How low will our PM bow?


Devil's Advocate
Senior Member
Apr 21, 2009

How low will our PM bow?

Bharat Karnad
First Published : 23 Nov 2009 12:54:18 AM IST

Barack Obama’s deep bow to the Japanese emperor Akihito in Tokyo was hugely resented by many Americans. US presidents apparently never do that. It is, however, the norm as far as the current Indian Prime Minister is concerned. Manmohan Singh, who finds nothing offensive in bending low especially before Chinese and Western leaders will, by force of habit, bow and scrape in Washington. Not that anybody will notice. With the ministry of external affairs and the Washington embassy scheduling his state visit over the four day ‘Thanksgiving’ holiday weekend, what little media attention this occasion would have otherwise attracted will be missing.

This analyst has frequently pointed to the difference in how China and India are treated by the United States. This is attributable to China’s emerging as both a military rival and America’s banker — Beijing holds some $2 trillion in US debt, while India remains only an inexhaustible Third World source of intellectual coolies-cum-economic refugees, who are needed to upkeep the American software industry and to man the country’s scientific, technological, and financial infrastructure. While a magisterial Hu Jintao is difficult to deal with and has to be heeded, a supplicating Manmohan Singh is a pleasant diversion and can be fobbed off with some chaps in period costume playing pipe and drums and marching to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy on the White House lawn.

The nearness in time between Obama’s largely unsuccessful tour of China where he failed to gain much — Beijing reportedly cold-shouldered the president on every troubling issue he raised — from human rights to floating the yuan, and Manmohan Singh’s trip, permits a comparative analysis.

Obama prepared for his meeting with Hu by ensuring that nothing was said or done that would give the least offence to Beijing. Hence, Obama refused, for instance, to meet with the Dalai Lama prior to his China trip. In contrast to the US preparations for the Beijing summit, as curtain-raiser to the PM’s sojourn a deliberate provocation was offered India. The under-secretary of state for non-proliferation Ellen Tauscher was dispatched to Delhi to lay down a tough line. Tauscher, who has made divesting India (and Pakistan) of nuclear weapons her priority, advised the Congress party coalition regime that Manmohan Singh’s grand plans to import expensive light water nuclear reactors as a way of kick-starting the near comatose Indian-US nuclear deal hung in the balance. That, notwithstanding the 123 Agreement India had signed and Delhi lays much store by, the US department of energy ‘Part 810’ regulations, she informed her counterpart, required the Indian government to give further non-proliferation ‘assurances’ before any commercial transactions could get underway. The nature of these additional assurances-qua-demands can only be guessed, but they are unlikely to be other than onerous.

As a few of us had warned, Washington had all along thought of the 123 Agreement as a means of putting the Indian government on a slippery non-proliferation slope, compelling it to cede more and more ground on the nuclear weapons front until the country is reduced to a notional and shambolic nuclear weapon state. Moreover, such an outcome, however realised, will help burnish Obama’s disarmament credentials. That this will be at the expense of India’s vital national security interests seems to bother the Indian government not at all. Given Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s record of accommodating Washington, this development may be evidenced sooner than even the most die-hard pessimists apprehend.

For example, if Manmohan Singh even hints in any manner or form at his willingness to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) — doubtless the sort of assurances being sought, then it is logical to conclude, in light of the coordinator of the Shakti series of tests K Santhanam’s revelations about the dud thermonuclear device tested in 1998, that the Indian government is satisfied with the country making do with unreliable fusion weapons and, hence, a nuclear deterrent lacking credibility. In the circumstances, the negative outcome in any of the looming strategic crises with a tested megaton thermonuclear weapon-armed China will be a foregone conclusion. So, what’s new? Indian rulers have historically a record of disabling their own forces, throwing in the towel, and turning tail.

More egregiously, Obama and Hu mentioned the joint interest of the United States and China in resolving the Kashmir dispute. This was what Beijing desired. China has been trying to insinuate itself into the India-Pakistan tangle for a long time, and now it has secured a certain legitimation of its role as the main political and military prop for Islamabad — something the US does not want anymore to be — and, therefore, with a say in the affairs of the subcontinent. Senior US state department officials have been at pains to dismiss this reference as a bit of diplomatic fluff. In which case, Manmohan Singh should explore the possibility of including a similarly innocuous aside about the Indian and US interest in peaceful resolution of the Taiwan crisis and respect for human rights of the beleaguered Tibetans. Of course, Obama will demur for the good reason that Washington desperately needs Beijing’s help in corralling North Korea and slowing down the pace of Iran’s nuclearisation and, more generally, it needs Beijing not to pull the carpet from under an economically unsteady America.

While New Delhi has always been quick to take umbrage and react in kind to a weak and floundering Pakistan, it has been over-careful to not upset Beijing. Fear is so manifest in India’s China policy, its making might as well have been outsourced to the zhongnanhai (the Chinese foreign office). Whenever, more by mischance than design, Delhi does adopt a strong stance, the result invariably is that Beijing backs down. This happened recently when despite China’s vociferous protest, the Dalai Lama was allowed to tour Tawang. Beijing responded by silence. It resumed its diplomatic belligerence only after the nervy Indian government barred the Indian and international press from accompanying the Dalai Lama to Bomdila for specious reasons of ‘inner line’ permits. Talk of shooting oneself in the foot after having bagged a rogue panda!
Perfectly summarises the pusillanimous attitude towards strategic policy by our government. Also, this attitude and repeated starvation of funds to the armed forces, has lead us into this situation:

Let us hope and pray to God that the Chinese do not attack before 2027. Guess the price for a hope of temporary security is the humiliating subservience that we must offer to our not-so-friendly neighbours.

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