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Between the line
 

Tilt towards America
January, 2015

 

Prime Minister Nareandra Modi must be regretting that he invited President Barrack Obama for the Republic Day. The latter made no secret of demolishing the Bhartiya Janata Party’s ‘ghar wapsi’ slogan and the other programmes related to Hindutva ideology. He reminded India of its commitment to religious freedom, consecrated in the constitution.

A more charitable explanation can be that Modi wanted his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to know what the democratic world thought about its new zeal for a Hindu Rashtra. Whatever the case, the BJP has got such a rebuke that it will be difficult for the party to show its face in the democratic world.

President Obama reminded the Indian nation that it can succeed so long as it is not splintered along religious lines and allowed people to freely “profess, practice and propagate” religion. Whether the BJP has liked his frank statement or not, the nation as a whole is happy that tall leader like Obama has reminded the country of its pluralistic ethos. Some BJP leaders are upset because they have been hinting at building the Ram temple at the site where the demolished Babri Masjid stood.

The visit of President Obama has some other fallout regarding India’s status in the international affairs. Probably, realizing this one Pakistani television channel telephoned me to sum up the outcome of Obama’s visit. I said in reply: A tilt towards America to the chagrin of China. Let me explain.

Even during the cold war when New Delhi was leading the non-alignment movement, its deference to Moscow was apparent.  Since India provided a stable and reliable channel to the Soviet Union, Washington would take New Delhi’s tilt in its stride.

Today, Moscow is neither strong nor commands support from what was the then eastern Europe. True, President Vladimir Putin has put a strong foot forward. But he is conscious of his limitations. Ukraine’s standard of revolt is one example. America’s support to it is open and public. So much so, a question to President Obama at his press conference at Delhi brought his strong support to Ukraine without any ifs or buts.

Prime Minister Modi, a post-cold war leader, is conscious of America’s military and economic prowess, compared to weak Russia’s. He is also pragmatic enough to bring that in consideration when looking ahead. He has cautiously moved towards America knowing well which side of the bread is buttered. It may soon be followed by proximity with Australia and Japan. These two countries are already on the American side.

Washington seems to have no doubt in its thinking that its real adversary is Beijing. America cannot find a better partner than a larger and economically burgeoning India. That is the reason why Beijing has reacted adversely to President Obama’s visit and has warned India not to be taken in by America’s overtures. New Delhi is sensitive to China’s sensitivities. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is herself going to Beijing to assure it that India’s friendship with America is not at the expense of China.

Beijing is not naïve about the possible dangers. It understands that India is the only power in the region which can challenge China. True, its 1962 victory against India is a heady wine which still intoxicates Beijing. But it also knows that New Delhi has come a long way since. It realizes that New Delhi is militarily stronger and more resourceful than it was in 1962.

Then the non-aligned status of India was a bone of contention with America. Still it responded to Jawaharlal Nehru’s request for weapons and air umbrella. It is another thing that Beijing announced a unilateral ceasefire after making pulp of India’s military strength and defeating it decisively.    

President Obama’s visit is a guarantee that India would not be alone if ever such a situation develops again. It can feel secure after his visit. New Delhi tried its best to wean America away from Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi reportedly talked more than once to President Obama, but he could only get support for action against terrorists. There is a separate para to urge Islamabad to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 carnage to justice.

In Washington’s scheme of things, Pakistan’s support is essential in the war against terrorists. In principle there cannot be any difference on this point. Yet the reality is that Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, urging jihad against us, is openly preaching hatred against India. The Pakistan government owned ran a special train to facilitate travel of his supporters to attend his rally.

On top of it all, there is no serious interest in pursuing the 26/11 attack on Mumbai where some 200 people were killed. Judge after judge has been transferred. There are hearings all over again. Pakistan is afraid of the Taliban inside and outside the country in proceeding with the case, much less taking action against the perpetrators.

President Obama’s statement that they should be brought to book makes little sense when he has done nothing to ensure some action. It is obvious that he does not go beyond a point lest he should embarrass Pakistan. Yet, America is the only country which can force Pakistan deliver. Pakistan denied that Jammat-ud-Dawa has been banned. Only its back account has been frozen. Washington should exert more pressure.

I wish President Obama were to use his good offices to arrange a meeting between India and Pakistan. However divergent their viewpoints are, the two countries might find a way to have trade and tourism. Once the two countries meet, they may find other avenues for cooperation. With trust deficit on the one hand, and no contact with each other on the other, the gulf between the two is bound to grow further.

President Obama’s offer to finance solar energy production may prod New Delhi to go for this type of power in a big way. Already Rajasthan has some plants. Their expansion or installation of new ones can produce so much power that it can be transmitted across the border. Pakistan is presently short of power. Washington can pursue President Obama’s suggestion and ensure that India share the additional production. There may be other economic avenues which, if followed, can increase India’s earning. His personal interest in such projects will not only ensure their early completion but also impress on New Delhi that the economic sinews are the best ties that can bind India and Pakistan together.

 
 
 
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