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The time will come when America can dictate to India, and expect to be obeyed

March 03, 2014 16:26 IST

US President Barack Obama with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh'A plausible American tactic,' Rajeev Srinivasan suspects, 'would be to try and prevent the BJP and Modi from coming to power by splitting the anti-Congress vote using the AAP, and in case that fails, to follow up with a Plan B to make India ungovernable, to create mass conflict through their agents.'

If you scan the news these days the world seems to be a tinderbox, waiting for just a small spark to set off a conflagaration. The much-commented-on, eerie, similarities with 1914 that people have noticed concentrated on the rise of China as a revanchist power bent on changing the status quo, much as a rising Germany was a century ago. But there are other risks in a globalised world. I wonder what the catalytic action might be that actually sets off a cataclysm, just as the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary set off World War I.

In addition to the quasi-revolution in the Ukraine, here are several other countries embroiled in, or at risk of civil war, or caught up in covert or overt violence:

Syria, where an actual civil war is going on with horrific human rights violations on either side.

Thailand, where the government and the opposition seem to have fought each other to a stalemate.

Venezuela, on the verge of a civil war over discredited Chavismo and corruption.

South Sudan, the newly created country already heading towards State failure.

Afghanistan, the perennial problem child, on the precipice of partition.

Egypt, with simmering dissent and a polarised populace.

And I am only covering a subset of the world's problems. Interestingly, with the singular exception of the Ukraine, none of these problem States is in the West's heartlands; they are at best peripheral to the concerns of the rich world. This is not to say that there has been no violence in the heart of the West: The brutality in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc. took place not so long ago.

Nevertheless, these strife-torn countries are a perfect excuse for breast-beating and moralising by the West, as is being demonstrated by the hand-wringing over the so-called Arab Spring. Or, for that matter, as was shown in the Scandinavian efforts in Sri Lanka's civil war. Conveniently, the West can formulate an updated version of the 'White Man's Burden' and give full vent to their bleeding-heart, knee-jerk liberal impulses. All, handily, at someone else's cost.

As annoying as European interference may be, it is worse when the Americans jump in to solve the world's problems. Americans have a self-image (partially true) of being innocents abroad, trying merely to bring order and democracy and hygiene to various benighted parts of the world.

Unfortunately, they often end up, like big, awkward children, breaking the very countries they are trying to fix (oops!), as in the case of Vietnam. Americans rushed in to 'fix' this French colony which the French wisely retreated from. Or Cambodia, which was collateral damage due to the American obsession with the Domino Theory.

Thus, it is a matter of great concern when Americans want to fix India. Much of the time, India is peripheral to the US foreign policy establishment, except when they are annoyed with it (as in the Nixon-Kissinger days) or they are trying to sell some snake oil to it (as in the much-ballyhooed case of the 'nuclear deal', which was, to digress for a minute, a selling out of India's national security in exchange for virtually nothing).

In fact, India does much better when it is not on the radar of America's self-styled do-gooders.

Therefore, it is alarming that a group at the University of California, Berkeley's business school is toiling on a project to 'create a policy and protocol framework for protecting people's rights in situations of internal armed conflict and mass violence' in India.

Which is amazing, considering that there is less violence and conflict in India than in any of the countries mentioned above, and that, anyway, there has been low-level insurgencies in India for decades.

This leads me to wonder, does the Berkeley group know something that the rest of us don't?

The context, of course, is that there have been persistent rumours that the US has 'assets' high in the Indian government. The long-sustained (but just-lifted) boycott of Narendra Modi (allegedly because a group of leftists and Muslims in the US were upset) is another indication that the US does have an interest in the 2014 Indian election: They do have a dog in this fight.

There is also the surprising and widespread white noise in support of the Aam Aadmi Party by such establishment stalwarts as The New York Times and The Economist, among others. It is hard, prima facie, to believe the Americans would genuinely embrace a self-proclaimed anarchist group with far-Left views on almost everything. Nevertheless, there they are, with their front foundations merrily giving away all sorts of awards and money to the AAP.

This fits in with an observed tactic on the part of the West to encourage leftist, nihilist dissident groups in other countries. It is rather evident by now that a Narendra Modi-led government would not be particularly easy to bribe or manipulate -- it does appear that he neither forgives nor forgets -- and that it would be, as with Shinzo Abe's administration in Japan, prone to care about the national interest, not America's.

This, of course, is anathema to the American world view based on George Kennan's Cold War views on hegemony.

Thus, as a first approximation, a plausible American tactic would be to try and prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi from coming to power by splitting the anti-Congress vote using the AAP, and in case that fails, to follow up with a Plan B to make India ungovernable, to create mass conflict through their agents.

This is not theoretical: Almost exactly the same tactic was followed in Kerala in 1959. It is widely believed that the duly elected Communist government of E M S Namboodiripad was overthrown by the CIA and friends making the place essentially ungovernable.

Therefore, there is the fear that the Americans have every intent to meddle in a post-Congress scenario by creating chaos. Of course, if that too fails, they have a Plan C, which I doubt if I need to spell out. But we shall let that pass for the moment.

The concern about the Berkeley group is magnified if you look at their Web site. Grandly claiming that an aim of this 'Armed Conflict Resolution and People's Rights Project' is to 'engage with affected communities, and periodically engage with members of the Government of India,' it identifies J&K, Manipur, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, and specifically Gujarat and Odisha as having been 'impacted by far-reaching violence on minority communities in recent history.'

In other words, the usual anti-Modi rhetoric about the Gujarat riots in 2002, with a few other topics thrown in for the sake of camouflage. Old wine in new bottles.

The impression that there is more to this group, attached to the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, than meets the eye, is strengthened by a perusal of the list of principals. One is a notable purveyor of anti-India ideas, who was implicated in the Faigate scandal as an unregistered lobbyist for Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence. Another is now out on bail on charges of embezzling funds from victims of violence. Another is attached to the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, which deals with nuclear weapons!

Many of the others are old war-horses from the FOIL (Forum of Indian Leftists which transmogrified one fine day into the Forum of Inquilabi Leftists), a group that is reflexively and viscerally opposed to many things in India, especially to right-leaning Hindus.

There are enough people with a known history of antipathy to Modi in this group to strengthen the impression that this whole thing is another exercise for Modi's benefit.

What is particularly sinister is that there is circumstantial evidence that seems to indicate that people like FOIL have, in the past, 'known' about certain events before they happened. Which, by Occam's Razor, would suggest that these events were not random, but were planned, and that the leftists were in the know.

Are they planning to just study conflict, or is there more?

Furthermore, if the objective is to study conflict, why does the focus lie entirely on India, with almost all the members of the working group being of Indian origin?

As I pointed out above, there is actual armed conflict in many other places right now, so why India alone?

The implication is that this group may well be witting or unwitting participants in a conspiracy to create violence in India.

There is an implicit American project going on regarding India anyway: Many American maps show the entire North-East detached from India, in addition to all of Jammu and Kashmir. There has been much pressure on India to give away the Siachen Glacier to Pakistan.

And given the fact that India has now become the biggest buyer of American arms, the time will come when America can dictate to an Indian government, and expect to be obeyed.

It looks as though the Berkeley group may be planning to add internal pressure as well to the mix to discomfit an Indian government. This is a matter of serious concern, and it is not too far-fetched to consider this a conspiracy to overthrow a future Indian government. In my book, that would be considered seditious, and it should be treated accordingly.

Image: US President Barack Obama with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Photograph: Press Information Bureau.

Rajeev Srinivasan