Saturday, November 6, 2010

Swagatham, yes. Expectations, no

Our guest this week is not the shining Obama, but the dimming Obama. The way the world was thrilled by his march to the White House is now memory. Many of his promises remain unfulfilled, even the promise to close the horror prison in Guantanemo. His home policies have angered Americans who are vexed by rising costs of living, job losses and tax burdens. Midterm Congressional elections have made him virtually a lame-duck. The stirring slogan “Yes, we can” has given way to “No, he can’t”.

But Barack Obama is a nice guy and we must see him as such. Anyone who has written the kind of books he has can only be a civilised person. He is such a relief after that mixed-up evangelist George Bush. He has a trust-inspiring look which Bill Clinton could never manage. He even has the most popular presidential wife since Jackie Kennedy. He deserves a warm and sincere swagatham from us.

But not undue political/business hopes. American presidents are more severely enslaved by the system than Indian prime ministers are. And the American system is both selfish and assertive while the Indian system is prey to pressures. This contrast was visible in recent years in a series of India-US issues, from the civil nuclear treaty to opening Indian agriculture to US monopolies.

If America has been gaining the upper hand in many of its dealings with India, it is because America knows how best to use its bargaining power while India knows neither its strengths nor how to use them. On flimsy grounds, for example, America put the twin national symbols of Indian excellence, ISRO and DRDO, on their bad boys’ list. Simultaneously, America has mounted pressure on India to buy billions of dollars worth of American weaponry and civil nuclear equipment. Why doesn’t India link one with the other, not semantically but in ways that would hit America where it hurts?

Countries like France and Russia are willing to invest in Indian civil nuclear plants on India’s terms. They are also ready to share cutting-edge military technology along with the sales of their military hardware. Why then should India buy from America which always attaches conditions to its military sales and then bullies India with crucial spare parts politics?

Notice, too, that on Obama’s agenda in India is the demand that India buy US seed companies’ technology. One of his scheduled meetings in Mumbai is a “round-table” on agricultural cooperation. This shows the stranglehold business lobbies have on the American system. To India, however, what this means is a heavy push at the presidential level to put India in the pocket of Monsanto – a campaign that is already half won because of the buyability of crucial elements of Indian policy processors

India, especially under Manmohan Singh, has shown an inclination to please America at every turn. Even Pakistan does not do this; it gets every dollar it can squeeze from a scared America and then merrily goes on helping the Taliban. That scares America more, making it give more dollars and more fighter planes to Pakistan.

This is how games are played in today’s cynical world. But India tends to take things lying down, even when America does not part with critical David Headley information that could possibly – just possibly – have averted the Mumbai terror attack. America is protectionist in every field these days. India must learn to bargain and protect its own legitimate interests. America does not respect allies that do its bidding. It respects those who stand up to it. Today’s India has the strength to stand up and assert itself. All that is needed is the political will to do so.

Barack Obam will enjoy India, its colour, its vibrancy, its latent dynamism. We, too, will enjoy his visit if only to see the highfalutin fuss: One guest booking the whole of the Taj and Maurya hotels and having his own bombers and warships patrolling the scene. Enjoy by all means, but don’t be carried away.