The current opposition of the leftist parties -- particularly, the Communist Party of India-Marxist -- to the agreement (the so-called 123 agreement) with the US on civil nuclear co-operation and to India's developing strategic relations with the US takes one's mind back to the days before the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India in November last year.
A Chinese company had won a contract for the construction of a gas pipeline from the Godavari area in Andhra Pradesh. It wanted to bring about 1,000 Chinese engineers to work in the project. The ministry of home affairs and the Intelligence Bureau of the Government of India were not clearing the issue of visas to the Chinese engineers. They asked a number of inconvenient questions as to why it was necessary for the Chinese company to bring in so many of their engineers when unemployed Indian engineers were available.
There was also a paper prepared by the National Security Council Secretariat of the Prime Minister's Office suggesting that proposals for foreign investments in sensitive sectors such as telecommunications from China, Pakistan and Bangladesh should be subjected to a special security vetting.
Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M, allegedly at the instance of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, raised a big hue and cry about it and literally forced the Government of India to order the issue of visas to the Chinese engineers and to drop the proposal for a special security vetting for Chinese investment proposals in sensitive sectors.
After Hu's visit was over, Times Now television news channel had invited me to participate in a discussion on the visit. Arnab Goswami of the channel anchored the discussions. D Raja, CPI's member of the Rajya Sabha, participated in the discussions from Delhi. I told Raja: "It is surprising that you pressurised the government to issue visas to 1000 Chinese engineers. You were not bothered about Indian engineers not getting these jobs. If a US company had wanted to bring 1000 American engineers, would you have urged the government to issue visas to them?"
Raja told me: "Mr Raman, you are an eminent person. You should not mislead people by raising such scenarios."
For the last two months, the Chinese authorities have been expressing their concern over reports that India has joined hands with the US, Japan and Australia to counter the growing Chinese naval power in the region and that the forthcoming naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal involving the navies of these countries plus Singapore is the beginning of this project to counter Chinese naval power and presence in the Bay of Bengal/Indian Ocean region.
It is not without significance that the vigorous campaign of the leftist parties -- particularly of the CPI-M -- against the recently concluded Indo-US agreement on civil nuclear co-operation and against the growing strategic interactions between India and the US in particular has coincided with the beginning of the Chinese campaign against the so-called quadrilateral strategic interaction involving India, Japan, the US and Australia and the naval exercise with the additional involvement of the Singapore navy.
The leftists' campaign against India's relations with the US reflects more China's concerns and interests than those of India. I have never been excited over the Indo-US agreement on civil nuclear co-operation. Nor do I share Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's enthusiasm for US President George Bush and the Indo-US agreement. I am inclined to feel that what we are seeing now is a one-night stand between Dr Singh and Mr Bush. Like most one-night stands, the happy thoughts thereafter will become an embarrassment in course of time.
I also feel -- as I have stated on many occasions in the past -- that we should go slow on the development of our strategic relations with the US, keeping in view the fact that we live right in the midst of the Islamic world, and that about 45 per cent of the world's Muslim population lives in the South Asian region. Ours is still a fragile society and we should not create misgivings in the Muslim community by overlooking their sensitivities on this subject.
Having said that, I also feel that we should not let the leftists dictate our foreign policy and push it in a direction favourable to China. I find it difficult to discount the suspicion that the leftists have mounted their present campaign to promote Chinese and not Indian interests.
After joining the IB in 1967, I went on a visit to Kolkata. Those were the days of China's Cultural Revolution. The Marxists were not yet in power in West Bengal, but were very active. As I was travelling in a taxi from the Dum Dum airport to downtown, I saw the following slogan painted by the Marxists on the walls everywhere: 'China's chairman is our chairman'.
The present day Indian Marxists don't say this, but they do believe that 'China's interest is our Interest'. It is this belief which is behind their present campaign against the Government of India. Their hidden motive should be exposed.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)