Ever since John Kerry virtually sewed up the nomination as the Democratic candidate for the US presidential elections, readers have been asking me what I thought of him and George W Bush from the point of view of India's interests. My answer is that it doesn't matter. From an Indian point of view, they are Tweedledum and Tweedledee, give or take a little. It doesn't make any difference which of them comes to power.
The reason is that the US is set up very clearly to look out for its own national interests. Any person elected president will by definition be good at doing this, or else he will find himself booted out at the first opportunity, namely four years later. I personally think this is absolutely perfect: it is the job of the president to be the principal cheerleader for the home team; I wish India's politicians would take this lesson to heart.
I have mentioned previously a quote attributed to George Kennan, the famous X whose anonymous article in Foreign Affairs was the blueprint for the Cold War. The quote is something along these lines: 'The US has 8% of the world's population, and enjoys 33% of the world's resources. American foreign policy is intended to keep it that way.'
I have been told by reader Russell Yvong that this is in fact a deliberate misquote by Noam Chomsky of what Kennan actually said. Maybe Kennan didn't say this, but he should have, for the US surely acts as though this were its motto.
In contrast, a reader once told me that the apparent objective of Jawaharlal Nehru's foreign policy was to ensure that India, with 16% of the world's population, continues to enjoy just 2% of the world's resources. Sad, but true.
The point is that despite the differences between Kerry and Bush on domestic matters, they are likely to be as one in foreign affairs. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost is that the bureaucracy outlives and outlasts mere presidents. The State Department, for one, those old Cold Warriors of Foggy Bottom, have a long term agenda.
From the Indian point of view, it is the State Department that has always been the hurdle. There was the unbearable Robin Raphel; now there is Christina Rocca, only marginally less prone to hyphenate India and Pakistan. From Henry Kissinger to Colin Powell, and even earlier from John Foster Dulles, State has been universally and uniformly hostile to India.
I no longer think this is because Nehruvian Stalinists chose to badger the US at every possible opportunity; or even because India's economy was closed to the might of American multinationals. There is something more basic. I may be guilty of giving State mandarins more credit than they deserve, but maybe they saw early on that India would one day be a competitor. Their preferred solution: containment, cultural attacks, attempted balkanization. An India fragmented would be easier for them to control.
Perhaps this is their tactic against every one of their potential foes, for instance China. But with China they run up against a brick wall: the fierce jingoism drilled into every Chinese child from infancy makes them immune to American attempts to shame them or browbeat them into submission. Not so in India: we are prone to taking their criticism very seriously, whether it is destructive or constructive.
For instance, I have pointed out that India would be far better off if it responded to American pressure without feeling ashamed: if the US says the subcontinent is the 'most dangerous place on earth,' we should agree and threaten to go to nuclear war if our interests are not taken care of.
The recent expose about the US' deliberately turning a blind eye to large-scale nuclear proliferation by both Pakistan and China, and on the other hand hectoring India to 'cap and rollback' as well as 'ensure non-proliferation norms' must have lifted the scales from quite a few eyes. There is something that doesn't quite compute there.
Similarly, at the height of the Afghan war, I was startled by the American willingness to let Pakistani army brass escape; see my earlier column What happened at Kunduz? These people had been the backbone of the Taliban; yet, instead of allowing the Northen Alliance to capture them, the Americans, both State and Defense, airlifted them to safety. And why would they do that? The only answer is that the Americans had something to hide: and that would have come out if the Pakistanis were apprehended.
The second reason why presidents don't matter is the investment community. They are far more powerful than mere governments; certainly more so than mere presidents. What the large investment banks want, they usually get. This is one of the reasons I am intrigued by the choice of a former investment banker as US ambassador to India, although not much more has been heard from him.
A large part of the reason that China has had such a good image in the last few years is because investment bankers made some large bucks on the IPOs of things like China Life. Now it may well be that they smell some large opportunities in India. For instance, there is the intriguing rumor that Warren Buffet, the legendary sage of Omaha, put in a bid for 90% of the ONGC stake privatized recently. If this is true, then the rest of the big money is likely to follow suit like lemmings and institutional investment may go up.
