Tuesday, 5 March 2013

India: and the USA... A complicated relationship...

There is an established history of trade between our 2 countries; even on the military side. There has been a turnaround in the relationship from 2000, with the initiatives by the Clinton administration. There have been agreements on agriculture, education, health, space exploration, energy. The US is one of India's largest trading partners. Exports to USA have risen faster than to  almost any other nation. Between 2002 and 2009, US exports to India increased from $4.1 Billion to $16.4 Billion. Services Exports to India have gone up from $3.2 Billion to $ 9.9 Billion. India is the US 12th-largest trading partner. India has also sourced a good deal of defence technology from the USA - something that was not possible just 2 decades ago. 

But the positive points- and the direction - does not negate India's doubts in other areas; and until the Pakistan imbroglio remains, I personally do not think this relationship will go too far forward. Sure, we will - and should - remain major trading partners; but a strategic alignment is just out of the question. There are major political differences on the Nuclear Liability Law, US dependence on and propping up of Pakistan, lack of sufficient cooperation on vital strategic and security issues, and Iran. India is a very proud nation - whether or not you like it - you are stuck with that reality. It will never be anyone's tool; this chronic independence and refusal to toe anyone's line is a reality, and is another thorn in the relation. Dont expect it to change anytime soon .And the USA seemingly just cannot accept that reality. That is leading to the relationship entering a stalemate... which is very sad for both countries. And as far as people-to-people contacts are concerned, while there is nothing so much to worry about as of yet, but the trend - wherein every major US gaffe and anti-India statement or strategy is highlighted by the Media, US portrayal in Indian thrillers, increasing revelation of US ugly past through some landmark recent books and the recent internet revolution are massive downward pressures. 

The Historical and Individual Perspective: 
Yes, it is true that a large number of Indian citizens aspire to - and do migrate to the USA. But please do remember that we are a nation of 1.25 Billion and counting. These people (the ones who migrate) dont represent the majority. The illiterate couldnt care less. And the educated - they couldnt care less either. Sure, they will read up with interest any US related news, follow the US politics, but they dont care overmuch - and neither do they harbour any driving ambition to migrate to the USA. In fact, an increasing number of professionals are targeting off-beat locations like Africa, and even China in some cases. I dont profess to know the reason for this dichotomous behaviour; but I suspect that there are various reasons for it; like business professionals will state they follow US news as it impacts the economy and so on and so forth. 

Be that as it may, personally, or on a national political level, the USA is just not trusted. There are several powerful reasons for it: and trust me the large majority of educated Indians have not forgotten these reasons.And the same is the situation in the political class. No one trusts the USA in India. 

·        Primary Reason? Pakistan. End of Story. The USA has been building up Pakistan with weapons since at least 1954; and those weapons are used to spill Indian blood. They have been used in 3 wars (the first did not have US weapons I think); and also in the terrorist attacks on India, Evidence of this has been repeatedly given to the USA; to no avail. Till date - 4th March 2013 - this continues unabated. Without USA, chances are a lot less blood would have been spilt. 

·        Second Reason: Pakistan again. Circa 1971. India - Pakistan war. The USA sent its fleet in support of Pakistan - despite the genocide it had carried out in Bangladesh, and despite India facing the brunt of the problem. 

·        Third Reason: Denial of technology to build steel plants in late 50s. (Of course, you can build warships and tanks in a steel plant. Silly me.) Plant technology was given by Russia. Little wonder we were pro-USSR.

·        Fourth Reason: Nuclear imbroglio 1998, with sanctions on our tests - forgetting the simple fact that we are the only nation on Planet Earth sitting beside 2 Nuclear armed neighbours. If anyone needs a deterrent, it is us. It was a known fact that Pakistan had weapons - built with Chinese help and US "looking the other way. Then there is the entire NPT pressure: we are probably one of the few nations with a clean record, and yet pressurise us? Any way, no arguments. No Government in India can sign the NPT and survive. Simple truth. 

·        Fifth Reason: Denial of solid state fuel technology for our rockets. We still reached the Moon, and are now launching a Mars Probe, 

·        Sixth Reason: Pakistan again. The real support - Arms, Money, all support is to Pakistan - till date 4th March 2013. We get only symbolic gestures. 

