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'India has too much to offer the US now'

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April 12, 2006 16:09 IST

Dr Harold Gould is one of the foremost Western experts on the Indian political system. He was a professor in anthropology and South Asian Studies at the University of Kansas from 1957 to 1959, before he moved to India for post-doctoral research for three years. He then joined University of Pittsburgh from 1962 to 1968, before moving on to the University of Illinois for 23 years as research coordinator, Associate Director, South Asia, and Director of the Center for Asian Studies from 1970 to 1978.

After retiring in 1991, he moved to Northern Virginia, and is now a visiting professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia, though he prefers to spend most of his time 'doing research, writing and publishing.' Apart from hundreds of articles, Dr Gould has written six books -- including Grass-Roots Politics in India: A Century of Political Evolution in Faizabad District (Oxford & IBH, New Delhi, 1994), seen as a seminal case study of how democratic politics developed and evolved over a century in the Indian grass-roots.

His new book, Sikhs, Swamis, Students and Spies: The Rise of the India Lobby in the United States, 1900 to 1946, which is about 'the 'pioneers' who confronted the racism and opened America to South Asian Indians,' is expected to be released soon.

In an exclusive two-hour chat with readers, Dr Gould  explains why he endorses the nuclear deal, why India didn't sign the NPT, and what it means for both for the US, India and its neighbors like China. For those of you who missed it, here is the transcript:

Preetham asked, Is it really that difficult for India to cope up with it's energy needs without this Nuclear Deal? Do we really have to be at the mercy of US Congress to meet our energy issues???
Dr Harold Gould answers, I this Nuclear Deal emblemizes the very kind of transformation that has long been needed in US-Indian relations. I would characterize it as a "post colonial", or a "post-pique" manner of trying to cope with (a) India's emerging energy needs, and (b) India's strategic requirements in this postcolonial/post cold war international environment. By that I mean that India does not find itself being compelled to come to the US in a supplicant's posture, dependent on the whims of an American administration or a sanctimonious US Congress. It comes to the table with as much to offer the US, as the US has to offer India. And it comes, as a result, in a form that involves genuine equality and mutual dignity. India is not and will not be "at the mercy" of the US Congress. It comes with a deal that is mutually beneficial to both states, and if it does not carry for some reason, India can treat is as a setback which will have to be rectified by other means. However, in the end, I don't think the essentials of the deal will fail. India gains much from this interaction regardless of the immediate outcome. India has too much to offer the US now -- its role in the global economy, its strategic situation in Asia, it political viability, etc. -- for the surviving anti-Indian ideologues in the US to permanently affect the successful consummation of the rapprochement now taking place. Be patient. Let the process work itself out. The US Congress is not a monolith; there are strong currents at work there which favor rapprochement. And don't forget: The US business community wants this to happen for obvious reasons, not until their reasons for having wanted rapprochement with China; they are a powerful force and will keep things moving in the right direction.

ShaunM asked, Dr. Gould, debating the merits of the nuclear deal is a moot point; either one is for or against the deal and their supporting claims/arguments. More importantly, supposing the nuclear deal finally ekes through Congress; will the deal pass international muster with the NSG? China has already voiced its concerns about the deal, stating that India and the US should remain within the realm of the NPT; implying India should sign the NPT, renounce its nuclear ambitions and thereafter be allowed access to nuclear materials and technology. Will China be a major roadblock within the NSG? Would China be allowed to implement their own nuclear deal with Pakistan and what would be the international implications?
Dr Harold Gould answers, China will posture itself as a roadblock because, obviously, it has a self-perceived strategic interest in inhibiting the growth of Indian power wherever and whenever it can. But the era of Maoist jingoism and Red Guard "gheraos" is long past. Post Deng Xiaoping China is a different world where the ideological choruses are more veneer than reality when it comes to China acting in its own interests in the international arena. In the latter environment they have grown highly pragmatic because they have learned, to quote a phrase that was used here during the first Clinton presidential campaign, "It's the economy, stupid." China has learned to respect power and economic growth. That is what led to the success of President Clinton's "constructive engagement" policy, which opened the door to massive US-China trade, and undoubtedly has put China in a position where it must balance rhetoric with practical political and strategic arrangements. The same applies to India-China relations. If and when the US-India deal goes through, and leads to major-magnitude increases in trade and mutual security arrangements, China will adjust its policies towards India accordingly. Once again, there will be obstacles, debates and negotiations, but in the end India and China will achieve understandings over NPT, the border, and other differences as long as India continues to grow ever stronger, which it will, with or without China's, or for that matter, the US's approval.
