Divide & gain :India's unity lies in democracy and diversity

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by ajtr, Oct 13, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Divide & gain

    India's unity lies in democracy and diversity, but foreign powers do not always see it that way, says N.V.Subramanian.

    11 October 2010: The Economist magazine of UK has just recommended India over China to foreign investors. The point it makes has been made before, which is that India may be chaotic on the surface but is calm below. The opposite is said about China.
    But despite such high-powered recommendation of India by a world-class publication, some caveats are necessary, especially in respect to the conduct of foreign relations. Some great powers and puny states alike, including the US, China and Pakistan, take our democratic skirmishes at face value, and seek to make divisive interventions that could someday prove costly.
    Consider the Indo-US nuclear deal. It might be argued that as contentious as its earlier "positive mandate" from Parliament proved to be -- the Left pulled out of the government and the Manmohan Singh regime at best won a corrupt confidence vote in the Lok Sabha -- the subsequent consensual parliamentary approval of the nuclear liability law put a permanent lid on the controversy.
    But in the middle of the nuclear-deal scrimmage, at least one unfortunate incident happened. The US approached the Manmohan Singh government about the BJP's opposition to the nuclear deal. You may or may not accept the BJP's opposition (this writer, for the record, does), but the Centre handled the American interrogation wrongly. It asked the US government directly to speak to the BJP, when it would have been wiser to say the opposition was being engaged.
    If, thereafter, an unconvinced US took the matter straight up with the BJP, that would be the call of a sovereign state. But the Indian government wouldn't in any way be implicated. By directing the US to the BJP, the Manmohan Singh government was ceding its authority and diminishing the Centre. It was putting the official stamp on internal political differences which ought never to be done. For its part, the BJP should have heard out the US, but politely closed the conversation by saying its points of differences would be conveyed to the government. At all times, the government should be the single window of interface for any foreign state.

    The US is not the only country to attempt to play upon perceived internal political differences. Pakistan and particularly its ex-dictator, Parvez Musharraf, have tried it all too often in the past and continue to do so. At Agra, Musharraf worked on the alleged differences between A.B.Vajpayee and L.K.Advani. When the UPA-I government was formed, Musharraf tried to show Manmohan Singh down by saying Vajpayee was a doughtier peace-maker. Then Musharraf invited Sonia Gandhi to visit Pakistan to exploit the fact that Manmohan Singh was PM at her pleasure. Now again, as Musharraf attempts a desperate political comeback in Pakistan, he has reversed his stand, hailing Manmohan Singh as a bigger conciliator than Vajpayee. Musharraf's game is obvious. But his bait should not be taken.
    China too carries the misimpression that India is weak because of its democracy. In a recent phase of downturn in Sino-Indian relations, the Chinese had articulated the possibility of Balkanizing India along its linguistic "faultlines", forgetting that they were overcome long ago. More currently, to prevent any Chinese extrapolation of India's Commonwealth Games (CWG) fiasco as somehow reflective of the country's strategic confusion, this writer had argued about India's core strengths, one of which happens to be democracy. The message got home to the Chinese, who quickly sympathized with India's CWG predicaments in their regular foreign-office briefing.
    The point is this. In any democracy, political differences cannot artificially be capped. They make a democracy both weak and strong, but stronger by far. It is most important that foreign powers do not misconstrue India's democratic chaos for weakness, as some examples given above show. How that is done, particularly in the realm of foreign affairs, is to make government the sole point of official contact for other countries. This might appear to be obvious, but when there seem other locations of appeal, like, say, Sonia Gandhi or the BJP or (for the Chinese) the CPI-M, then India weakens. This is not to say foreign countries should be barred from engaging non-government notables, opposition parties, etc. But they should understand that the policy of divide and extract won't be tolerated.
    The strength of chaotic but calm India can no longer be taken for granted.
    N.V.Subramanian is Editor, The Public Affairs Magazine- Newsinsight.net, and writes internationally on strategic affairs. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi). Email: [email protected].
     
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  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Party vs government

    With Congress bosses daily battling the Manmohan Singh regime, who needs the BJP? N.V.Subramanian analyzes.

