‘Independent' Foreign Policy in the Strategic Shadow of Imperialism

Manmohan Singh has now completed his first major foreign pilgrimage. On his way
to deliver his first address at the UN General Assembly, he has had his first direct encounter with both Tony Blair and George Bush.

While Blair used this occasion to indulge in some patronizing talk about India's working democracy and social tolerance, Singh chose to express his government's readiness to jump on to the Bush-Blair bandwagon. The joint declaration talked of a long term comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries with a specific thrust on defence cooperation, joint military training and exercises, and cooperation between police and other law enforcement agencies in the whole domain of criminal justice system.

Manmohan also touched Iraq and went on to declare the Anglo-American war on Iraq to be a chapter of the past. Short of committing Indian troops to Iraq , he offered all kinds of assistance in policing Iraq . At a time when the Iraqi people are forced to wage a grim battle for freedom from the Anglo-American occupation forces, and Blair faces daily protests and warnings from his own people for his messy involvement in Iraq , Manmohan's words must have been music to Blair's ears. But nothing could be more shocking and shameful to the freedom-loving democratic opinion of India . How can the Prime Minister of a country which had to fight for centuries to get out of the colonial yoke gloss over the brutal reality of imperialist occupation of Iraq !

The theme of strategic partnership also dominated the joint statement issued after Manmohan's hour-long meeting with Bush. The statement described Indo-US bilateral ties to have “never been as close as they are at present,” and emphasized “expanded defence cooperation … (as) an integral aspect of the expanding ties.” The Bush-Manmohan encounter came just weeks before Bush has to face an angry American electorate as he seeks reelection for a second term at White House.

Somewhere in its Common Minimum Programme, the UPA government had made an assurance regarding an ‘independent' foreign policy. We now have ample instances of this ‘independence' in action. The UPA government sees India 's role in the international arena only as an aspiring junior partner of the US in its global imperialist drive. It is quite significant that Nepal and Myanmar figured most prominently during Manmohan's breakfast meeting with Bush. In keeping with its strategic objective of containing and encircling China , the US is seeking greater presence in all the neighbouring countries around China and ‘strategic partnership with India ' can prove to be a very handy weapon for the US in this region.

In this context, we should also take note of the growing convergence in the UPA government's economic and foreign policies. Commitment to neo-liberalism is a matter of ‘shared interest' between India and the US and hence the UPA government finds it most natural to appoint Montek Singh Ahluwalia as the Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission and then pack the consultative committees of the Commission with experts from the World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank and agencies like the McKinsey.

Some of these ‘consultants' may now offer to resign in view of objections raised by Left economists, but that will not mean any shift in the present direction of the economic policy. Incidentally, Montek Singh Ahluwalia is a key member of the contingent accompanying the PM on his foreign visits and it was on board the Prime Minister's special aircraft that Montek Singh declared that foreign experts were here to stay.

While Left economists raised valid objections regarding the implications of having experts from the Fund-Bank establishment directly on the committees of the Planning Commission, the hypocrisy and vacillation of the CPI(M) are all too evident. The Left Front government of West Bengal has now made it an integral part of its practice to seek and implement ‘expert advice' from the same ‘foreign agencies'! The US Consul in Kolkata openly showers praises on the West Bengal government for seeking McKinsey's help to study the potential of agriculture in the state! And in Delhi , CPI(M) leaders now say that the whole controversy has been unnecessarily blown out of proportion!

The CPI(M) may have its own ‘compulsions' for blowing hot and cold. But now that the UPA government has sufficiently indicated the direction it wants to pursue over the entire range of policies, the people of India cannot allow the ‘controversies' to be swept under the carpet of coordination committee meetings and dinner diplomacy.