ShaunM asked, Greetings Dr. Gould, thank you for joining us today. Undoubtedly India is an emerging power; in South Asia and beyond. But with power comes responsibility and a typical prerequisite of claiming such power and pursuing such responsibility is political stability. Does the current Indian situation (coalition governance, talks of an emerging third front, etc.) hinder India's "natural rise". What political reforms are necessary or are currently being contemplated by the Indian political leadership.
Dr Harold Gould answers, Greetings to you, Shaun. Yes, with power comes responsibility. I see no credible evidence that India's mainstream leaders are indifferent to this responsibility. Unlike many commentators, I do not see India's multi-party system as being evidence of weakness or imperiled stability, but a great strength. Often it is overlooked that India is not equivalent to a single state like, say, France or Britain or Italy; it is a subcontinental entity whose proportions are equivalent to all of Europe. I sometimes tell my audiences that India is "Europe with central government", which means that in terms of political evolution, India is well ahead of Europe, which still struggles to try and achieve, politically, what India already has. A subcontinental, multi-national state like India cannot by definition have a simplistic, "two-party" political system. It must be what I call an "accommodational state" where a variety of ethnic, class, religious and, yes, caste interests must be given a meaningful place in the system if chaos and violence are not to occur. This requires coalitions which recognize and accommodate multiple interests and identities. If you don't believe me, just look at Iraq where the US has pushed a unitary state concept that has not chance of succeeding in a country that is a microcosm of the Indian case. So, yes, I think multiparty (= multi-interests) democracy is the ONLY way for India; it is this which keeps India relatively stable and will continue to do so. Read you Indian history and you will see that "accommodational politics" have always been the way to political success in India. India's "natural rise" depends upon successfully managing the "ethno-accomodational state", in my opinion.
shamik asked, because Vijay, the time when NPT was being signed, our opinion didn't matter. The other countries signed it because most of them were either in the soviet bloc or the NATO, and hence could not afford to jeopardise their relations with either countries. And mind u NPT defeats the very nature of a deal, owing to its unfair nature, i.e., it does not talk about the nuclear weapons possessed by the 5 nuclear powers, but puts a cap on other countries developing it
Dr Harold Gould answers, Shamik-ji, I agree completely with you about this. It is just this matter of "not counting" that was a critical factor for a country with as much cultural and historical pride as India. And it is quite true that membership in one or the other blocs was a determinative factor in whether you signed up or not. Once again, it is "interests" that matter. Beyond this, however, I think India did it the right way; it linked its compliance with these instruments to a fundamental moral issue: That India would abjure its nuclear capability when the Big 5 live up to their promise to do so. Hypocrisy is a way of life in politics, and, I guess, in life generally. The reason I think that India's position was consistent with principle is because it did not use its outsider position to engage in nuclear chicanery and become a proliferator, like Pakistan did and, incidentally, like China did, despite being a NPT signatory. But now that India has put itself on the track to objectifying its nuclear status, its leaders should engage in what some of the nonproliferation ayatollahs call "confidence building" -- doing things that make the international community feel as comfortable as possible with India's moral bona fides.
Anoop asked, What is the stand of India's eminent scientists on the treaty? Do they support this? Will any of their ongoing projects be affected?
