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The Rediff Interview/Former diplomat Arundhati Ghose
'We do not understand power'
August 22, 2006
Part II: 'For us, the big thing is China'
Some Indian-Americans insist that they were a major force in pushing this nuclear bill through the Senate etc.
Good. It suits their interests. It's an internal matter for the United States. The way I look at it, as far is India is concerned, I am not interested in what happens in the US Administration, US Congress. To me the US is one unit. They have told us that they will change their laws. Change it. If the means of changing it involves using people of Indian origin, or money, or God alone knows what, that is their business, it is not mine. I will sit here and see how they have changed their law. Once it comes up, the final bill, we will see whether we accept it or not. Is the change of the law as agreed? Or is it with riders beyond the July 18 agreement? Then we are not interested.
You mean dealbreakers.
Yes. And I must say the Americans worked really really hard. Their system is interesting. Their administration, their executive, is as strong as the legislature. And conversely, their legislature actually legislates. In our case, the legislature tends to bully the executive, but in fact our legislature rarely legislates. They approve bills and acts put up by the executive. It's very interesting. But I am not really getting involved in whether the Indian Americans have done it. That is a lobby that we have in the US, in most parts of the country. Which is good.
So is the community punching above its weight in the US?
Two million is not small. Educated, well to do Americans, of Indian origin. The only thing is, they used to support the Democrats a lot.
There's a very funny joke which I heard, which goes that when an Indian first goes to the US, not terribly well off, starting at the bottom, he always votes Democrat. But in about 10 years, he has made so much money, he switches to the Republicans. So all the Richie Riches are Republicans, while those just starting out are Democrats.
But they are a very important element. Why are we looking for closer relations with West Asia? Only because of oil? No. We have Indians there. One of the reasons we want to get closer to the US is because of the Indians there. Sons, brother, daughter-in-law, everybody here -- except me (grins) -- has got somebody there. Or they will. They have the best educational system, probably, and opportunities, so we do go there. This makes friendship with the US very important. Because there is an Indian link. And those Indians are important because their parents, sons, daughters, whatever, are our voters and citizens. It's the same reasoning that we look at any country, when we say that that country is important to us because there are so many people of Indian origin there. Mauritius, Fiji, etc and they are much less directly linked. The ones in the US are first or second generation immigrants.
South Africa because of (Mahatma) Gandhi. He was an NRI, living in South Africa, practicing law there, till he got thrown out. So your interest in South Africa is there because there are not really first generation or second generation, they are very many generation Indians. Look at your relationship with Mauritius. It's so close because of the number of people of Indian origin there. Why should we not have the same feeling for people of Indian origin who are just first generation immigrants in the US? Two million. Many more than in the UK.
Foreign policy wise, in our eagerness to get close to the US, have we been ignoring our immediate neighbours?
I think there is something in that. But it is not because we felt that we are a big power. We were trying to cope with a post-Cold War situation, where one of the parties, which was our closest ally, and friend, had become just another friendly country. And the country whom we disagreed with all the time, we had major problems with, becomes a very friendly country, trying to help India in many fields, agriculture, education, social development, AIDS, Bill Gates coming here with all his money and Warren Buffet's money. How to cope with this?
They (the US) are so powerful. They have their tentacle all over the world,. We don't. Our interest is very regional. Sub-regional, at the most regional. Not global, as theirs is. I think what happened was that we were trying to cope with this. As a result of that, we were looking at everything through the prism of US relationship, or China.
So it's not that we were acting powerful?
I don't think we have a sense that we are a more powerful country today, I don't see that. Because I don't think we yet understand power. I don't think we understand power at all. Economically, today we have more power, relatively, compared to what we had 10 or 20 years ago. But we do not understand it. We do not how to use it, we don't know how to project it, we are uncomfortable with it. We are more comfortable with the powerless. If you have power, you have to be able to use it, to leverage it. Be very clear about what it is you want. Whether you are dealing with Bangladesh or with Sri Lanka. How is it that Sri Lanka, which is so closely intertwined with us because of the Tamils, it's just across the straits, and we sit here and let the Norwegians handle it?
I can understand Indian Peace Keeping Force and Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, but that is an individual's reaction. It's not a country or a State's reaction.
I guess that has to do with domestic politics.
But take the case of Bangladesh. You cannot let domestic politics override your security interests. We have. Because we do not understand power. If we did, we would be able to exercise it. The central government should be able to exercise that power, but they are not in a condition to do it. I don't even know if there's a government. I am expecting it fall it any day. It won't, but it might as well.
So how realistic are India's aspirations to be more than regional power?
India has the potential to be a global power. It would mean being ready to take tough decisions, which I do not think we are ready to take. India is, without exercising that power, a regional one -- for geographical and economic reasons. Our response to the current crisis in Lebanon is indicative of our not being in a position today to act like a global power. Coalition politics is not going to help.
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