First Published : 27 Nov 2009 12:12:00 AM ISTLast Updated : 27 Nov 2009 12:18:07 AM IST
Whatever the spin doctors of Manmohan Singh in the South Block may say, it is plain as daylight that the Obama administration in Washington DC is not taking India seriously. True, our prime minister is the first to be formally invited for a State visit after Obama took over the presidency. However, we cannot be blind to the many indicators scattered across the last few months on what the president thinks about the place of India vis-à-vis China in global affairs.
America is upset whenever human rights are violated anywhere in the world. Remember how it had denied visa to Narendra Modi in the wake of Gujarat riots. China which is a centralised authoritarian country does not allow any dissidence; it has imposed censorship on the Internet. If Obama objected to all this, it is not there in the joint statement between the two presidents. What do you make out of this guilty silence?
The president could not get his host to commit on the worldwide demand that China revalue its currency to its natural level, at least 20 per cent upwards. China has contributed to the global imbalance in currency by keeping its currency valued at the same level as in 1980s with only a marginal upward valuation in mid-90s and then withdrawing it. This gives enormous advantage, making Chinese goods cheaper for the rest of the world.
What a climbdown for the great power that its president had to give up meeting the Dalai Lama simply because he did not want to annoy China’s obdurate rulers. Then Obama concedes to China that Tibet “is part of the People’s Republic of China” and a weak rider “the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama” — this when the Tibetan leader has already announced that such dialogue is futile, after trying this way for several years.
Obama got almost nothing from China’s rulers. But that is only one part of the story. The other part is that he virtually conceded to China the whole of South Asia as its play field by allowing this potent sentence to be part of the joint communiqué: US recognises China’s role in South Asian peace and specifically in India-Pakistan dialogue. The US has endorsed what China has been seeking to do through its support to insurgent groups in India, its aggressive naval expansion in the Indian Ocean and its intervention in Pakistan.
No doubt, our external affairs ministry reacted strongly to this time bomb planted in the Hu-Obama joint communiqué. But its coming right on the eve of Manmohan Singh going to Washington on a State visit was even more significant. It should only make perceptive observers in Delhi wonder whether any purpose would be served in Singh’s visit to the US now.
Newsweek’s international editor Fareed Zakaria has rightly commented on what you could expect from the visit: “There will be nice words said in public about the ties between two great democracies. But underneath this lies an unease.” A historic parallel is in President Nixon’s overture to Maoist China behind the back of India in the early 70s that stunned the Indian foreign policy establishment and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The danger of the prime minister being his own foreign policy maker also and of having a minimal person as external affairs minister was prominent in the history of post-Independence India. But this Congress practice continues even now. S M Krishna was nowhere in the Indo-Pak meeting in Egypt and he could hardly explain the key surrender sentence in the joint communiqué there.
Now once again he is simply a hanger-on and Manmohan Singh seems to believe that he is best suited to conduct foreign policy because he succeeded in winning the previous US administration’s support in getting the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement through. Compare that episode with what Vajpayee as PM did in talks with Pakistan president in Agra, getting his colleagues to go through the proposed agreement. As a result, he clearly rejected the trap that Musharraf proposed in it.
The core of Washington’s perception in South Asia is that it needs a face-saver in Afghanistan to get out of this situation and Pakistan with its influence on the Taliban alone could provide that face-saver. This is a departure from the Bush administration’s determined stand that Taliban should be exterminated. This country wants to know from Singh whether he would stand up to President Obama and tell him that such a move in Afghanistan would be interpreted in India as a surrender to Pakistan’s use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy aimed specially against India and that it would only further endanger India’s security.
If the PM is not able to talk his host in Washington out of such surrender, out of accepting Pakistan’s claim to ‘see a pro-Pak government in Afghanistan’ as Zakaria puts it, all the talk about India being a ‘strategic partner’ of America is simply meaningless chatter. Has Singh an alternative policy in position to tell America that it can move on its own strength and build a strong India that can counter a growing China-Pakistan-US axis once again?
To get Washington administration to perceive the Indian advantage and reorient its foreign policy, India must have a government that believes in building national strength through a framework that inspires a billion people with one purpose. In the ruling Congress in India, nationalism and national culture are dirty words. So Singh has to appeal to his celebrity host. All the while the prime minister’s spin doctors have to spot the glitter in the lunch and dinner that President Barack Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton host and the quality of the reception he gets in Washington to obfuscate the audience back in India.