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May 13, 1998


BJP cares two hoots for US aid

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Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

The US sanctions have brought the swadeshi slogan out of the closet. And also a bit of drum-beating about the Indian market which the West would miss if it imposes trade sanctions along with the sanctions that US President Bill Clinton has already slapped on India.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's political advisor Pramod Mahajan talks of the inherent strength of the Indian economy and that the country does not live on the West's dole.

And the Bharatiya Janata Party's economic cell convener Dr Jagdish Shettigar explains the economics of the Indian bomb.

"We have always wanted to do it. In fact, we would have done it had the last BJP government lasted for more than 13 days in 1996. The point is that the Western aid is not much and does not contribute much to the economy," says Shettigar.

He says that American aid at $ 100 million is peanuts. Moreover, 60 per cent of the aid is always left unused.

Most of the aid is for particular projects. And for every project the country has to raise matching resources from within.

Asked if India would not lose whatever goodwill it had because of the tests, BJP vice-president K R Malkani told the BBC, ''We never had any!''

The example offered is that of a bridge built with foreign aid. The rider for the assistance would be that the country has to spend a specified amount for the bridge.

BJP economists point out that most often the bridge would not be built as the country is not able to mop up its share.

They claim that more than Rs 750 billion has been lying idle. Moreover, the country has to pay one per cent commitment charges -- that is interest on the aid which is mostly unused.

So the saffron brigade feels that the aid has been a burden.

As for the proposed trade sanctions, the BJP feels it can emerge unscathed, as only 10 per cent of the domestic production is exported.

The country's trade with the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development countries is 52 per cent and the rest is with the Third World countries.

But what runs contrary to the BJP theory is the huge foreign currency outflow because of the import of petroleum products.

Shettigar argues that the foreign exchange shortfall can be made good by the export to the Middle East.

The BJP is also hopeful that the economic sanctions will not last long.

The party leaders point out that the US sanctions in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre could not last long as the business considerations prevailed ultimately.

"The US administration threatened that it would impose Super 301and had even announced the dates. Then what happened? See, the business lobby in the US would not allow such a thing to happen. And if it had happened then, it would not have allowed the situation to get out of hand now," says a senior BJP leader.

The punchline is obviously the Chinese example and the market-driven foreign policy of the West. "More than we require their aid they require our market," is how Shettigar would round it up.

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