M.D. NALAPAT, an expert on foreign relations, analyses and brings out the dangers inherent in recently concluded Indo-US 123 Agreement.
Two years ago, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited a university in the UK, he had spoken in glowing terms of the 170 years when the British totally dominated India. While the establishment of the Raj had indeed brought with it some benefits, such as the now widespread use of the English language, as well as the institutions and practices of Westminster-style democracy, this came at a huge cost. In 1827, India accounted for 26% of total world output, dwarfing the 3% contribution made by the UK. By the time when Lord Louis Mountbatten (through his wife Edwina) received Jawaharlal Nehru’s offer to be the first Governor-General of “free” India in 1947, the share of undivided India had fallen to 2%, during which massive precious metals were transferred to the UK that it had risen to 16%. Since 1947, the UK as well as the US and from 1963 onwards, China had sought to contain and limit India by propping up Pakistan. It ought not to be forgotten that M.A. Jinnah remained loyal to the Allied cause in Word War II, while the Congress Party under M.K. Gandhi adopted a “neutral” position that in fact favoured the Axis powers. This was a strategic blunder with immense consequences, for it was Gandhi’s flirtation with Hitlerite Germany and Tojo-run Japan that gave India-hater Winston S Churchill the support he needed to keep India enslaved throughout World War II, and to subsequently reward Jinnah for his loyalty to the British crown by gifting him Pakistan, the creation of which marginalised the Muslims of the subcontinent into two (and later three) weak strands rather than a single strong current flowing within a united Republic of India.
Despite their rhetoric, both Gandhi as well as Nehru had a deep inferiority complex about India, seeing the peoples of the subcontinent as inferior to the British. Both the Congress leaders had lived in the UK for years, and their prolonged stay had bred in them an awe of British life and culture that permeated their actions ever since. While Jawaharlal Nehru was frankly British in mind and chemistry, remaining Indian only in skin, his mentor Gandhi masked his enthusiasm for British ways by pretending that the weaknesses of India – the poverty and the permittivity of certain customs, such as caste – were in fact strengths. In Gandhian economics, everybody had to be made poor, a contrast to China’s Deng Xiaoping, who said that “to be rich is glorious”, and encouraged his nation to prosper. Small wonder that China, which had an economy half the size of India’s in 1957, grew to double India’s size by 1987. Under the rule of Gandhi’s hand-picked Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian people remained shackled to a regime of controls and licence that reduced them to the status of servants. Only since the mid-1990s was an effort made to reduce this deadening compound of noxious policy. However, since 2002, when the Prime Minister’s Office under Brajesh Mishra became as powerful as it had been under the imperial Nehrus, the clock has been turning back, a trend that has been accelerated since 2004, when Manmohan Singh was chosen by UPA supreme Sonia Gandhi to head the Congress-led government. These days, citizens are once again routinely harassed by Income Tax Officers, who have been given back the dictatorial powers that they enjoyed under the Nehrus. Thanks to new administrative edicts, the property of a citizen can be taken away by an officer on the merest pretext, without the citizen having any legal right to redress. Slowly, an undeclared emergency has settled on India, born of a contempt for the Indian that is also at the root of the abject genuflection of Sonia Gandhi’s government before the United States.
No government since 1947 has been as totally hitched to the US chariot as that which is now in office in New Delhi. This writer is a supporter of a partnership with the United States, a country that he has visited several times and admires. However, as the ancient Indian saying goes, “there can be friendship only between equals”. An alliance between the US and India must be based on an acceptance by Washington that India is a country that is too big to get subordinated to the dictates of any outsider power. It ought to be backed on reciprocity and respect, not on the same sort of inferiority complex that Gandhi and Nehru displayed while dealing with the British. The 123 Agreement that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, backed by Sonia Gandhi, seeks to conclude with George W Bush does not have the elements needed for the creation of a healthy relationship between the world’s most populous democracy and the world’s most prosperous. Instead, as presently negotiated, the 123 Agreement will prove a minefield that has the potential to seriously destabilise India-US relations, once it begins to get implemented. The irritants and blockades that the fine print in the 123 can potentially result in can lead to recrimination and misunderstandings that could stretch goodwill on both sides to the breaking point. The fact remains that within the US establishment, there are literally dozens of senior officials with an inherently “Mugabist” mindset, who regard advanced technology as the monopoly of those peoples whose ethnic origin is Europe. All the rest of humanity is seen by them as inferior and unworthy of being “trusted” to handle such technologies, even if they have themselves developed them. Such officials will make the process of implementation of the 123 Agreement so filled with disputes that it could rupture ties between the two establishments in a way that the USSR, and now China, has not succeeded in doing.
Sonia Gandhi had made a speech at Vigyan Bhavan soon after the UPA took office that publicly debunked the new strategic strength of India and called – in effect – for a return to the weakness of the Nehru years, when India was too insignificant an economic power to be taken seriously in the operationalising of policy. Such a view of India, one that sees the country as not a giant but as a dwarf, lies at the heart of the unequal bargain that Manmohan Singh has worked out with George W Bush. It is an agreement between a servant and a master, not between two sovereign states. An agreement where the servant agrees to humiliating conditions would enshrine into custom the extra-territorial rights of the master. It is an agreement that serves the interests of neither the US nor India, and reflects a bygone period when the youth of the country had not yet been unshackled enough to propel the economy on its current growth path, one that is in danger of being reversed by the disastrous economic policies being pursued by Manmohan Singh. Such errors include the whittling down of grain stocks, the raising of interest rates and the return of Raid Raj in the Income Tax Department. The 123 Agreement has been a part of the process of once again reducing India to the status of a dwarf, the status that the country endured under the British and the Nehrus.