Friday 20 December 2013

Preet Bharara sours India-US ties (Pakistan Observer)

MD Nalapat. Friday, December 20, 2013 - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh makes no secret of the fact that he works under the guidance of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who despite her primary school education has managed to establish absolute control over the party and the government. Her foreign policy has been completely different from that of mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, who sought to retain independence in action for her country. Prime Minister Singh himself has what in India is called a World Bank (and since Kofi Annan era, the UN) mindset, which looks with exaggerated awe towards Washington, and bends over backwards, forwards and sideways in order to avoid offending what is both world’s biggest economy as well as the country holding the most people in prison, even more than China, a country with four times the US population.

The Prime Minister shares with Sonia Gandhi an eagerness to visit the US and its NATO allies at every opportunity, despite the fact that such trips have not resulted in any concessions to India from any of these countries. On the contrary, there have been numerous concessions made by India to the NATO bloc economies, especially since 2004,the year when the Sonia-Manmohan took charge Those who behave in a servile fashion are treated as servants, and it therefore ought to have occasioned no surprise that Washington humiliated Delhi a few days ago by sanctioning the arrest by a New York prosecutor, Preet Bharara, of Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade, a brilliant young lady officer with an impeccable record of service to the country.

There have been reports, all unconfirmed, that Bharara’s relatives include several who - allegedly - backed the 1980s and 1990s movement for an independent Khalistan out of parts of the Punjab State. Several US,UK and Canadian citizens made huge donations to “Khalistan Liberation Movement”, which entered upon more than a decade of insurgency in India,in which several hundred people lost their lives.

However, those close to Bharara say that the charge that he has a Khalistan connection is false, and that he is “100% American”, with no interest in politics except within the US. It is a fact that the youthful attorney has made a name for himself by going after powerful names in the finance industry, sending them to jail on the basis of painstaking investigation of wrongdoing. To allege a Khalistan angle to his arrest of the Indian diplomat may therefore do an injustice to a zealous crime fighter, unless clear evidence is brought of a Khalistan link. However,there is no doubt that neither Bharara nor those in the State Department who gave permission for the arrest of the Deputy Consul-General of India in New York had any qualms in humiliating not only the diplomat but her country.

That they felt emboldened to do so reflects the fact that since 1998,the year when Atal Behari Vajpayee took over as Prime Minister of the National Democratic Alliance government, the Government of India, whether led by the BJP or by the Congress Party, has sought to forge an implicit alliance with Washington the way Delhi had with Moscow for decades, until the USSR itself collapsed in 1992. Indeed, the first serious effort at a US-India alliance was during the aftermath of the 1962 war with China, when a chastened Jawaharlal Nehru sent several supplicatory messages to President John F Kennedy. Had the latter not died in 1963, such a partnership may indeed have taken place, with Kennedy going beyond the State Department line that India must first “settle” Kashmir with Pakistan before close cooperation took place.

However, his successor Lyndon Johnson had very little regard for India, and the opportunity was missed, just as it was in 1992-96,when President Bill Clinton once again insisted on the “solving of the Kashmir issue” before accepting Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s outstretched hand of friendship. The third chance came and went in 2001,after President Bush and Vice-President Cheney heeded the advice of the Saudis and the CIA and chose Pakistan over India as the ally of choice for the war against the Taliban, after India had indicated its readiness to join the battle. By far the best chance came in 2004,when Manmohan Singh took over as the Prime Minister, determined to craft a new partnership between India and the NATO bloc.

While George W Bush and Condoleezza Rice were broadly sympathetic to the concept of an India-US alliance, they could not persuade sceptics such as the State and Commerce Department to go along. The result was that all the deals on offer were 95:5,with the US side asking for 95% and leaving the Indian side with just 5% of the total concessions made. The mistake made both by the Bush White House as well as by President Obama was to ignore the role of public opinion in a democracy. They saw that Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were eager for any deal, even a 95:5 split, and could not understand why the two who jointly ran the Government of India could not deliver their country to Washington. Public opinion in India, although filled with invective about Yankee perfidy, is in reality very pro-American, and even an 80:20 deal may have passed the public opinion test, but the most Obama has been prepared to go has been 90:10. Hence, once again, a US administration has squandered an opportunity to convert India into as reliable an ally of the US as it has been in the past for Moscow. The Khobragade episode has shown the Obama administration the limits of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in seeking to accomodate the US.

The manner of her arrest has touched once again what may be described as “colonial nerve” in India, bringing out a bubbling lava of discontent at shabby treatment given to the lady diplomat. Preet Bharara may not have ever been a supporter of the Khalistan movement, but by his action in indicting Devyani Khobragade, he has helped one of the core objectives of that movement, which was to keep India and the US far apart. Thanks to Bharara and the State Department officials who backed him, 80:20 will no longer work. It will have to be at least 60:40 if the US is to make India an ally, the way it did China (with a 40:60 deal in China’s favour) in the 1970s.

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