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Home > India > News > Report

Exclusive: S P Hinduja on Indo-Iran ties

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | May 02, 2008 13:19 IST
Last Updated: May 02, 2008 14:55 IST

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Coverage: The Iran Vote and After

S P Hinduja, chairman of The Hinduja Group -- that has been in Iran for nearly a century -- who is widely believed to be the catalyst behind Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first visit to India on March 29, was clearly euphoric over it and described it as 'a huge success' and predicted that 'it will take our relations on a forward-looking course.'

In a telephone interview from Mumbai, Hinduja told, "It was a very good start and I am confident it will take the relationship forward," and pointed to the "very positive statements made by the prime minister, foreign secretary, and national security adviser," following the summit between Ahmadinejad and Dr Manmohan Singh [Images].

"So, it's a start, and a very good start that will lead to stability and that will lead to better understanding," he reiterated.

When informed that the US had been watching Ahmadinejad's visit to India closely and has exerted subtle pressure on New Delhi to be part of Washington's efforts to isolate Teheran, Hinduja said that India with the credibility and gravitas that it commands worldwide could play a mediating role to resolve the antipathy that the US and Iran have for each other.

"India has immense credibility in the whole world because it is the largest and is a true democracy and I believe India can play a very important diplomatic role in bringing both sides together to resolve the misunderstandings they have," he said.

Hinduja said, "You have seen that India has always played a very responsible role in world affairs, which is befitting of a large democracy, and from the day of its independence, they have not done anything without taking the people along."

"Even now, with regard to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, they are going along with the people," he said, apparently referring to the fact that the agreement was in limbo as the government tries to achieve a consensus among its Left coalition partners that are vehemently opposed to the agreement.

Thus, Hinduja argued, "No one should suspect India because it is the best democracy in the world," he said, obviously referring to Washington's concerns that New Delhi may have put its energy needs ahead of US efforts to isolate Iran because of its alleged nuclear weapons development program.

"So you people should make America aware that these countries who have democracy (meaning also Iran, which he had argued in an op-ed article ahead of Ahmadinejad's visit was also a democratic system, although not in the Westminster mould), they would be supported. They should stand behind these countries and try to encourage these countries that have democracies and try to forge strong relations with them."

But when this correspondent said that America's problem with Iran in Washington's eyes is that it is not a democracy and is a perceived threat to the region because it is clandestinely developing nuclear weapons, and believes countries like India should give Ahmadinejad and Iran a wide berth, Hinduja spoke of the "long civilizational ties between India and Iran," and reiterated that "India can play a role to help resolve these misunderstandings."

"I never criticise anyone -- about what is right or what is wrong," he said, not wanting to delve in US policy vis-�-vis Iran.

"But the objective right now should be how best we can bring stability all over the world -- that has to be the objective. One should do the best because otherwise at the end of the day when there are conflicts, it's the innocent people who suffer."

"Also, the economy suffers in every country and when the economy suffers the common man is the maximum sufferer and that's how the poverty increases and that's how conflicts increase," he said.

Asked why he believed India-Iran relations were so important and that New Delhi's efforts to develop even closer ties with Teheran could torpedo the burgeoning Indo-US strategic relationship, Hinduja argued: "You see, stability in the Middle East is very important and Iran and Iraq -- these countries in the Middle East is in the region closest to India -- this is in the Indian side of the Middle East."

And, he added, "India has never joined hands with anyone to do an invasion, to do any evil things -- they have never joined anything like this and they have never supported anything like that and never compromised as far as stability is concerned."

"If you look at all of India's neighbours, India has cooperated with them in all respects," he asserted, "even if they at times misbehave."

Hinduja acknowledged that India certainly has energy needs imperative for its economic growth and that the US should be mindful of this, and hence the rationale for close India-Iran ties. But, he argued that India's ties with Iran were not solely driven because of its energy needs but because of its "long and deep civilizational ties."

He said, "India is not a country, if they need something, they will do something which is not correct. That is not the track record of India. It doesn't compromise on its principles. And, particularly the prime minister (Manmohan Singh), the world has recognized him as a very fair person, and he's known for these policies and his credibility and he's known for being above board."

"And, I don't think anywhere he has gone he has given any statement where he or the government or the people of India are supporting any evil," Hinduja added.

He acknowledged that the point he was making was that India's energy needs does not supersede its principles of supporting a country if it were developing nuclear weapons that could be inimical to the stability of the region.

"Absolutely. That is what I have said in my article," Hinduja declared.

"We have restricted ourselves only to the extent of energy and even that will help the environment," he said, apparently referring to India's support for Iran's efforts to develop its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, which it is perfectly eligible to do as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and New Delhi's advise to Teheran to fully cooperate with International Atomic Energy Agency vis-a-vis its uranium enrichment activities.

He continued coming back to a mediating role India could play in bringing both the US and Iran together to resolve their differences, particularly since 'we have very good relations and understanding with both the United States and Iran'.

Hinduja said the role India could play would be "very simple at the moment. What is required is that one has to establish a dialogue (between Washington and Teheran) and India can help to establish that dialogue. India can play that credible role because as I said, India has such good relations with both countries."

"India is the only country in the world, which will never, never be unfair to anything," he emphasized. "Even with the neighbours, you have seen many times they misbehave. But what do we do? Do we do anything which leads to conflicts? Absolutely not; we don't do it. We are always for peace and stability."

Hinduja sheepishly denied with a laugh speculation that he 'was the man behind the visit' of Ahmedinejad to India.

"Our job is only to see that there is good relations between our countries, because we have been there (in Iran) for over 100 years. We know the culture of the country, of the people, and so whether it is America, whether it is India, whether it is Europe, we want to bring them all together."

"We have been adopting cultures because we believe that is the key of politics and economy," he said.