Tuesday, September 6, 2016
India gave up non-alignment and joined the American bloc last week -- a historical shift in the nation's ideograph. As he signed the Logistics Agreement in Washington, Defence Minister Parrikar tried to give the impression that it was a routine matter. Routine protests came from the Congress and the CPI-M politburo. It was routine news for the media, too. Yet, the implications of the policy switch are such that a whole new India may be in the making with a whole new set of problems, challenges and, yes, opportunities.
Non-alignment was an inspirational concept when it took centrestage in the 1950s. Colonialism had collapsed and several newly independent nations had emerged in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This "Third Word" was confronted by the intense cold war then going on between the US-led and the Soviet Union-led blocs. That was when Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Josip Tito came up with the idea of not aligning with either bloc. It enabled many new countries to stand on their own feet without becoming the followers of one or the targets of another.
The non-alignment movement has been in limbo, a casualty of time. Nehru's India changed, Nasser's Egypt dead and Tito's Yugoslavia disappeared. The world is different with different economic compulsions, different threats, different aims. But some things don't -- and shouldn't -- change, such as the need for countries to keep good relations with other countries. A major power like India needs to develop its bilateral relations without letting shadows fall on its multilateral relations.
Parrikar said that there was no question of America setting up bases in India as a result of the Logistics Agreement. Why would America want to do such a foolish thing when the Agreement makes all Indian military bases available to it? The thrust of the Agreement was laid bare without inhibitions by American sources. Forbes magazine reported the impending pact with the headline: "China and Pakistan beware -- this week India and US sign war pact". US media in general projected the Agreement as a key part of the Obama Government's strategy to contain China. One of the facts they brought to light was that 60 percent of the US navy's surface ships are to be deployed in the "Indo-Pacific" theatre. For air and land deployment of forces, the US had to build massive bases in Iraq and Afghanistan from scratch. In eastern Asia now readymade bases and allied facilities will be available to them free. Voice of America reported a US General as saying: "We are completely integrated, with both the Indian army and our army working together down to platoon level".
That kind of integration was something earlier governments had decided to avoid. Both A.B.Vajpayee and US-loving Manmohan Singh kept the Logistics and other "foundational" agreements with the US pending precisely to avoid becoming branded as America's camp-followers in global strategy. With India becoming a facilitator of US strategy in Asia, it will be difficult for Delhi to sustain its familiar profile as a country that follows an independent foreign policy. American reports point to the state-of-the-art military technology India will now receive and say, no doubt to cheer up India, that such technology and armaments will "help India stand up to the emerging superpower, China".
Will such an attitude be good for India? Even the technology-armament scenario is not going to make India self-dependent in the near future. Lockheed Martin has offered to shift its F-16 manufacturing to India. This sounds promising if it is going to create new jobs for Indians and contribute to the Make-In-India concept. But the US is a trader, not a philanthropist. India has already signed a US $ 3 billion deal for 15 Cherokee heavy-lift helicopters and 22 Apache attack choppers. This also signifies a historic shift from Russia, hitherto the principal supplier of military ware to India.
The ultimate question is whether it is in India's interest to cut out Russia and to appear as an antagonist getting ready to confront China. India became a major international player by ensuring that it was not an appendix of any power group. India has the status and the experience to remain an influential power without alienating its neighbours. It is true that China has been less than friendly, having put all its eggs in a non-state basket like Pakistan. Does that mean that there is no scope for collaboration with China which badly needs India's market? Leadership is the art of making friends without making enemies.