The Meddlesome Clinton
As the U.S. tries to interfere in India's domestic affairs, will India succumb and play pawn to American interests in Iran?
US Secretary Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to India has exposed the real intentions of American foreign policy interests towards the country. Strangely enough, instead of visiting Delhi first, Clinton landed in Kolkata and met with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The two discussed business and talked about U.S investment in the state. The next day, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sita Ram Yechury, questioned the intention of such a visit. It is a well-known fact that crushing communism has been on the American agenda for long and West Bengal, being India’s only communist ruled state for so many years, has attracted much attention. Mamata did the unthinkable by dethroning the previous government thus opening Bengal to new opportunities for international business. Kolkata was India’s business capital before Mumbai took over as not only India’s tinsel town but also its financial hub.
Mamata Banerjee is not on the best of terms with the Indian government despite being a part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Banerjee has managed to push for reforms solely through the central government. Clinton was undoubtedly aware that Banerjee wields enormous influence on the Union Government and therefore her visit was not without any economic or commercial interest of the United States.
It is also not a coincidence that the American media has suddenly taken a keen interest in Didi (as Mamata is fondly called). Time magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential political leaders of the world. The Washington Post recently put her on the front-page center spread as an important leader who can influence policy decisions in India.
The reality is that Clinton was in India to coerce the government to take a decision on Iran. Addressing students as well as speaking to the media, she mentioned clearly that there are many countries which have oil and energy resources and India need not be worried about the repercussions of any decision it take on stopping imports from Iran. Over the years, America has avoided asking India directly to do things according to U.S whims but this time Clinton came with a clear agenda and a tough attitude.
Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh as well as Minister for External Affairs, S. M. Krishna have unambiguously informed Clinton that India has a right to decide its relations with other countries according to its strategic need and the United States should not have any reason to fret. Iran is important to India’s energy needs and is essential to maintaining greater stability in the region.
Foreign policy analysts are not much enthused with the prime minister’s assurance. They feel that America is dictating its terms and conditions on India. After the 1990s, Indian foreign policy shifted towards the United States after Narsimharao assumed office. When Vajpayee became prime minister, Indo-US ties received a boost as the right wing Hindutva party has always been pro American in its approach. Non Resident Indians in the US and Europe were the prime targets of the party. A majority of them wanted India to improve its relations with the US. The American administration also needed India in its grand design to counter Chinese influence in South Asia as well as join in the fight against ‘terrorism.’ The BJP consequently used this anti terrorist bogey for domestic political purposes.
Sadly, Indian defense and foreign policy analysts have been thoroughly communalized. It is difficult to find individuals who advocate for an independent foreign policy. While the US might have its own interests, Indian security hawks and foreign policy experts are exploiting this relationship to build a strong case against Pakistan; a country they accuse for not doing enough to control anti Indian groups on its soil. For years, these analysts believed that America would take action against Pakistan on India’s advice, only to be severely disappointed.
Pakistan is essential to American interest in the region and it would be detrimental for both countries to disengage from each other, especially in the present moment. However, the U.S also desires a strong partnership with India. It is clearly playing a double game, which is no more obvious than from the varying rhetoric it accords to the different countries it negotiates with. While American policy makers may argue that they wish to see peace in
the subcontinent, the fact is that peace anywhere will ruin the currently profitable American arms industry.
A vast section of Indians has never been enamored to American flattery regarding Indian democracy. India may be the largest democracy of the world but it is certainly not the best. When President Obama came to India, he talked about creating opportunities for Americans. In his own speeches at many political platforms in the United States, President Obama has termed youngsters from India as the biggest challenge to the job market in the US.
Clinton’s visit has explicitly illustrated the American game plan in the region. Questions arise over Clinton’s visits to various states and direct meetings with chief ministers about business and other deals. The issue of India’s foreign policy and defense matters cannot be discussed with chief ministers but should rather be conducted with the government. Many analysts view such audacity as growing US interference in India’s domestic matters. Prior to meeting Banerjee, Clinton met with the Tamil Nadu chief minister, J. Jayalalitha. While refraining from public condemnation, most political parties consider this an interference in domestic affairs. Newspapers too have not reported on such sentiments as the US does not only work through regional parties and national opposition parties but also coopts ‘well paid’ opinion makers in Delhi.
Whatever these opinion makers claim, common Indians, farmers, students, and workers feel that the United States capitalist model is collapsing and will not be able to withstand global competition. India is not comfortable with serving as America’s pawn to reinforce US capitalist sovereignty over other nations. India must assert its independent foreign policy and should not become a tool for US agendas in Iran by creating confrontation. Peace and stability in this region are victims of such interventions and India must play a positive role in saving it from further human disaster.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a human rights activist and documentary filmmaker, based in New Delhi.