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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

East India Company Syndrome

By Chandramohan - Syndicate Features

It may well sound politically correct but the tendency in the country to magnify the negative impact of foreign policy issues that concern India sits ill with aspirations for great power status. There is some obsession about outside powers—almost always used as euphemism for the US—ever eager to ‘interfere’ in India’s domestic affairs much as they do when dealing with client states or potentates gone out of favour. Even with its potential still not fully realised, does anybody seriously think that India will become a vassal state?

It is astonishing that the idea of today’s India being sill in ‘imminent danger of being swamped by the East India Company has so many takers in the country—among the class of politicians. Actually, the reason may be something very different. Raising slogans like someone ‘selling’ the country or ignoring national ‘interests’ are believed to be rewarding at the hustings. The baser the appeal the more politically profitable it is likely to be.

Take the crisis in Myanmar. In comparison to the West, India’s response has been dubbed ‘muted’, mainly, it is said, because New Delhi cannot afford to annoy the Generals who are already in tight embrace of China. Besides, India needs Myanmar army’s help to fight insurgency in its troubled Northeast region. The rich energy sources of Myanmar are also responsible for bringing India closer to whoever rules the country.

If India were to adopt a ‘bold’ approach on Myanmar the least that would be expected of New Delhi is to snap diplomatic and all other ties with its neighbour and then participate in covert or even overt operations against the junta. Anything short of that would remain classified as ‘muted’ response.

Twice in the past India had plunged headlong into the affairs of the beleaguered people in the neighbourhood. First in what is now Bangladesh where the Indian participation did prove to be very important in liberating the country from Pakistan. But where are we today? Relations with Bangladesh are anything but tension-free. To blame that state of affairs wholly on the faulty Indian policy would be somewhat misleading because it is Bangladesh that has in recent years chosen to jettison its secular character and encourage the rise of fundamentalism—acts that appeared to be part of a deliberate policy to distance Dhaka from New Delhi.

The other unhappy experience was in Sri Lanka where the Indian army was sent with the intention of curbing militancy that appeared to be a serious threat to the island nation. The policy of sending Indian troops, which at the time had only received some muted criticism at home, ended in turning both the majority Sinhala (Buddhist) and the minority Tamil population against India. The after effects of that ‘disaster’ over two decades ago have still not been erased.

Till a few months ago, India was facing a huge dilemma over Nepal where the masses had risen against the monarch. New Delhi was not sure if lending full open support to the democracy movement—possible only after denouncing the monarch--would best serve the interests of the country. The Indian problem went a step further as the Maoists who were in the forefront of the anti-monarchy movement were seen as the first cousins of Indian Maoists who have spread a network of mayhem in many parts of the country. The government could not have done or said something that suggested a willingness to condone the activities of Maoists in Nepal while continuing to run after them at home.

To the annoyance of the domestic and foreign preachers of democracy India did not rush into condemning the Nepalese King or exhibited a pronounced enthusiasm to hug the Maoists and others who had later joined the anti-monarch movement in Nepal but adopted its own ‘go-slow’ or step by step approach. New Delhi began with restrained criticism of the monarch while not shying from criticising the gun-totting Maoists and gradually pressed the accelerator in support of the pro-democracy movement.

It will be easy to suggest that New Delhi has not won the hearts of all Nepalese with its cautious policy; but it was still a better approach than the one that would have seen India immediately rush in with full-blown support of one of the two parties, the King or the pro-democracy elements (including the Maoists). And surely nobody was expecting India to either snap diplomatic ties with the Himalayan kingdom or send its armies to defend the pro-democracy elements in Nepal.

New Delhi would not have gained much by wholeheartedly condemning the King when he was still occupying the throne and was calling at least a few shots, just as an unequivocal support for the democrats (Maoists included) at an early stage when they obviously were still far removed from the levers of power would have led to more complications in India-Nepal relations.

There is no question that as a free country New Delhi should always support movements for democracy, especially where the fight is against dictatorship of any sort. But the Indian support for democracy movements cannot be a carbon copy of the American style that does not hesitate to use its powerful military to export or implant democracy in countries ruled by people Washington finds obnoxious. The American crusade for democracy is widely ridiculed because of the double standards adopted by the US in espousing the cause of democracy--tolerating all manner of curbs, arbitrary rules and violations if the ruler happens to be a pal, even a double-crossing one, and asking its armies to march into recalcitrant nations ruled by ‘disobedient’ dictators who refuse to genuflect before Washington.

The Indo-US civil nuclear deal has seen that interesting phenomenon in Indian politics when the Left and the Right, the ‘sworn enemies’, have joined hands in condemning it. While there may be genuine reasons for opposing the deal, the point is that much of the criticism aired in public by the Left and the Right seeks to instil an idea in the minds of the ordinary citizens that the deal is devious and if implemented would not only reduce India into a militarily impotent nation but also lead to a second coming of the East India Company.

Assuming that Washington has acquired a disproportionate clout over New Delhi it will still be not possible for the US to curb the Indian military nuclear programme if a hostile nation in the neighbourhood goes on a frenzy to beef up its nuclear arsenal. The ‘give and take’ principle that is behind every deal cannot be a one-sided affair that allows India to ‘take’ all but ‘give’ nothing in return.

No nation will negotiate a deal or an agreement with another country where it gets nothing in return for what it offers. Do Indians lack the confidence that they do not have the capability to face on their own any problem that may arise in the operation of the nuclear cooperation deal with the US in future for reasons that appear unlikely at present?

- Syndicate Features -

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