Thursday, February 12, 2015

All is forgiven, let’s be friends. Good, but...

My article All is forgiven, let’s be friends. Good, but... is today in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.
Here is the link...

The US and West Europe have suddenly warmed up to the Indian Prime Minister, after having shunned and humiliated him through various actions. They are Modi’s friends today, but they are not all-weather friends

A friend of mine, wanting to emulate the Charlie Hebdo cover, suggested a cartoon replacing the Prophet by US President Barack Obama with similar words (‘On a tout pardonnĂ©’ (Everything is forgiven), but instead of ‘Je suis Charlie, to have ‘Je suis Modi’ (I am Modi). It is a fact that all those who condemned Mr Narendra Modi, banned him from visiting their countries, those who held him responsible for the so-called pogrom in Gujarat, have now ‘forgiven everything’; they lavishly praise him as the new messiah who opens opportunities for their struggling economies. It is true for the United States, but also for Old Europe, which has jumped onto the Make in India bandwagon.
If Mr Modi is wise (I am sure he is) and despite the trouncing he has got from a ‘Naxalite’ in Delhi, he will not attach too much importance to the ‘I am Modi’ slogan. The Prime Minister is surely aware that his new-found friends can at any moment revert to their old ideological position against India. The fact that he chose to have an ‘aligned’ foreign policy, even with a perennial foe like China, is certainly a positive development. However the question remains: Are India’s new ‘Je suis Modi’ friends, sincere? It is not difficult to find out. Take the United States. At the recently-held National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Beijing went berserk at Mr Obama praising his “old friend”, the Dalai Lama. If one looks at what Washington, DC, has done to improve the fate of the ordinary Tibetan, the answer is, ‘next to nothing’.
The New York Times explains how ‘politics’ often works: “China and the United States have worked out a reliable pas de deux over the Dalai Lama …It goes like this: Chinese leaders warn the White House against granting the Dalai Lama a public audience, and the American president …finds a way to hold a meeting that will result in the least offence to Beijing.”
So, Mr Obama did namaste to the Tibetan leader; he called him a “powerful example of what it means to practise compassion” — and that was it. The US is not a great defender of human rights and religious freedom, and the Tibetans will not receive more support from Washington, DC. Mr Obama’s public posturing was for internal public consumption (note that the ‘T’ word was not even pronounced). Take now his remarks about India in the same gathering. Mr Obama stated: “Acts of intolerance in India that would have shocked Gandhiji...”
Where was Mr Obama’s great understanding of India and the newly found India-US friendship? Whether at Siri Fort, where President Obama preached: “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith”, or in Washington, his rebuff of India (and of China) is required for his public image. The Times of India termed the speech “an embarrassing smack down” for a country which received him “with euphoria”.
The morale of the story is that India’s Prime Minister should not be carried away by praises (or criticism); he should follow his own path, looking after India’s interests. In his address to the Heads of Indian Missions, the Prime Minister urged Indian diplomats to shed old mindsets and quickly adapt to changing global situations. Indeed, India should live in today’s world. Presuming that the Vedic rishis could build aircraft, today the indigenous fighter plane, the Tejas, has still not got its final combat readiness certificate — 32 years after its conception. Here lies one of India’s problems; her ‘glorious past'’ does not help make the nation a vibrant modern research centre.
Even when the Prime Minster says that “love for nature is part of Indian culture”, it is not enough to make Delhi a pollution-free city. It is fine to tell diplomats that they are “tejasvi, jeevant anshpunj” (shining vibrant representatives), but India has one of the smallest diplomatic corps in the world, compared to its population and ambitions. There is no harm in reiterating that India always stood for Vishva-Bandhutva (the brotherhood of the world), but common men and women should not be forgotten. Is it not a reason why Delhi voted the Aam Aadmi Party in?
Mr Modi does not have an easy task. After years of stagnation under successive Governments, his regime, with only a few talented ‘generals’, has to fight on many fronts: Corruption, dirt and general bureaucratic tamas etc. In one way, it was encouraging to see, perhaps for the first time, that the Ministry of External Affairs has explained one of its important stands. The ministry’s website published some 19 ‘Frequently Asked Questions and Answers’ on civil liability in the case of nuclear damage; the answer to the first question (on the understanding reached during the visit of President Obama to India) shows where the problem lies. It says: “India and the United States have reached an understanding on the issues related to civil nuclear liability and finalised the text of the Administrative Arrangement to implement the September 2008 bilateral 123 Agreement.”
Why was the issue not talked about earlier? For five years, why had nobody said that it was unacceptable to the foreign suppliers? Neither the Congress-led Government nor the then Opposition ever explained their positions (the then Opposition — today the Government — was unfortunately only interested in obstructing the ruling party).
France was the first country to sign a ‘US nuclear deal’ with India in September 2008, and two years later when President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Delhi, he triumphantly announced that two agreements had been signed between Areva of France and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India. After this, there was a blank.
Mr Modi has inherited many such glamorous ‘breakthroughs’, without subsequent follow-ups. Let us hope that the new US ‘breakthrough’ will be different. Another problem of the present foreign policy is that New Delhi bites off more than it can chew. In one week, becoming the United States’ best friend and ‘aligning’ its position with China and Russia is probably not wise.
On February 2, Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj met her Russian and Chinese counterparts in Beijing for the 13th Russia-India-China; as The South China Morning Post said: “[It] is still a minefield to manoeuvre through in terms of diplomatic relations.” There’s nothing wrong in being a bridge between China and Russia, but had South Block fully digested Mr Obama’s visit?
Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese paramount leader, once told his colleagues: “Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead, but aim to do something big.” It is something that India must ponder over. In any case, in the months to come, Mr Modi’s Government will probably have to focus more on the common man’s policies, if it wants to avoid new deceptions.

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