Beyond the N-deal: India in Imperial Bandwagon

Euphoria over, it's time the nation settled down to a level-headed assessment of the backdrop and consequences of the Bush visit.

The Core Accord

How was the much-hyped nuclear deal clinched and what did India gain from it?

New Delhi 's foreign policy exercises in recent years have been marked by two opposite urges or contrary pulls: (a) to grow powerful as the most obedient ally of the sole superpower and (b) to exercise multiple options and improve relations with many countries. The former did predominate, but we also saw enhanced arms purchases from France, Russia and others; improved relations and growing trade with China ; and the steps, however hesitant, towards the Iran-Pakistan-India "peace pipeline". The fierce US opposition to the last-named project is well-known, and the big brother could not digest our upcoming energy understanding with China either. In January this year, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah visited Beijing, ushering in an era of increased cooperation and investment between the two countries in oil, natural gas and investment and the same month an agreement was signed in Beijing between India and China to collaborate in hydrocarbon exploration and production. This move was especially unacceptable to the US in the backdrop of developments like Venezuela and China coming closer and a euro-based Asian oil market being contemplated. Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was taking much interest in the China initiative, was removed from his post well before the Bush visit. That India would prefer to depend on the superpower rather than to play an active role in the emerging Asian energy gird was conveyed also by the treacherous vote against Iran in the IAEA in February. Such was the context in which the Indo-US n-deal was signed and in effect it signalled a major setback to the welcome attempts at diversification of our energy sources. (Talks on the Iran pipeline project have already fallen through, at least for now.)

What India has gained from the accord is not the status of a recognised nuclear power (this, by the way, also implies that the coveted permanent membership at the UN Security Council remains as elusive as ever) but only a promise of steady supply of nuclear fuel and technology from the USA . The quid pro quo is that she must open up nearly two-thirds of her nuclear facilities (deemed civilian) for strict inspection by the IAEA, a body dominated by the USA . As US under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns pointed out in Washington , India has agreed that all future civilian reactors, whether they are thermal reactors or breeder reactors, shall be placed under international safeguards. And before the whole thing becomes operative, three additional conditions are to be met. For one, the US President must procure congressional ratification. India on her part has to negotiate with the IAEA to arrive at "India-specific safeguards" and Additional Protocol agreement and also satisfy the nuclear suppliers group (NSG) that she would faithfully follow the norms of nuclear non-proliferation. In both these forums, India will be pressured to accept stringent conditionalities including an inspection process that intrudes into our indigenous nuclear development programme. Finally, in the years to come our country will be subjected to "safeguards in perpetuity" in respect to the reactors placed on the civilian list. This means India will not be allowed to shift any reactors from the civilian to the military list as the recognised nuclear powers are entitled to do. There is thus no end to discrimination as India is rewarded for her loyalty to the big brother with second-class membership in the elite nuclear club.

The US President says, and the Indian establishment agrees, that "clean energy" from the atomic power plants will help our country improve the pace of economic growth. But the US itself meets only some 20% of its energy requirements from this source and even for oil-poor UK the figure is less than 25%. In the developing countries, China included, the contribution of nuclear power ranges between 1 to 3 per cent, and even lower. Opposition to n-power on environmental grounds is growing worldwide and in an especially accident-prone country like ours the risks involved are all the more real. There is only one gainer here: the limping nuclear power industry in the US and other industrialised countries, which will now find a ready market for their products in India . Soon after the deal, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in a leading American daily that India is going to import about 12 nuclear reactors in the next few years, and even if just two of these orders come to America, that will mean a lot in terms of profits and jobs.

The more pertinent point is: electricity generation has always been only a secondary consideration in any country's nuclear programme – the primary purpose, right from the Hiroshima-Nagasaki days, being the production of WMDs. The n-deal will therefore mean, apart from a dangerous dependence on the US in the crucial energy sector, an escalated arms race in the subcontinent. We are already accustomed to substantial yearly increases in the 'defence' (read war) budget; now even more of taxpayers' money will flow into this account while budgetary allocations on health, education and projects like the NREGA are kept at lowest levels. Don't demand more on these accounts, the semi-starved, semi-clad people of this country will be told, just behold and be proud: we're growing into a first-rate nuclear power, a 'strategic partner' of the world's most powerful nation!

