Who lost India?
July 21, 2008
Who lost India?
By Rajeev Srinivasan
One of these days, the New York Times will run a story titled “Who lost India?” Pundits will pontificate about what caused India to be irretrievably ‘lost’ – that is, it no longer functions as a viable and friendly ally of the West, particularly of America. Though they would deny it, the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement currently being shoved down India’s throat would have been the tipping point that did India in.
Given the parlous security situation in the neighborhood, as well as the various separatist movements gaining strength from external sources, this may well be the first step in the unraveling of India. That would be a disaster not only for India and Indians, but also for America, because India is just about the only friend it has in that giant arc from East Africa to Southeast Asia, full of failed and failing states. Adding India to that list is not going to help anyone.
What is not known to most Americans is the extraordinary goodwill that ordinary Indians have towards America. At a time when the US is regularly pilloried as anywhere between monstrous and appalling by large numbers of people, India is the country where the average person on the street has the most positive perception of America. A Pew Trust survey on global attitudes in 2006 showed this: Indians were the most pro-American, far more so than Chinese, Saudi Arabians, and Pakistanis, to pick a few American allies.
Perhaps that’s not such a big deal to Americans accustomed to basking in the sunshine of admiration and envy from all quarters, based on both hard and soft power. But consider this: India, with all its problems, is no banana republic. According to the widely followed reports from Goldman Sachs, India may well overtake the US as the world’s second largest economy by 2050.
Besides, odd as it might sound when you hear it for the first time, India is a lot like America. That is my gut feel after having spent half my life in India and the other half in America. There are many similarities, but the most striking one is the openness and friendliness of the people. Whatever you may think of their respective governments, it is a fact that the people of America and of India are warm, friendly and hospitable. This carries over into many things: plurality, tolerance for different ideas, innovativeness.
In fact, I’d be so bold as to claim that India’s core competencies are quite like America’s: fertile land, soft power, innovation. What India has lacked is the financial resources of a vast virgin continent and what’s been termed ‘strategic intent’ by management guru C K Prahalad – the ability to imagine itself as Numero Uno, and to act accordingly.
There are historic reasons to believe that superpowerdom for India is not a wet-dream. India was, throughout most of recorded history, the richest country in the world, astonishing as this may seem. According to economic historian Angus Maddison, India was the world’s largest economy from 0 CE to 1500 CE; China was its competitor towards the end of that period. Then the land was ravaged by colonialism, which destroyed many of the wealth-generating systems that had emerged over millennia, notably the innovative small businesses in textiles and light engineering goods.
Indian prowess in intellectual property is not given due credit: some of the greatest inventions in history came from there, including the Indian numeral system, the cornerstone of all mathematics; the context-free grammar of Panini from 500 BCE, which underlies all computing; the infinite series of Madhava from 1300 CE, which provides the underpinnings of the differential calculus and thus of the Industrial Revolution.
But these are in the past, one might say. What has India done lately? That is fair criticism. I am forced to ask you to take it on faith that, just as India appeared out of the blue in high-technology, it has the intellectual capability to be a partner in the knowledge economy of tomorrow. Sociologist Joel Kotkin remarked that “engineering is the oil of the 21st century”; and that is what Indians are strong at.
There are the ingredients, then, of a successful rapprochement between India and the US. Why hasn’t this worked for so long? There are many who share the blame; some of it can be attributed to the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of the Nehru dynasty which lectured the US and propped up the comical non-aligned movement. America’s explicit support of Pakistan has also been an irritant; so has the derision made most explicit in the Nixon Tapes.
Those days are past, though, and there are the glimmerings of a beautiful relationship. But the so-called Nuclear Deal has the potential to be a huge thorn in the flesh. The deal is a bad one. It is such a bad deal for India, and it is being railroaded through with such deceit and opaqueness by the Manmohan Singh administration, that it will almost certainly be revoked unilaterally by a future Indian government. Given the contours of the IAEA agreement, this will invite serious punitive sanctions on India.
The problem is that India is being sold a bill of goods. The deal is being sold to Indians as a guarantee of energy security and a harbinger of close co-operation with America. But it is obvious that this is neither; it is about non-proliferation, and about the bringing to heel of the one big nation that has challenged the apparently divinely mandated monopoly the P-5 have arrogated to themselves.
There has been a full-court press on India to accept the deal as the best and last deal India will ever get. This in itself is laughable, not to mention the assurances from many American worthies that this deal is “good for India” – as though they cared about India’s interests. It is clear that the champions of “cap, rollback and eliminate” who have lingered in Foggy Bottom through the Clinton and Bush administrations has now figured out, via a pliant Indian government, how to get the deed signed and delivered.
India is being conned into signing the NPT as a non-weapons-state, with no guarantee that anybody will supply uranium for the obsolete fission reactors India will buy at, undoubtedly, vastly inflated prices. India would be far better off investing its billions in emerging energy technologies, most notably solar, which is on the verge of a breakthrough. And India is nothing if not rich in sunshine. To give up its nuclear deterrent in the pursuit of a vague fission-based energy security is totally quixotic.
There really is no energy security in the proposed treaty. The version of the agreement that has been made public:
- Does not give India any unique status, but is identical to the agreement with non-nuclear weapons states; thus India is treated on par with rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea
- Does not guarantee fuel supply, but guarantees perpetual IAEA inspections
- Does conform to US domestic legislation like the Hyde Act
- Does not allow India, unlike the P-5, to unilaterally withdraw its facilities from intrusive inspections
- Does not specify what “corrective steps”, if any, India may take in case of supply disruptions; to wit, there are no corrective steps
The net result of all this is that India will lose its strategic independence in terms of seeking a credible deterrent. Losing its small nuclear arsenal is not an option for India, which is threatened by two bellicose nuclear-armed neighbors: China and Pakistan. China has proliferated nukes and missiles to Pakistan. And Pakistan’s A Q Khan and his nuclear Wal-Mart, proliferating to Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, are well-known.
Being unable to deter China in its adventurism, India will not also be able to adequately deter its proxies Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal. The result of this is could even be an extinction of the India nation, as Bangladesh pursues lebensraum and detaches India’s Northeast as its fiefdom, China pursues the diversion of the Brahmaputra, Pakistan pursues the death by a thousand cuts, and Nepal’s newly emboldened communists pursue their Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor.
This is no way to treat a partner and an ally. In the long run, the US faces China, an implacable and ruthless foe. To subjugate the one nation in Asia that can match and counteract China, just to satisfy a bunch of non-proliferation fundamentalist Cold Warriors, and for the benefit of GE and Westinghouse, is plain folly. I don’t think America wants to lose India.
Rajeev Srinivasan considers San Francisco and Kerala his two homes.
1400 words, July 13, 2008