The non-governmental committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee, set up during the UPA I regime to bridge the unbridgeable hiatus between the ruling party and the Left over the US-India nuclear deal negotiations, had some fascinating asides. At one point when the Left took exception robustly in their characteristic deadpan seriousness with their well-reasoned objections to the US-India strategic partnership cascading far beyond the parameters of the so-called Common Minimum Programme, the ruling party came up with an absolute “doosra” that would have made Muttiah Muralitharan wonder where he learned to play cricket. “What is there in a ’strategic partnership’ after all?” That was the ruling party’s profound counter-question to the old war horses of the Left. After all, India has had such partnerships with dozens of countries, including with Albania - and, so, what is the big deal?
Why I’m summoning this funny snippet from the chronicles of wasted time is that India is back in business with a historic strategic partnership with France. This seems to me a slippery slope, as the French are an utterly charming people. Remember the scandal of the Chinese relay-torchbearer of the Beijing Olympics being humiliated as she passed through Paris under the very nose of the French intelligence? Most of us don’t know how the French government literally crawled in the dust a few weeks later to kiss and make up with Beijing when it realised that China was actively considering a proposition to buy commercial aircraft and France could be in thr running as supplier. Nikolas Sarkozy deputed not less than 3 delegations within 3 weeks, including his foreign policy advisor, to rush to Beijing to apologise.
The world of strategic partnerships is indeed bizarre. Sarkozy last week received Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani apparently in a “somewhat cold and expeditive manner ” in Paris as a mark of his (Sarkozy) being “particularly vocal in his support of India, and (because) France now sees India as a vital partner, perhaps not part of the first circle of interest, but a strong partner themselves”. Unsurprisingly, the French are claiming that their relationship with India “has rarely been so good”. France is picking up in one lump sum a whopping 20 billion dollar business deal from India — nuclear deal and MMRCA put together. Tomorrow, if Gilani Saheb, Inshah Allah, has the wherewithal to offer something similar like the Indian goodies on a platter to Sarkozy, the latter might promptly reinvent “non-alignment” as the guiding principle of France’s South Asian regional policy.
It so happens that a prominant Delhi newspaper carried a shocking report today that the NCP leader Praful Patel might have played a historic role, wittingly or unwittingly, in catapulting the US-India “strategic partnership” to an all-time high trajectory by just one single thought process that occured to him in his office in the Civil Aviation ministry — why not ask Air India to jack up original proposal to buy Boeing aircraft from 28 pieces to 68 pieces at a “stupendous cost” of 50000 crores rupees? Never mind that Air India went bust and may never quite recover its financial solvency again, but didn’t the Boeing deal do a world of good in cementing the US-India “strategic partnership” and making Barack Obama say with his poker face that his country regarded India to be the US’ “indispensable partner of the 21st century”?
But, alas, the CAG is probably going to spoil the party. The historic “feel-good” that Patel generated might degenerate into another scam if the media report is to be believed. Now, what happens if some future CAG report undermines India-French “strategic partnership”, too? After all, the French are notorious for their business practices.
We should have a sense of proportions. So long as we are great buyers, we are much sought-after. Try to become sellers, then we’ll know what Indian diplomacy’s worth. I am waiting for the day our prime minister travels abroad and returns with 20 billion dollar worth export contracts secured for the Indian industry.
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