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'We can't blindly follow the US'
September 22, 2004
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States has come at a time when the US government is trying to figure out what the new Indian government is all about.
Clearly, they were expecting the BJP to come back to power. The last thing they expected was a Congress government with left-of-centre leanings.
It's a visit with an outgoing administration in the US. We don't know what the new administration is going to be like. But the fact is that the relationship with the US has gone beyond changes in the Indian and US governments.
There is an underlying durability to our relationship. We have always been close culturally, but over the last 14-15 years a close economic relation has been established. This visit will be a good familiarization event.
In the past, Prime Minister Singh has met many of the US leaders. He met Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and many others when he had accompanied Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Natwar Singh in June 2001. Barring George Bush, they had met everybody. Singh is, of course, well known to international investors.
This is a traditional visit that Indian prime ministers make at this time of the year to the United Nations. They get an opportunity to meet the US president as well.
This time it's a good spinoff that Prime Minister Singh is meeting President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. In 1997, Prime Minister I K Gujral met Nawaz Sharief, Pakistan's prime minister, in the US. After that our leaders haven't met their Pakistani counterparts in America.
We are trying to get high-technology transfers from the US to India made easier. Americans are not able to increase their exports to India. Our exports to America are booming, whether it is in a traditional area or a new area. The controversy over outsourcing is a backlash to our booming trade. American state legislatures are now passing laws to regulate outsourcing. These are our concerns, which will be raised by Prime Minister Singh in America.
We should not create hype over foreign direct investment. Let me clarify that low American investment in the infrastructure sector must be seen in context. FDI is not going to build Indian roads or solve India's power problems. India is now a known entity. Guys who are nervous about India will continue to be nervous about India and guys who are interested are coming to India. Ultimately we have to sell our performance. The era of selling dreams to investors is over.
I don't think the UPA government, which is supported by the Left from outside, will effect our relationship with America. I don't even think the Left is anti-American; it is a completely wrong perception. GE Caps is investing in West Bengal now, as well as Wipro. Investors are going to Kolkata as much as to Hyderabad. If you define anyone as anti-American on the basis of their position on Iraq, then even I am anti-American!
You can be anti-American on the basis of issues. In today's world, I think, nobody is instinctively anti-American. On many international issues America finds itself isolated, whether it's global warming or international criminal courts.
But it's true that the Indian Left and the Congress are not toadies of the Americans like the BJP was. We are not waiting for a certificate from some junior-level American that India is a great country and can be a superpower. We are not obsessed about getting good conduct certificates like the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was. They bent over backwards. They all but promised to send troops to Iraq. The Congress party is committed to not send troops to Iraq except under a clear UN mandate.
Even before the world had reacted to the US National Missile Defence system [which virtually killed the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972], Jaswant Singh issued a statement supporting it. We have seen the pandering to or mollycoddling of Americans that took place during the BJP's rule for six years with no results. What do they have to show for it? Colin Powell comes to India, keeps India in the dark, and the next day goes to Pakistan and says Pakistan is a stalwart non-NATO ally! It's a slap in the face of Mr Jaswant Singh, who conducted 12 rounds of negotiations with good friend Strobe Talbott. The whole Talbott-Singh dialogue, Sinha-Powell dialogue, were dialogues of the deaf.
Then, what united America and the BJP was Islam phobia. After 9/11 Islam phobia gripped America and the BJP is a party that was founded on Islam phobia and thrives on it. The BJP and the Bush establishment were meant to have a natural fit. Because the Bush establishment saw the rise of China as a strategic threat to the US. And they saw India as a bulwark. Perhaps that appealed to the BJP's sense of pride.
The BJP saw a threat from Islam at the same time. I think we should go beyond these temporary aberrations.
There was an axis of Islam-phobic Israel, India and America. That axis has been broken. The Congress believes Israel is a fact of life. We admire its achievements and we want closer ties with the Jews. But we can't forget the plight of the Palestinians.
We are not inclined to become camp followers of America. We believe Indo-US relations go beyond individuals. We have common interests in economic relations and geo-strategic perceptions.
We should build close relations with America. It is foolish to pick quarrels with the Americans. Indo-US relations will not slow down under the UPA's rule.
The breakthrough in Indo-US relation goes back to the Indira Gandhi-Ronald Reagan summit in 1983. The first MoU on high technology was signed in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi's visit to America in 1985 facilitated the entry of Texas Instruments in Bangalore, which triggered the emergence of the IT industry in Bangalore. During P V Narasimha Rao's regime many economic measures were taken.
The Congress government will be realistic about our relations with America. We will look after our interests. In many areas these will converge with US interests. In many other areas they may not.
We have a mature relationship with America, but we can't be their blind followers.
Jairam Ramesh, member of the Rajya Sabha, the National Advisory Council, the core group advising Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and the team that drafted the Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance, spoke to Sheela Bhatt.