    8 October 2010: There are two types of battles underway between the Congress party and the Manmohan Singh government. Both battles, one institutional in character and the other individual, are undermining the Centre and by a natural correlation the country and specifically its national interests. It is unfair and difficult to say that one side or one set of individuals are always right and the other wrong. But the Congress party's growing differences with the government will run the country aground sooner than later and recovery will be impossible at least in the present term of office of prime minister Manmohan Singh.
    In normal course, the buck should stop with the PM, but Manmohan Singh has never been that manner of all-commanding prime minister in the more than six years he has been on the job. The only time he discovered his self-respect was when the Indo-US nuclear deal was threatened by UPA-I's Left allies and the Congress party was frightened into supporting him lest he quit.
    Since then, it has been downhill for the PM, and strangely, Manmohan Singh seems not to care. Leave aside other things, he decided to intervene in the Commonwealth Games fiasco when India's image had ground to dust internationally, and perhaps even that was nudged by the Congress leadership. On the Congress party-government face-off on everything from tackling Maoists to environmental concerns, mining in tribal areas, and issues related to education, Manmohan Singh has maintained a stoic silence, as though completing his prime-ministerial term, however abjectly, is all that he cares about.
    Meanwhile, under his watch, among others, P.Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh spectacularly are locked in a confrontation that entirely threatens to undermine the authority of government. To be sure, Digvijaya Singh has provoked this fight, utilizing his proximity to Rahul Gandhi, but at the same time, Chidambaram has shown vulnerabilities that any opponent could exploit.
    Chidambaram has been successful in containing Pakistani terrorism directed against India, but even so, it is unclear how profoundly he understands the critical home portfolio he holds. Frankly, Chidambaram shows no grasp of the complexities of India, especially North India, where he earlier blithely has advocated using the military against the Maoists. Nor has he any understanding of Jammu and Kashmir, where this writer and this magazine twice had to provide him correct perspective about the burgeoning violence, which he, like the disastrous Omar Abdullah, conveniently blame on the army.
    It is no secret that Digvijaya Singh (blocked from Madhya Pradesh by Shivraj Chauhan) is ambitious for Chidambaram's job, and he has made the hurting but not unwise comment (incidentally first articulated by this magazine on objective considerations) that the basic requirement for a home minister is to have solid and successful chief-ministerial experience. On the other hand, Chidambaram reckons that the way to contain Digvijay's challenge is to indulge in competitive Hindu-bashing, which is perhaps the reason for his "saffron terror" comment and for his post-Ayodhya verdict observations. Neither parties nor the Congress and government realize that India is being damaged in the process.
    The other battles are less individualized and more institutional but nevertheless wrecking. For example, it is difficult to fault Jairam Ramesh for his pro-environment crusade because he is the environment minister. But governance is also about making reasonable and calibrated compromises to serve a larger good which Ramesh forgets. In his ministerial duties, he puts greater faith in the judgment of Rahul Gandhi than the collective wisdom of the Union cabinet. Why have the present cabinet then? If Rahul Gandhi appears so superior to Congressmen, then it is time Manmohan Singh is pensioned off. Kapil Sibal's face-off with Congress managers also appears institutional (although Sibal is as shallow as Chidambaram) where the party has no faith in the government's education policy.
    As said in the beginning of the piece, it is not that one side is entirely to blame and the other faultless. Nor is it to be expected, especially in a chaotic democracy like India's, that everybody in the ruling dispensation will have uniform views. But this daily sniping between the Congress party and government (for example, Digvijaya's most current defence of Omar Abdullah against the Centre) is becoming toxic. What commenced as a good cop/ bad cop strategy to seize the opposition space from the BJP is beginning to consume UPA-II.
    Indian voters everyday are being reminded of their disastrous decision to give the UPA a second term.
    N.V.Subramanian is Editor, The Public Affairs Magazine- Newsinsight.net, and writes internationally on strategic affairs. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi). Email: [email protected].
     
  4. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Headed for the ditch

    Because of his perceived weakness and powerlessness, the United States and China are scorning Manmohan Singh, says N.V.Subramanian.