Dr Harold Gould answers, I confess not having inside details on this matter, but my understanding is that India's scientific community has insisted that there by nothing in any agreement that prevents India from sustaining the breeding of enough plutonium to maintain the country's deterrent capabilities, but also to make sure that enough scope remains for them to continue doing research. This seems reasonable to me; and I have been struck by the fact that the scientists have been able to make the politicians take them seriously as they work out the details of the agreement. This where the opposite side of the coin apparently exists: That is, if the US Congress and the nonproliferation crowd can raise obstacles to the consummating an agreement from the American side; the scientists and their allies in the political community on the India side can raise comparable obstacles. Which means that everything comes down to a bargaining process though which an acceptable consensus can be achieved. In a democratic milieu, this can't be all that wrong.
suresh asked, How strong is the "India factor" in influencing the Congress? Everybody wants to distance themselves from the President's stand nowadays. Can it overcome the politics between the Congress and the Capitol Hill?
Dr Harold Gould answers, I would rate the "India factor" as being quite strong, but not necessarily decisive. This depends on a lot of factors. One thing going for the Indian side is the very substantial Indian-American community, which is now around 2 million. More important than numbers, there are many successful and powerful businessmen among them who have the resource and the determination to work for this agreement because it is in their interests to do so. They in turn are linked with American counterpart companies and institutions who are also destined to gain from it. There is a measure of working together here, although I don't have statistics on how much. These interests feed into the US Congress through the so-called "India Caucus" and the various K-Street lobbying firms. The Indian Embassy is a very active player in coordinating their activities. So also is India Abroad thought its excellent journalism and wide distribution. So also are a number of Indian private citizens, like Ram Narayanan, who devote enormous energy to rallying and informing the South Asian-American community, and also lobbying Capitol Hill. I do trepidate some over Pres Bush's declining legitimacy. His credibility and thus his political clout is waning. He is less able now than before to successfully implant his imprimatur of legislation he desires. This may be an important deterrent because of the public hysteria about "outsourcing." This issue is getting some linkage to the current uproar about "immigration" in the sense that both are seen in some quarters (i.e., the labor unions) as undermining jobs for "white" American workers. However, I think the forces favoring this agreement are strong enough to carry it through despite these problems, unless things take an even worse turn for the Bushies and the national temperament. As they say in Hindi: Putah chalega!
suresh asked, what do you think of the deal?
Dr Harold Gould answers, Suresh, I am complete in favor of it. A relationship like this between India and the US was long overdue.
VijayN asked, Why was India not in the NPT in first place. Please don't insult your and my intelligence by saying India didn't sign the treaty. NPT is not god given. It is man made treaty negotiated between countries representing people. How come the other countries choose NOT to develop / negotiate a treaty that one fifth of humanity (Indians) can sign.
Dr Harold Gould answers, Vijay, India wasn't in the NPT in the first place because India didn't WANT to be. Perfectly legitimate, and I have already given my reasons why I thought India's position made sense. The reason why the "other countries" didn't develop/negotiate a treaty that accommodated "one fifth of humanity" is because at the time it was done the way it was is because the Big Boys didn't think India "counted." The Cold War atmosphere still existed; the American political establishment was laden with unreconstructed cold warriors who resented India for her Non-Alignment and "pro-Soviet" apostasies. Nehru wouldn't play ball with the American strategic doctrine and the Paki military alliance and so was diplomatically kept in the doghouse. The situation is different now because India has succeeded on her own and cannot any longer be condescended. It is a force to be reckoned with and so the US is reckoning with it. Especially now that, by contrast, US's Pakistan policy (which kept the US and India apart) is exposed for the fiasco that it always was. The "other countries" will now deal with India as an equal because they must. Power and interests count.
pradeep asked, hello Dr Harold, do you think this nuclear deal will have any impact on India's relationship with the Muslim countries?
Dr Harold Gould answers, Yes, Pradeep, I am here. Hi. I think this is a good question to which I do not have a firm answer. If I can venture one opinion it is that as long as India continues to treat its Muslim population with the dignity and consideration it deserves and avoids any repetition of the Babri Masjid and Godhra styles of Hindu extremism, then it will be hard for the responsible sections of the Islamic world to turn against India. Indian diplomacy has been pretty good at balancing its policies toward the Islamic world -- distancing itself from the extremists and lunatics and following policies which avoid appearing to lean too far toward the extremists on the other side of the world. I think they should be very careful about how they deal with the Iranian situation; they must not seem, despite the US-Indian rapprochement, to show any sympathy for the mounting sabre-rattling against Iran being mounted by the Bushies and insist that the UN and the international community remain uppermost in the negotiations. If there were time I could comment much more on this; but, alas, there is not time.
