What would India look like if a prematurely grey Malayali Marxist was the prime minister instead of a blue-turbaned neo-liberal Sikh?
For starters, there would have been no George Bush visit, let alone a nuclear deal. In fact, India may not have been a nuclear power at all, given the Left's antipathy towards Pokhrans I and II and preference for universal nuclear disarmament.
Not only that, the earlier opposition of the communists to computers would have meant that the scientific establishment wouldn't have had the wherewithal to build nuclear weapons any way.
In any event, even if the Marxists had wanted, the American President's Air Force One wouldn't have been able to land in India's unmodernised and unprivatised airports, which wouldn't be big and sophisticated enough to handle the six-storey jet.
In place of Bush, the red carpet would be rolled out for Robert Mugabe, the 'socialist' president of Zimbabwe in whose country the rate of inflation is touching the 800 mark, Fidel Castro, the imperishable Cuban dictator, who sends doctors and engineers to help Third World countries, Kim Jong Il, the 'dear leader' of the North Korean people and son of his father, the 'beloved leader' Kim Il Sung, and other leaders from countries where America is planning regime changes.
But, more than any one of them, the bands would be playing loud and clear for Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the man currently leading the charge, with the blessings of the Grand Ayatollahs of Iran, against the Great Satan. And support for this formidable line-up against the neo-imperialists would come from across the seas from distant Venezuela's man of the masses, Hugo Chavez, who is now a beacon of hope for the downtrodden after the demise of Lenin, Stalin and Mao.
With friends like these, India wouldn't need enemies. But what of the economy? No one would even whisper the three dreadful letters, FDI [Foreign Direct Investment], lest he should be seen to be in league with the neo-imperialists and their plans to enter and finally take over the Indian economy. There wouldn't be much domestic investment either, for the barrier of crossing the government-sanctioned trade union stipulations about salaries and work conditions would be too daunting for any entrepreneur.
So, the mighty public sector will rule the roost, known as the 'commanding heights of the economy', producing little and incurring losses. And there would be no question of the sensex crossing 10,000 since the stock exchange would be constantly under the bhaand mein jaye [let it be doomed] threat of Big Brother's little brother, A B Bardhan.
On the national capital's wide thoroughfares, there would be at most three models of cars, all of the colour favoured by Henry Ford ('a car can be of any colour as long as it is black'), which would enhance road safety since they wouldn't be able to cross 60 kmph without shaking violently.
And no police notifications would have to be issued against the use of mobiles while driving, for there wouldn't be any mobiles at all, only one landline company, with a long waiting list, and favoured by those with strong voices which can carry over the 'trunk' lines.
There would also be only one television channel, perhaps in colour, where the highlights of the week would be Sunday morning's 'garland' of film songs -- Chitrahaar -- and Friday evening's The World This Week by Prannoy Roy, of NDTV.
But the gains of this brave new India would be considerable. They would mainly be in the realms of foreign and economic policies. In foreign affairs, India would pursue an independent line, which (its supporters would presume) would have earned the approval of the former Soviet Union if only because its basis would be to oppose the Great Satan's machinations to dominate the world.
Along with Venezuela (oil), North Korea (nukes), Iran (more nukes) and Cuba (which has been praised by Pervez Musharraf for sending a 1,000-member medical team, 44 per cent of which are women, to the earthquake-hit mountains where they stayed on 'in freezing weather and in an alien culture', as Noam Chomsky has noted in The Guardian), India would again be a leading light of the 'non-aligned' world as in the halcyon days of Nehru, Nasser and Tito, making America shake in rage and dismay.
Chomsky would also be gratified that instead of becoming a 'client' of the US, India was again in the league of extraordinary gentlemen waging their battle against America's hegemonic designs.
The independence of India's foreign policy would naturally be reflected in its economic policy as well as it desists all the attempts of those two crucial American agents in the world of capital, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to direct how the Indian economy should be run.
And as the prime minister's popularity soars by these bold assertions of independence, the preference of West Bengal's chief minister for (those dreaded letters again) FDI in imitation of Deng Xiaoping, and the internal battles of two other Malayalis, hardliner V S Achhutanand and moderate P Vijayan, will become no more than unpleasant memories of a distant past.