Auxiliary agreements

Among the several other agreements signed during the Bush visit, mention must be made of the "Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Research and Education". Higher education and research in the two countries will now be more closely integrated and it is anybody's guess who will be in command. Agriculture will come under special focus. A governing body comprising universities, institutes and corporate houses from the two countries will be formed to carry forward research and technological cooperation in agriculture. With infamous entities like Monsanto and Wal Mart on the governing body, Indian agriculture and agribusiness are bound to be subjected to a fresh dose of MNC expropriation and control, including more stringent IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) terms.

But the formal agreements do not exhaust the purposes of the presidential visit. Hours before leaving New Delhi , Bush spoke at Purana Qila (the old fort) as CEO, America Inc. cum Commander-in-Chief, Pax Americana. India and Pakistan , he claimed, were now better off because they developed closer relations with the US and therefore urged India "to continue to lift its caps on foreign investment, to make its rules and regulations more transparent, and to continue to lower its tariffs and open its markets to American agricultural products, industrial goods and services". "Americans who come to this country will see Indian consumers buying McCurry Meals from McDonald's, home appliances from Whirpool" – he waxed eloquent – "they will see Indian businesses buying American products like the 68 planes that Air India recently ordered from Boeing…." At the same time he called upon the "strategic ally" to help carry freedom and democracy to "the darkest corners of the earth" (read regime changes in Iran , Venezuela and elsewhere). It might be noted that the agreement also talks about India 's role in the Budapest-based International Centre for Democratic Transition which helps mask Pax Americana as Pax Democratica.

Behind Bush's Benevolence

The economic benefits expected from the deal are going to be enormous, exclaims the leading lights of the Bush administration, as noted earlier. But probably more vital than the immediate economic gains are the strategic interests of US hegemonism. This will be evident from President Bush's second term National Security Strategy (NSS) released on March 16 this year. While admonishing China's leaders for "holding on to old ways of thinking and acting that exacerbate concerns throughout the region and the world" such as "continuing military expansion in a non-transparent way" and advising them that "they cannot let their population increasingly experience the freedoms to buy, sell, and produce, while denying them the rights to assemble, speak, and worship", this document attaches enormous importance to the "transformation" of Indo-US relations, and that in a wider context:

"South and Central Asia is a region of great strategic importance where American interests and values are engaged as never before. We have made great strides in transforming America 's relationship with India … India now is poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation with the United States in a way befitting a major power."

The spirit of the NSS comes out in clear relief from the first sentence in the President's letter introducing the document – " America is at war" – and the last sentence, which reads: " America must continue to lead". A deeper treatment of America 's strategic concerns and India 's role in this context is available in last year's report of the National Intelligence Council, the research wing of the CIA, titled "Mapping the Global Future". The report gives us Washington's assessment of how the world situation would develop towards the year 2020.The most vital issues discussed here include: the spectacular rise of Asia under the leadership of China and India, the menace of "political Islam" and terrorism, the challenges facing globalisation and, in this complex scenario, the ways and means of preserving US hegemony over world affairs. US experts recon that by 2020 India, like China, will catch up with or surpass individual European nations in terms of GNP (though not in per capita income or living standards), with matching military prowess. Such a market, such a state, naturally occupies a most vital place in the imperial scheme of world domination. Add to it the instinctive urge to contain China , to build a powerful base next to America 's strongest potential contender in economic and military terms. Such balancing act is deemed necessary because headlong economic confrontation is rendered impracticable by US corporate reliance on China as an export platform and growing market, as well as by China 's huge dollar reserves. That the Indian side endorses the US stratagem has been made clear often enough by her foreign minister as well as senior diplomats. Thus India's foreign secretary Shyam Saran said in a speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry-World Economic Forum conference in New Delhi last November: "In the context of Asia, there is no doubt that a major realignment of forces is taking place". China was emerging as a "global economic power" with significant military capabilities, he said, and added that the US and India could "contribute to creating a greater balance in Asia ".