RK asked, Do Pres Bush and Ms Rice carry the weight to push the deal through the Congress?
Dr Harold Gould answers, I already addressed this issue. I confess some anxiety due to Bush's declining legitimacy. It is a tough act when, from my standpoint, the India agreement is the only policy which the Bushies have pursued which make any sense to me. If the public lumps this agreement with all the other things they are coming to disapprove Bush for, it could make for problems. But as noted earlier, I do remain optimistic because strategic interests are so important here
Indianpatriot asked, Sir, at one time not so long ago, Kashmir (and thus by default, India) was described as 'the most dangerous place on earth'. What has changed?
Dr Harold Gould answers, What is changed is that India has matured and completely renounced any precipitous use of nuclear weapons in its neighborhood; it has reached out to Pakistan (Vajpyee's initiatives, etc.); meanwhile Americans in high places have been curbing their rhetoric and behaving more responsibly. It takes two to tango, as the old cliché goes.
nuclearwinter asked, sir, what are the real American interests here? China? Commerce? A bit of both?
Dr Harold Gould answers, Bit of both. Commerce is becoming as important factor in the US-India relationship as it has already become in the US-China relationship. I say, let it happen. What does it matter if naked self-interest becomes a path to sensible, constructive relationships between the US, India and China. It beats "idealism" every time at that level. Perhaps unfortunately, but there it is. Whatever works and deters us from obliterating the planet!
Dileep asked, Good evening Mr. Harold. I have a question to you. How is USA benefited by agreeing Nuke deal with India? And do you see that by signing this deal you can help India in fighting Terrorism?
Dr Harold Gould answers, The USA definitely gains from this deal both economically, strategically and because it mellows a relationship was on the wrong foot for two generations. On terrorism, I am a little less sanguine because the US still has somewhat of a double standard here. It deplores terrorism in principle and to some extent in action; but it still winks at Pakistani/ISI tolerance of Osama, al Qaeda, Taliban and other jihadis living as "guests" in Pakistan and undoubtedly continuing to support terrorist incursions into Kashmir. This is apparently what is left of the double standard that once pervaded all aspects of US South Asian policies.
pradeep asked, can you predict, what will be the world political scenario once the oil reserves in OPEC countries depletes to unviable level? will the world be a more safer place then?
Dr Harold Gould answers, You should read Tom Friedman's NYT articles on this. His point is that however we cease being dependent on oil, the sooner these states who predicate their authoritarian regimes on this single resource will wither and die, and be replaced by productive middle-classes which create wealth and prosperity across a broad spectrum of productivity. To the extent that India replaces fossil fuels with nuclear power, and China too for that matter, the sooner that fatal dependency will end. But how to find a way to curb the political capacity of these giant oil oligopolies who call the energy tune and support the political regimes which promote the dependency?
Vineet asked, We all know that nuclear power is a double-edged sword. How far is it wise to look for nuclear power options in today's world where terrorism is a factor everywhere and can sabotage nuclear power for terrorist activities
Dr Harold Gould answers, See my answer to the previous question. It's always big interests that call the tune.
PBKazakhstan asked, Some say that, by allying with the Americans, India has given up vital policy levers (domestic and foreign). To that end, it might be myopic, like the country of my residence (Kazakhstan) giving up its nukes a decade ago....
Dr Harold Gould answers, Kazakhstan should do it the way India is doing it: Being aware of its fundamental interests and using political and economic resources to compel the US and other big powers to make deals that are genuinely reciprocal. This requires viable leadership and unity of purpose.
Jason asked, Mr. Gould, if all south Asian states do come together as a unified entity (nation state, union) (Accomodational politics) how would it affect international geopolitics?
Dr Harold Gould answers, This is a good question. ASEAN is certainly a good start. You are now talking about a Free Trade Zone comparable to NAFTA, etc. This is a good idea. It IS indeed accommodational politics; what is needed and what works if carried out effectively and with integrity. The more such combinations like this, the less is the number of weaker isolated states who can be bullied by the big boys. That would certainly contribute to international amity and peace. Bullies don't pick on the strong; only on the weak.
