh has created constitutional history in India by outsourcing its powers has created a vacuum in governance. Rather than a system Soviet Chinese style — where the party chief has the upper hand in administrative decision-making rather than the head of government, it would be better were Rahul Gandhi to assume the responsibility of being Prime Minister of India. This, although, the Real Rahul remains largely hidden from view, except for choreographed appearances. We know he wants Niyamagiri in Orissa to remain pristine and that NGOs from across the globe, especially those based in the US and Europe, have greater access to his team than Congress politicians or lowlife such as Indian journalists.
We know that he likes to stay in the homes of the very poor, when the media is around and in more exotic locations when the press is kept away, and that suburban trains are touted by his team as a favoured means of transport. But what his social, agricultural, scientific, industrial, cultural, horticultural, medicinal, educational, security or sports policies are, we are yet to find out. This columnist has since 2006 held the view that Rahul Gandhi is the obvious standard-bearer of the Congress Party for the 2014 polls and Narendra Modi for the BJP, but while it is possible to sometimes to meet the Gujarat CM, the Heir to the Congress Leadership has proved to be more elusive, even on the infrequent occasions when he is in the country. Such an artificially-created scarcity of contacts between Rahul Gandhi and the media have, has in fact harmed his own cause, because the few who meet him say that he is a warm and personable individual party.
Manmohan chose an RBI Governor, who does what Wall Street wants rather than what Dalal Street needs, and who believes that inflation can be tamed by higher interest rates.
Had our PM been a wee bit more 21st century in his outlook, he would have chosen a Reserve Bank of India Governor, who understands not Chicago University classrooms and textbooks but the needs of the economy of a country that Professor Raghuram Rajan knows hardly at all. Instead, Manmohan chose an RBI Governor, who does what Wall Street wants rather than what Dalal Street needs, and who believes that inflation can be tamed by higher interest rates. Raghuram Rajan has shown that he is as dedicated to wrecking Indian industry through higher interest rates as his predecessor Duvvuri Subbarao was. Which is why Manmohan Singh is unlikely to follow the example of Brazil's Dilma Rouseff in matters relating to the US. Even as our PM — after a fair amount of lobbying — got his brief meeting with Obama, the President of Brazil has refused to go to Washington after learning that her own conversations were being intercepted by the US National Security Agency (as indeed Manmohan's must be).
Hopefully, Dr Singh's successor will follow Brazil's example of seeking to create Internet systems that are outside the control of the US and which can avoid monitoring by the NSA. This columnist was the first to warn (after the Snowden revelations) that much of the snooping was to give US (and a few EU) companies an unfair and clandestine advantage over their Asian counterparts. Blocking such an unfair trade practice ought to have been a priority with Manmohan Singh. However, we may need to wait for a new PM to get sworn in to ensure such an outcome.

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