    8 September 2010: While Manmohan Singh may be the world leader "that other leaders love" (or so claims Newsweek), that does not prevent countries like, say, the United States and China from walking all over the Indian prime minister. Two recent instances amply advertize this fact.
    In a meeting with editors held earlier this week, the PM expressed satisfaction with the nuclear liability law in which the opposition BJP and CPI-M forced amendments making (mostly foreign) suppliers liable alongwith operators. Manmohan Singh repeated the argument of the opposition that India was in the market for forty power reactors and suppliers would before long realize the advantages of engaging with this country. He ruled out any changes to satisfy US business interests.
    But that has not made the US back down from attempts to water down suppliers' liability in the law. The US state department spokesman, P.J.Crowley, said yesterday that "We will look to the Indian government to see what changes can be made." Earlier to this, the US-India Business Council and American strategists focusing on the South Asia region expressed unhappiness with suppliers' liability and said it would repel American reactor makers.
    The answer still remains the same. In the best judgment of Parliament, it has nearly consensually approved the nuclear liability law. It cannot anymore be revisited for changes suiting US businesses. The wounds of Bhopal have been reopened and no government now can survive if it is seen as conspiring and compromising with foreign interests and making India in any way vulnerable to nuclear catastrophes.
    But that still leaves one question unanswered. How dare the US openly pressurize the Indian PM to change his own publicly reiterated position? How did it hope to get away doing this? The fault, however, lies with Manmohan Singh. He has given the impression of being slavishly pro-US. He risked his prime-ministership and the first UPA government to get the Indo-US nuclear deal through, although the Congress party itself, the opposition, and the bulk of the strategic community, including serving and retired atomic scientists, opposed it.
    The US now expects Manmohan Singh to do the same with the liability law. Whatever the PM's personal inclination, he cannot now threaten to resign to accommodate the US. The country will not tolerate it and it will hugely embarrass the Congress party. To bring in precisely those amendments which were opposed by the opposition, to satisfy the needs of US business and to smoothen president Barack Obama's November visit, would open India to charges of being a banana republic.
    The second example pertains to China. At the meeting with editors mentioned above, the PM spoke his mind against China. He said Beijing could be tempted to use India's "soft underbelly", Kashmir, and Pakistan "to keep India in low-level equilibrium". He added, "China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality. We have to be aware of this."
    China has reacted to this in an oddly belligerent way. Where earlier it would have said it had no role to play in South Asia (whilst creepily advancing itself there) this time, it wrote itself into the region in bold. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Jiang Yu, said, "I would like to say that China is one of the important members of Asia and we are committed to safeguarding peace and stability of Asia, including (emphasis added) South Asia...." This statement does not play down China's interests in South Asia but privileges it. China, therefore, formally has signaled its interest in South Asia, proving Manmohan Singh right but at the same time challenging him.
    But China's challenge of Manmohan Singh is different from the US making demands of the PM, although they both amount to walking over him. China sees a role for itself in South Asia, as has already been pointed out by this writer in earlier commentaries, because the US is walking out of there -- which will become official when in quits Afghanistan from July 2011. But there is a second reason for the show of Chinese belligerence against the PM.
    China has concluded, as the rest of India has, that Manmohan Singh is weak, and that perhaps the Congress leadership is deliberately weakening him to show Rahul Gandhi, the PM-in-waiting, to be strong in contrast. It is no secret either that Manmohan Singh has been reduced to one other Central cabinet minister, with decisions being made at 10 Janpath. China understands, in short, that India is leaderless today, and that this is the moment to put the bite on the country.
    It is never too late to repair the damage. But Manmohan Singh has to show he's in charge. The US firmly should be told not to expect any changes in the nuclear liability law. It should also be communicated to president Obama that it is unacceptable that one major democracy should seek to undermine the legislative will of another democracy because they are unequal powers. And the ultimate riposte to China would be for the Congress to invest its prime minister with real powers, or bring in Rahul Gandhi to the job if it so loves him.
    On the present course, India is headed for the strategic ditch.
    N.V.Subramanian is Editor, The Public Affairs Magazine- Newsinsight.net, and writes internationally on strategic affairs. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi). Email: [email protected].
     

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