Vinayak asked, Dr. Gould, Do you think this nuke deal is too late? There is still lot of mistrust between India and US. Decades of estrangement is not going to go away by this deal. What's your take on this?
Dr Harold Gould answers, It's never too late. The sooner something is consummated; the sooner mechanism will be in place to ameliorate distrust even further. It won't be an overnight transformation, but being on the right track really matters. Especially if it puts an end to the petty bickering that went on through the Cold War and its immediate aftermath.
Richie asked, what is the need for India to seek help from the US to meet our energy needs? The Russians have been our traditional allies and have been our help in times of need. Is there anything hidden that India has to gain from this deal?
Dr Harold Gould answers, The answer is simple. If the Americans don't do it, then let the Russians or someone else do it. India does a lot on its own anyway and that is why they are now being viewed with the respect they always deserved. There is precedent for this. When Dulles initiated the Paki policy and tried to politically and economically isolate India, Nehru turned out not be the fuzzyheaded dreamer he was made out to be by American intelligence of the day. He simply turned toward the Soviets as much as he felt he had to in order to counterbalance the American-enabled Pakistani threat to India's security. It worked too. It defeated the basic premises of the Dulles strategic scenario for South Asia and kept India's political, economic and military head above water until changes such as we now see could happen. So if America reneges this time, then so be it if India turns elsewhere. She should, and she will. But I don't think this will happen, because the US knows what the game is now, and won't risk it.
amInCh asked, Dr Gould. Thank you for spending this time with us. Though the deal has been touted in the U.S as one which will create American jobs, will India be bound to build American reactors? Does the U.S have the potential to be a reliable supplier and will it be in India's interest to source reactors from U.S even if this deal goes through? Thank you.
Dr Harold Gould answers, I think my reply to the previous question answers all that. The details will have to be worked out, of course, and they will be.
pradeep asked, your views are really honest and deeper ..thank you sir.
Dr Harold Gould answers, Pradeep, I appreciate that comment because often my views are not appreciated on this side of the globe.
SENDER asked, Dr Gould how much would be the impact of this deal on the surging crude prices in the world market in long term?
Dr Harold Gould answers, The prices are surging despite everything in part because of the surging energy demands. But don't dismiss my earlier comment about the power of the oil oligopolies. You don't see much comment in the press (since most are afraid to rock the boat) about the methods that these companies employ to manipulate supply and demand, while claiming that the "market" alone determines prices. For years they have deliberately held down refining capacity so that regardless of how much oil is in the ground they can control supply to their advantage by preventing the construction of more refinery capacity. Then they turn around and claim it is the "free market" determining prices when, in fact, it is they who are. Go see the movie "Syriana" to better understand the politics of Big Oil and their sweetheart relationship with the Sheikhs.
rainabetijay asked, Is the way US handling Pakistan (calling it an ally on the war on terror), i.e. with kid gloves the right way? Are there any measures going forward to prevent Nuclear Proliferation given Pakistan's record?
Dr Harold Gould answers, If the phrase, "the most dangerous place on earth", has any validity, it is Pakistan. It is a nuclear state on the brink of utter political collapse. Musharraf is only an assassin's bullet removed from ending his precarious, self-inflicted danse macabre, poised between the jihadis and the American largesse. Yes, the US has been mistaken in reinforcing still another military dictator who disdains his own people's yearning for democratic government. But the time we should have done something about it was at the point where he deposed Sharif. It may be too late by now. However, there are considerable democratic stirrings among the Paki middle-class. It is they who have been reaching out to India and viewing her as an alternative model to what they've got. Certainly the US could still do more than it has to encourage and empower this class, because it is Pakistan's only hope. And it is clear that India would help them in this. But if there is one illusion in the American political firmament that refuses to die, it is the belief that the "Pakistan alliance" will be South Asia's salvation. Of course, it has been the favorite of the armament industry as well, for obvious reasons. But perhaps the growing economic interdependence between the US and India, including, unfortunately, arms, will help negate this obsession.
Dr Harold Gould says, Have to leave now.  Goodbye everyone, and thank you very much.

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