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Monday, December 13, 2010

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(Published in on December 1, 2010, retrieved from )

The US has for long been credited with, or accused of, depending on your perspective, creating some of the world’s ugliest Frankenstein’s monsters – Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and – if the WikiLeaks disclosure is anything to go by – the right to free speech.

And the reason’s probably that their attitude to most other countries is so confused that they’re not quite sure whether they’re enemies or friends.

But what is their relationship with India?

Even as the US scurries to convince Vladimir Putin they “meant he was a dawg!, that’s American slang for dude!”, brief Angela Merkel on the positive connotations of ‘Teflon’, reassure Hamid Karzai that paranoia is good while threatened by the Taliban and figure out whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was flattered or offended by the comparison to Hitler, India’s own Ministry of External Affairs has chosen to go with the docile guarantee of a ‘good relationship with the US’.

Most of us were born when India was a bosom buddy of the erstwhile USSR, and have seen India transition gradually into a capitalist economy. Ironically enough, most of India’s citizens wrinkle their noses at communism, even while our Constitution declares us ‘socialist’.

Long before Manmohan Singh opened up our economy to foreign investment as Finance Minister in 1991, emigrants from India were making a beeline for American, and not Russian, shores.

Now, we believe the US-likes-Pakistan, USSR-likes-India equation is quite as extinct as the USSR.

But between providing military aid to Pakistan and supporting India’s fight against terrorism, where does the Unites States’ allegiance lie?

Over the past fifteen years, we’ve seen more than one Clinton make an official visit, and more than one US President groove to Indian music.

However, the noises the US makes with respect to India as a rising global power seem to change frequency rather often.

First, Barack Obama raised a toast to India and promised to back India’s permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Weeks later, comes the WikiLeaks report that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described India as a “self-appointed front-runner” to the UNSC, and furthermore, asked American envoys to spy on Indian diplomats working with the United Nations.

Analysts believe that this and other communication could be accessed by more than 3 million employees of the US government, including soldiers on the lowest rung of the military. Thanks to their trust of WikiLeaks’ guarantee of anonymity – notwithstanding that intelligence analyst Bradley Manning faces court martial for leaking cables – the world has access to some of the US leadership’s frankest, and most asinine, conversations with their foreign and domestic counterparts.

The question is – what is India going to do with the information?

We’ve been dying to showcase ourselves as a global powerhouse, and we’ve decided that making friends with the biggest actors on the world stage is the quickest way to a starring role.

Our keenness to host international sporting events, attend G20 meets and become members of what is possibly the world’s most expensive and ineffective watchdog are evidence enough.

But if we continue to hem and haw, we might end up settling for a walk-on part, and that too, as comic relief.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves, ‘why do we need a pat on the back from everyone else?’

The United Nations’ failures are so numerous, and its utilisation of its considerable funds so dubious, that one is hard put to think of a single crucial purpose it serves. And yet, India is obsessed with a larger role in it.

Some of our biggest mistakes stem from making a domestic issue the subject of an international referendum. That’s true of the creation of Pakistan, and it’s true of the Kashmir dispute.

If allowed to, it just might become true of the fight against terrorism. While Kasab’s death sentence has been hailed as the greatest achievement of our courts, India’s request for the extradition of terrorist David Headley was firmly refused.

Then, there’s the Bhopal gas tragedy and Warren Anderson’s bizarre escape from trial, which begs the question – why is India so afraid of embittering its relationship with the US, when the latter clearly does not care to appease India?

The Nuclear Liability Bill was passed with amendments by a reluctant Parliament, and now we’re worried that countries may hesitate to ratify their nuclear deals with India, despite the Indian government signing the IAEA’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).

At a time when everyone is turning east for economic partnerships, if India seriously wants to be seen as a global power, it is time we stopped biting our nails and put our own interests first. It’s all too easy to forget that it was our hankering after international approval, combined with our hospitality, that turned us into a slave nation centuries ago.

It’s time we assessed whether we need validation from the US and UN, and whether their token gestures should suffice to give them a hand in our political dealings.

Or, we could hope for the US to make WikiLeaks an offer they can’t refuse, and buy the enterprise. Then, our leaders could point to newly revealed, possibly hastily-corrected cables and beam, “see, we were friends after all!”


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