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?

Southasia - - Contents - By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

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.

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