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Of trust vote and bad economics

By M R Venkatesh
Last updated on: July 18, 2008 15:50 IST
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A dispassionate understanding of the emerging world order would convince anyone that the Americans require the nuclear deal more than India does.

Paradoxical as it may seem, much as America is the sole superpower in the post-Cold War era, it is actually without allies on whom it can effectively rely. Allies of the Cold War vintage have lost their relevance, potency and importance in the emerging world order.

Weakened by a feeble dollar, a tottering financial sector and the misadventure in Iraq, it is increasingly becoming clear that Americans are fast losing even in a unipolar world.

That explains why they are scouting for new allies like India. The American fetish for better ties with India was brilliantly articulated by Nicholas Burns, the former United States under secretary of state for political affairs, in the Foreign Affairs magazine in December 2007 in an article titled: America's Strategic Opportunity with India.

Emphasising that 'India represents a singularly positive opportunity to advance our global interests,' Burns goes on to state that building a close relationship with India would be one of United States' 'highest priorities' for the future.

India and the US are, theoretically speaking, natural allies. Both are open societies, democracies with huge business linkages between them. Crucially, many of India families have a symbiotic relationship with the US as many are well-settled in the US.

Burns is spot on when he says that in this age of ubiquitous anti-Americanism, it is India which views the US more favourably than any other nation.

Despite such a natural relationship between the two nations, it was indeed strange that since India's independence, both countries did not effectuate this potential.

Even as India was on the threshold of gaining independence, the Indian leadership's -- read Pandit Nehru's -- unabashed tilt towards Soviet Russia overwhelmed even a cursory debate on our relationship with the US. Simultaneously, even as Pakistan was being formed, the US saw this new nation as an 'Islamic country' and useful in its Cold War calculus.

Naturally, in such a scenario, the relationship between India and the US was at best cold, fossilised and time warped. One obviously did not have the use for the other, except in exceptional circumstances.

However, the post-Cold War era -- further accentuated by the new world order -- ensured a tectonic shift in the economic policies and political priorities of both countries. Pokharan-II and Y2K were a conspiracy of coincidences. India, till then seen as a land of snake charmers, gradually seemed to catch the attention of global powers, especially the omnipotent American corporate sector.

Suddenly, it would seem that there was a convergence of interest on both sides. Till then what was usually a matter of ridicule between the two countries compounded by unadulterated mistrust, all of a sudden seemed to be virtuous to both.

American enterprise, constancy of purpose and a no-nonsense approach were equally matched, it would seem, by India's potential, her vast markets and her English-educated middle class. India required the US as much as the US required India.

It is thus to the eternal credit of both sides that they have put the indifferent past behind them. It is a tribute to the leadership of both sides (cutting across party lines) that the relationship between the two countries has improved dramatically in recent years. Crucially, both see value in the association of the other.

The nuclear deal has to be thus read, analysed and critiqued in this context.

Clash of civilisations and the relevance of India

The American understanding of the post-Cold War world order and its soft underbelly has been brilliantly captured by Samuel Huntington in his classic The Clash of Civilizations. Huntington, in this book (which seems to have the tacit blessings of the American government and influential think-tanks), predicted that globalisation would deepen the fault-lines amongst various civilisations.

He suggested that the biggest threat to the US was from the Islamic states and China. Claiming that both these civilisations would never be able to accept the global pecking order with the US at the helm, he predicted increasing clashes between the US on the one side and these civilisations on the other.

Strangely, if Y2K and Pokharan-II, brought about a qualitative change in the understanding of India in the eyes of the ordinary Americans, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, on the US not only reminded the US about this clash of civilisations, but also the need for newer allies to tackle the same.

And in this clash of civilisations, its traditional allies like the United Kingdom, Germany or Canada have little or no relevance. At best they are co-victims.

That explains why the US, as articulated by Nicholas Burns, is in search of new allies. And in this endeavour, India fits the bill in more ways than one. Thus India, which was till then on the 'other side of the moon,' instantly, became a natural ally and a strategic partner.

And the reasons for the same are not far to seek: India is strategically located to counterbalance both China and the Islamic nations, both militarily as well as economically.

No wonder the American strategic planners are kicking themselves for ignoring India thus far. And that explains the overkill by the Americans in presenting the nuclear deal. Consequently, the nuclear deal is to be seen from this strategic perspective of the Americans and how India is seen as an economic, political and strategic partner to the US.

Briefly put, the nuclear deal is a facade for a deeper and wider multidisciplinary agenda to be pursued by both sides in the next few years.

Burns puts it succinctly when he states: 'The United States and India will need to work together more effectively in four primary areas: military and intelligence, agriculture and education, energy and the environment, and freedom and democracy.'

Chinese stooges versus American stooges

And such a proposal for a comprehensive cooperation with the US explains the paranoia of our Leftists to the deal. The nuclear deal and the associated proposal for such cooperation is indeed a remarkable departure from the orthodox thinking that has dominated our foreign policy for decades.

Naturally, the Leftists are incensed over this. Foreign policy consensus, a euphemism for the now-defunct non-alignment policy that dominated India's global outlook, is outdated, antediluvian and out of sync with the changed times.

Leftists must remember that we are not North Korea that can live and revel in splendid isolation. We represent one-sixth of humanity. We are not some tiny island nations in the Pacific Ocean. And this vast nation cannot ignore any other, leave alone the US.

Neither can someone else ignore us. Simultaneously, we must remember that any global issue, be it terrorism or an economic crisis, will invariably concern India.

Despite this paradigm, unfortunately, the debate in India till date has been on predictable lines. It has cruelly exposed the lack of understanding of geo-politics and emerging global order of our political parties.

Political parties are still rooted to the cold war era and are completely out of sync both the national aspirations as well as international developments.

How else would one explain the rationale of some of the political parties to look at the nuclear deal from the community or caste prism?

How can one depend on the reflexes developed during the cold war even today? How can one trust people who confuse between corporate interest and national interests? Surely old habits die hard. In case of our polity they never die.

But this does not mean that we can go ahead with the deal blindfolded. We need to understand that as a nation, the US, unlike India, respects its national laws and has a scant respect for international laws. Naturally it would read the Hyde Act above the 123 Agreement and not otherwise.

Obviously, we are willingly compromising our policy on independence. It is in this connection one must hasten to add that there is no free lunch in politics, especially geo-politics.

Given the track record of the US in its relationship with other countries, it is important for the nation to look far beyond the deal to leverage the same on a wide range of issue and be prepared to even break the deal should the need arise. This is where we as a nation are unprepared, incompetent and visionless.

The conduct of our polity is always suspect in such matters. In the words of T J S George, a senior columnist, our bureaucrats will sell their mother for a trip abroad. The less said about some of our politicians, the better.

What adds fuel to the fire is the reported statement of a senior Communist leader who has accused the ruling combine of indulging in rampant horse trading -- allegedly at a price of Rs 25 crore per MP. In effect, with a mere Rs 7,000 crore (i.e. a mere $1.5 billion) one can make or break a government.

This is what makes those who support the deal, especially in the government, equally suspect.

Naturally, the debate on the deal has alternated between the Chinese stooges (read opponents) and American Stooges (read supporters). Strangely in this debate the only person who is missing seems to be the Indian stooge!

It is indeed tragic that the trust vote will be carried out by these very people. Given this scenario, those who oppose the deal cannot be trusted as much as those who are for the deal.

What a tragedy for this great nation that even when an opportunity presents itself, we are not in a position to capitalise the same. Trust vote by those who lack our trust!

The author is a Chennai-based chartered accountant. He can be contacted at

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