According to the NIC report, over the next 15 years or so globalisation will be subjected to many pressures and pulls, the gap between haves and have-nots will widen considerably, and chronic instability will continue to haunt Middle East and Asia . In this backdrop, and also because of her geopolitically advantageous location at roughly the centre of Asia , India presents herself as the best possible US ally in this region.

This does not, of course, mean that Islamabad is losing its importance to Washington . By virtue of its impeccable 60-year track record of steadfast allegiance, its location on the border of Afghanistan and many other factors, Pakistan will continue to enjoy the status of most favoured nation and retain a very important place in the American scheme. President Bush has made this amply clear during his visit to that country. But, as the NSS points out in poignant terms, " America 's relationship with Pakistan will not be a mirror image of our relationship with India ." And this is only natural. With respect to size of market, economic growth rate and political stability, India is a far better candidate as the number one US partner in the subcontinent. Moreover, whereas Pakistan remains a hotbed of so-called Islamic terrorism, which the US dreads so much, Hindu fundamentalism and communalism in India is regarded as much less of a problem, if not actually helpful in fighting 'political Islam'.

The growing politico-military importance of India has also been repeatedly underlined by the American military establishment since September 11, 2001 . The US needs a base from which the sea lanes in Indian Ocean can be put under constant surveillance. The Indian Navy has, in course of prolonged joint manoeuvres, proved that it fits the bill very well. The mass dissension and instability experienced by old allies like South Korea and Saudi Arabia also underscore the need for an alternative arrangement – preferably an "Asian NATO" in the "Asian Century". That alone, according to a recent document of the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, can effectively counter two of the biggest international security threats – an over-ambitious China and the spread of Talibanised Islam. Both under the NDA and the UPA the Indian state has amply demonstrated its willingness as well as capacity (measured by growing military muscle and also during series of joint military exercises) to play the role of a core country in such a potential formation. The n-deal, which saw the Bush administration break its own laws and invite strong criticism at home, may well prove to be a first step towards that.

Ambitions of the Regional Hegemon

The extremely flattering words Bush and his entourage showered on India before, during and after the visit – India as "a world leader" and the like – have been noticed by all observers. But the trend started right from the opening years of this century. As China 's semi-official Outlook magazine commented in May 2001, in order to rope in India , the US first catered to India 's "psychological desire to be seen as a world power rather than a second-rate country." However, this endeavour was crowned with signal success after some five years only because it struck a sympathetic chord in the Indian ruling psyche – because the ruling classes in this country have always harboured strong expansionist or regional hegemonist aspirations.

Even before transfer of power, addressing army officers in October 1946, Nehru said that compared to China , India had greater prospects for becoming a big power. " India is likely to dominate politically and economically the Indian Ocean region", 2 he added. Then in 1948-49 he proposed a comprehensive military collaboration to the United States , but the response of the latter was lukewarm. Subsequent developments like aggressions on neighbours and the Bangladesh war, the annexation of Sikkim , Pokhran I and Pokhran II, the armed intervention in Sri Lanka and Bhutan , and so on are all well known.

It is in continuation and furtherance of this historic trend that the Indian rulers decided to respond positively to the post-9/11 American urge for closer relations. In fact shortly before that incident, New Delhi under the NDA went out of its way to render quick support to America's highly offensive project called "national missile defence" 3 and even wanted to be a part of it. After the UPA government came to power, for the first few months it tried to maintain a posture of relatively independent foreign policy. But then the pro-US tilt began to grow more glaring and after the breakthrough accord in July last year, the recent slew of agreements was finally signed. In the months and yeas to come the American bear hug will no doubt tighten further in economic, political, cultural and military matters, but the Indian state will still have its own distinct agenda to pursue, generally within the overall framework of US world domination.

In sum, the N-deal epitomises a coming together of American imperial ambitions and Indian subcontinental hegemonism. Both these strands we must oppose with equal force, as enumerated in the opening pages of the present issue.

 End Notes:

1 " India ready to help US in Asian power rejig", Times of India , 29/11/05

2 S.K. Ghosh, The Indian Constitution and Its Review , R.U.P.E., 2001, p. 31; citing Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru , 2nd series, vol.1, p. 311 and vol. 14, p. 325.

3 For details, see M. S. Venkataramani, "An elusive military relationship", Frontline , 9/4/99 , 23/4/99 , 7/5/99