No, we dont hate you guys; but please dont ask us to trust your Government. We dont, and we never will. All the points above (except the steel plant bit) has been widely reported; all are well known in India. I have just given one unknown reason; trust me there are several more such delightful examples from 1935 to 2013. Like, for example, drawing back at the last moment from supporting us in our Freedom Struggle circa 30s and early 40s;  or the even more infamous decision to not include India in the Atlantic Charter. (India had no right to freedom, hey?) These reasons are not known to the population (and many, many more); but most of the intelligentsia, the political class and a good number of the educated classes are aware. And they definitely dont like any of them...

And in conclusion, such absolutely wonderful remarks as given below did not help too much, either:

John Foster Dulles: Neutrality between Good and Evil is Evil itself... on our policy of Non-Alignment and refusal to get caught up in taking sides. (Switzerland in World War 2 was evil, by those standards... but no one said it then. Why?)

President Harry Truman: I thought India was pretty jammed with poor people, and cows around streets,witch doctors and people sitting on hot coals and bathing in the Ganges.... but I did not think anybody thought it as important

With such awesome views being aired, what do you expect? 

BTW, 60 years later (give or take a few) this nation - with, aah, what was it - "people walking on coals, witch doctors etc etc" - is being sought after by the very same US of A for arms deals, business etc...

If you guys think these facts are lost on us...

Think Again! 

The sad part is, if any two nations deserve to be together as strategic partners, it is India and USA, given that both are massive democracies. And yet, in 5 short years, public sentiment as well as political will has waned driven by US support to Pakistan on every issue combined with differences on any number of other issues; as well as some utterances of the - shall we say - interesting kind. This is a continuing trend; the latest was only a few days back when a gentlemen said India was causing trouble for Pakistan in Afghanistan. This gentlemen is a very  senior person in your Government-  and believe me it was headline news in India - every newspaper and TV channel screamed it as breaking news. Every arms deal with Pakistan, every support to Pakistan is driven home to Indian minds on the Media - repeatedly, day in and day out. This is driving a wedge into the Indian mind, and turning the sentiment against the USA. Every US gaffe, (Iraq, Iran, Nuclear Liability Bill problems, etc etc  ) is reported by the media- and lapped up by the public.A latest series of terror thrillers places the USA firmly as a rogue, supplying the arms to Pakistan. I could go on and on...

The clock is ticking; And public opinion, driven by incessant hammering on negative points from all sources, is changing. Let us hope that the USA can show some respect to Indian views. All that is required is to stop supporting Pakistan - we are an emotional people; trust me - with that one step - all will be forgotten. But I dont see that happening... In the meantime, Indian policy moves on, befriending France, Israel, The East... leaving USA high and dry. Witness the Arms Deal. Or Witness the Nuclear deal with France...

This does not mean that we dont share a strong relationship on the political level as we have seen above; we do - but it is a complicated relationship. There is a strong feeling towards increasing relations on both sides; what I mean is that the relationship is a bit complicated: and the complications are all on the US side. Dont expect us to understand your support for Pakistan; we cant - and we most likely never will understand. 

In fact a glance at the historical perspective throws up a very interesting parallel: in the 50s, we were desperately hunting for steel technology; USA categorically refused to transfer the technology to us. It was sending us surplus wheat it had as we were deficient; but no technology transfer. Cut to today - and we have a similar situation: Cryogenic technology transfer has been consistently denied to us; while the Nuclear Deal went through. The latter meant moolah for the USA - but the former could not provide as much moolah. So it was rendered a blocked item. This is a lesson to all Indians: something that our political class seem to have realised; they are making all the right noises about Indo-US strategic partnership while allocating the substance to the French and the Israelis among others. This is a trust deficit - and it is rooted in US dealings with India. Nothing has changed in the past 60+ years, as the above example shows. And it is a lesson that seems to have eluded the USA and its experts... you dont treat a proud nation this way. And whether you like it or not, pride is a very important matter in Indian Society - and hence in Indian politics. 

How long do you think it will be before a largely negative image of USA emerges in Indian minds when they are being bombarded by rhetoric from all sides? The negative news far outweighs the positive in both decibel as well as sheer volume. As it is, surveys which show a majority of Indians view USA in a positive light are being questioned online in news and in blogs. And that is why I state - A Complicated Relationship...

References: Pax Indica - Shashi Tharoor

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