If the money folks think India is a good bet, then all sorts of possibilities arise.
This is why I don't think Indians should worry overmuch about who the US president is going to be. But if you look at Bush and Kerry specifically, there are a few differences, of course.
The Bush administration has been moderately good as far as India is concerned. In particular Ambassador Blackwill appeared to become a genuine India-booster, although appearances may be deceptive; for everyone else at State is a warmed-over Cold Warrior.
And now Robert Zoellick, the US Trade Representative, is browbeating India with a simple proposition: open up your financial services and agricultural products to us or we'll take our outsourcing ball and go home. This makes no sense, especially when American subsidizes its agriculture sector to such a huge extent.
Perhaps the biggest irritant is the Christian fundamentalist brigade that has been on the ascendant since Bush came to power. Shameless hucksters like Pat Robertson have a plan with military precision to attack India for conversion purposes. When the Tehelka newspaper broke the details of this story, there was a stunning silence: nobody in the English media in India talked about this at all, although it is a major national security issue, as Christian bigots show through their rampages in the Northeast. Another instance of the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about.
Similarly, the grandly-named US Council on International Religious Freedom is a smokescreen for the same businessmen who make money out of conversion. Interestingly enough, India's Old Left and the US's Far Right are partners in crime. Kamal Mitra Chenoy of the JNU wrote the USCIRF's attack paper on India. Fundamentalist Process Outsourcing, I suppose, an addition to the more conventional nun-running? And you wonder why I think JNU is a perfect target for a neutron bomb? Nice buildings, wouldn't want to waste them, shame about the people.
Alas, if you now look at Kerry, he is a non-proliferation fundamentalist going way back. His proposition to India is simple: sign the NPT as a non-nuclear power. This is when India's Arundhati Ghose made it crystal clear in 1998: 'Over our dead bodies!' Kerry seems incapable of understanding that other nations may have their own national security imperatives, for example a predatory and ruthless imperialist nuclear power, China, on its borders, for the first time in history. Thanks yet again, Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon!
Kerry has also come out swinging for the little guy, the lovable geek who has lost his job to outsourcing, merely to fill the coffers of corporate fat cats. The point where I begin to feel cognitive dissonance is when I look at Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz, an heiress worth $500 million. Surely she, and therefore he, could be considered corporate fat cats?
But Kerry, like all politicians, has the epidermis of a pachyderm. These minor points don't worry him at all. 'Benedict Arnold!' roars he, bearing the strange device, 'Tariff Barriers and Non Tariff Barriers!.' Benedict Arnold was the American Mir Jafar or Jaichand.
Once the USCIRF has established itself as a convenient stick to beat India with, Kerry will see no reason, if he is elected, to not maintain it as another competitive weapon.
And this is why I feel the two contestants are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
I got some interesting responses to my column 'Dynasty zindabad!.' Alas, haven't gotten an offer from the Congress yet, but I haven't given up hope: let me point out helpfully that my email id is below. But I got mail from a well-known politician, scion of a dynasty. He made the reasonable point that it is unfair to single out dynasties in politics as compared to dynasties in music, or film, or business.
I agreed; however, I pointed out that people in politics have the capability to do much more lasting damage than those in other areas, and therefore we must be doubly careful about them. Besides, the others get feedback about their performance quickly and ruthlessly: if they don't produce, they are generally kicked out by stakeholders.
I didn't tell him this, but there are people in Indian dynasties who, if they ran without their family names, say if they ran for office in Palo Alto, California, on their own merit, would not even get elected to municipal dog-catcher. Oh yes, dynasties do help.
Readers pointed out the DMK dynasty that I had missed; others pointed out that the Marxists didn't have too many dynasties. They don't need to, because they have, as in China, their 'little emperors' who don't even have to go through the formality of a distasteful election. They are born with silver spoons in their mouths.
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