Sunday, July 26, 2009

Must end-users end up as fools?

Breakfast at terrorist-decorated Taj, with Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani on either side -- what triumphant symbolism to crown Hillary Clinton’s public relations tour de force in India. But did it work? It did make possible one impossibility; uniting the BJP and the Communists in a common cause. They were equally agitated, as indeed were some ruling party MPs, over the “hidden details” of the agreements the American lady finalised with our Government.

What offended them, and a lot of others, was the way America insists on American laws overriding the laws of other sovereign nations. They want our business – billions of dollars worth military equipment. But when we buy them, we must also buy the superiority of American laws which demand the right of inspection by American officials of our equipment and their deployment. Even the Indian Prime Minister’s special aircraft is subject to American inspection/approval from time to time because a US company supplied it.

The problem here is an attitude of mind. Remember the saying, “What is good for General Motors is good for the world”. Well, it now stands proved that it was not even good for General Motors which has collapsed. But the attitude of mind has not changed. What the US Congress resolves for America is binding on the world.

There is a further problem. The high-falutin attitude works only with orderly countries that have their own functioning parliamentary and legal systems. It never worked with Pakistan, for example. Massive quantities of American arms were supplied to Pakistan to strengthen its democratic forces. But most of the weaponry was used against India. America did not or could not take action under its end-user laws. Pakistan is smart enough to know that America recognises only West-ward looking terrorists. So they mounted a serious campaign against the Swat Talibans and won applause from the likes of Hillary. Which left Pakistan free to carry on merrily with east-ward looking terrorists. (V.K.Krishna Menon used to scorn Americans for assuming that their guns supplied to Pakistan could only fire in one direction).

Why is it that India appears unable to call this kind of bluff? Is it just a matter of Manmohan Singh’s avowed admiration for America? Or is there, additionally, a lingering colonial mentality in our bowing to the West as a matter of habit?

Our history since independence is studded with events that suggest such a predilection on our part. We internationalised the Kashmir issue (when there was no need to do so) because Nehru was easily influenced by the Mountbattens. Imagine China taking the Tibet issue to the UN. In 1994 in the wake of the Bhopal gas tragedy, we allowed Union Carbide boss Anderson to walk free. Indian law was rendered toothless. In 1995 after a foreign aircraft dropped arms in the remote area of Purulia, five Latvian and one British crew were finally sentenced. But all of them were given executive pardon and allowed to go home. Will the American system allow any such leniency to jailed fashion designer Anand Jon who is widely believed to have been framed by business rivals in Los Angeles?

Six decades after independence, we are still to learn how to stand up for our dignity. Imagine how dramatically equations will change if we do a few things the American way. Give our business, for example, to European suppliers of weapons and nuclear plants who do not have humiliating end-user specifications. And ensure that a departing American dignitary or two are body-searched at our airport. That’s a language that will be instantly understood.