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US-India ties in primary colours

An imminent decision by the Nuclear Supply Group [NSG] at its forthcoming plenary at The Hague next week to approve new guidelines barring transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology and equipment [EPR] to India has forced the government in Delhi to take the nation into confidence that the United States has committed a grave breach of trust with the country. The dark cloud looming on the horizon presaging squalls at some indeterminate future date in the India-US relationship, which was obvious to careful observers for some time already, has indeed turned out to be real and unavoidable. For the uninitiated, the ‘breaking news’ comes as an absolute stunner as it exposes the India-US strategic partnership to be in actuality an empty drum. For the pro-American lobby in Delhi circles, this poses an acute dilemma as they won’t know what to say – whether to laugh it away or sit down on the floor and cry.

The US’ perfidy is so obvious. Having entered into a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India in 2008, which provides for a ‘clean waiver’ for EPR transfer to India, US immediately began undercutting the provision by prompting the NSG to introduce new guidelines that will effectively reinstate the previous embargo. The sordid story and the diplomatic exchanges thereof speaks volumes about the contrived nature of Barack Obama’s claim that he regarded India as the US’s “indispensable partner in the 21st centruy”. In sum, what the US wants is to tap into the vast Indian market for lucrative business and to cajole India to be a collaborator in its containment strategy toward China, which is, after all, what the strategic partnership is all about.

India could well be paying the price for its dogged refusal to become part of the US’ containment strategy toward China. To ‘insiders’ and perceptive outside observers alike in Delhi, many recent developments were unmistakably suggesting for a while already that contrary to the soap operas of the US state department singing songs of glory about the US’ partnership with India, things were not exactly going well – and were getting to be more and more problematic. Delhi was getting to be wiser and wiser about the US strategies toward India but indeed wouldn’t feel the urge to contradict the US’ public diplomacy, which, therefore, misled the public perceptions. Indian diplomacy works in strange ways – and has quietly done an extraordinary amount of ‘new thinking’ as to how to steer the country ahead in a complicated regional and international milieu.

But to begin with, let us draw the balance sheet. One, India has refused to join a new avaatr of the US’ 6-year old fanciful idea of an alliance of Asian democracies against China (which South Block mandarins almost signed up for in 2005). Two, in the past couple of years, India began steadily distancing itself from the US and started working on the normalisation of relations with China on a bilateral track (against stiff opposition bordering on sabotage by sections within the Indian establishment – often hand in glove with the media – which are hopelessly, crudely wedded to the past and simply lack the intellectual capacity or the sophistication to comprehend the spirit of our times.)

Three, in the more recent past, India point blank refused to play ball with the US to pile pressure on Pakistan. Four, Indian policymakers instead opened the track of dialogue with Pakistan with primacy, again, placed on bilateralism. Five, Indian rhetoric against Pakistan (and China) has become ‘nil. (Refer to the proceedings of the recent Shangri-La conference in Singapore.)

Six, India finally took a measured step toward seeking membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation whose main agenda is to check the expansion and consolidation of US/Nato military presence int he region. Seven, India reworked its Afghan policies and has all but delinked from the US strategies. Eight, India bluntly refused to be drawn into the propagandistic exercises of the Rana trial at Chicago despite US urgings, directly or indirectly, to have an old-fashioned bash at the Pakistani security establishment. (Sections of our media fell into the trap.)

Nine, India has distanced itself from the US game plan to corner the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka. Ten, Indian policy in Nepal is shifting gear with greater accent on regional stability rather than the ‘new great game’.

Eleven, India overlooked the bids by Boeing and Lockheed in the MMRCA tender. Twelve, India has kept an independent stance in the UN Security Council on the issues of LIbya and Syria. Thirteen, India abstained at the IAEA vote on Syria. Fourteen, India turned down the US proposal to have a new format of strategic dialogue known as ‘two-plus-two’ (involving defence ministers in addition to foreign ministers). Fifteen, India finds it difficult to accede the request of the US companies exporting nuclear reactors to amend its Nuclear Liability law to suit exactly their business needs.

So, is this the end of the road for US-India ties? Far from it. There is a broad consensus in favour of expanding and deepening ties with the US, as our country moves into a higher trajectory of growth and it has needs of high technology for the modernisation of its economy, its society and human resources and its military. Didn’t India recently place one of its biggest orders for procurement of weapons from US – handing over a highly lucrative 4.1 billion dollar order to Boeing which is estimated to generate around 25000 jobs in the US and would allow a profit margin of around 2 billion dollars?

Trade is flourishing. Only yesterday, Robert Blake, US assistant secretary of state, who came all the way to Kolkatta to mark America’s high expectations from CM Mamata Bannerjee and Finance Minister Amit Mitra said at a speech, “A quick look at the data reveals a trade relationship that is accelerating, mutually beneficial and relatively balanced.” Washington cannot complain. At a time when World Bank forecasts a meagre 2.6 percent growth for US economy through 2013, Indian market is becoming a veritable milch cow it can’t do without.

Blake said: “2010 broke records for US-India trade in goods with US exports to India up 17%… [and] moved India up two notches to become our 12th largest trading partner.” He was thrilled that Indian investment in US compounded rapidly to establish India’s position as the “7th fastest-growing source of investment in the US.” He frankly admitted, “India’s market offers tremendous opportunity to US exporters of goods and services.”

In sum, what is happening is a certain removal of the blinkers on the US-India relationship. From the Indian side, the policymaker almost completely sequestered himself from the needless excitement of the “pro-American” lobby and sundry other fatcats who stand to gain out of the US-India tango, as well as the US’ own propaganda machinery, which incessantly churns out the spin about the relationship being a rare thing in contemporary global politics. From the US propaganda, it may appear the Indian policymaker is being passively led by the skillful American master who knows the ways of the poodles.

But in reality, both Delhi and Washington know – as WikiLeaks cables reveal – that it is just not in India’s DNA (to borrow a memorable phrase from the People’s Daily) to be a poodle. The rupture that threatens to break out next week could well throw the entire US-India nuclear deal into a spin, but it has also brought out into the open the real alchemy of the US-India relationship as a hard-nosed, selective partnership based on mutual advantage. It stands out in primary colours. Sans misleading euphoria, sans false pretensions, sans unrealistic expectations.

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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