I may not be accused of ever having written a good word about L.K.Advani, the leader and now projected prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu-rightwing Bhartiya Janata Party.
Now is the time to make amends.
In an elaborate interview given to the redoubtable N.Ram of the Hindu (12 July. ’08)—easily the most literate of India’s premier English Dailies—Advani has rightly pointed out that, in contrast to the current UPA regime, the NDA under Vajpayees’ premiership desisted from pushing such agendas that did not form a part of the manifestoes of any constituent party of the NDA coalition.
The nuclear explosion at Pokhran, for example, was undertaken by that regime because the BJP’s wish to ‘go nuclear’ had first been vetted and endorsed by its partners in the NDA.
Contrarily, Hindutva-related items such as building that Ram Temple at Ayodhya at the site of the demolished Babri mosque, enforcing a Common Civil Code on all Indian citizens (in substance, imposing Hindu social laws on India’s Muslims), and deleting Article 370 from the Constitution (thereby ending the ‘Special Status’ of the Jammu & Kashmir State—a covenant on which the accession of the state to India was established in the first place) were scrupulously left out of the NDA’s programme of governance.
Notwithstanding the political effort of the BJP to keep such issues alive and ready-at-hand, mainly through propaganda and pogrom, it must be conceded that the NDA regime made no attempt formally to implement communal agendas that were unacceptable to its participants in government.
Contrary to my inability through the years to favour anything at all that L.K.Advani (and his party) have stood for or done, in or out of government, I have on more than one occasion spoken up for the President of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, both when her locus standii—culturally and politically—has been under crude racist and xenophobic attack, and later in praise of her selfless concern and dignity on behalf of the nation and its deprived masses.
Alas, in the context of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, and the parting of ways with the Left parties without whose support—as she has acknowledged just yesterday in a meeting of the UPA coalition— the present government could not have been constituted in the first place, that she should have allowed herself and the party to be sulk-twisted into a course of action that formed no part of the Common Minimum Programme drawn up with the Left, that one feels goes against her best reading of where the welfare of the Republic resides, and that is likely to affect a disastrous paradigm shift in India’s sense of herself and of her equations with the rest of the world.
And all that by a prime minister who has yet to be elected to the House of the People, the Lok Sabha. (See my ‘Deal or Democracy’, Znet, 27 October, 2007 for a detailed comment on these issues.)
It should be recalled that the nuclear deal arrived at between the Indian Prime Minister and the American President (July 18, 2005) happened just one unseemly month after a report in the USA Today (June 19, 2005) which read as follows:
“More than 26 years after a near melt-down at the Three Miles Island
nuclear power plant, the Senate is considering an energy bill that includes
financial incentives for construction of nuclear plants. It’s the latest sign
of the industry’s quiet rehabilitation.” (See J. Sriraman, ‘A Raw Deal for
India’, Truthout, 9 July, 2008).
The USA Today further noted that “the Nuclear Energy Institute’s political action committee had contributed $76,376 to (Congressional) candidates so far” the bulk to Republicans but also to Democrats like Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Sriraman notes that the “Energy Policy Act of 2005 included an array of incentives, amounting to billions of dollars, designed to promote nuclear power.”
Nuclear “experts” contended that business with India and China would usher in a “domestic renaissance in nuclear power.” These experts also argued that nuclear cooperation with India would promote India’s “strategic power” as a counterbalance to China—something that Indian experts remain skeptical about.
Is it any wonder then that the Bush administration should so assiduously push the Indo-US nuclear deal, knowing that its corporates (who have not built a reactor at home in 35 years) stand to make a killing they haven’t made in half a century. Or that sundry nuclear corporate CEOs should be camping in India for more than a year now, and, in coordination with the American embassy in Delhi, be arm-twisting Indian policy makers to get on with it.
Secondly, the deal bears the promise of inveigling India into the non-proliferation regime, even as the stipulations on the non-use of plutonium issuing from imported uranium puts paid to, or effectually retard, India’s thorium technology.
And most importantly, the macro-contexts of the deal further promise—as explicitly provided for in the enabling Hyde Act—to draw India into a lasting “congruence” with American foreign policy interests worldwide.
So what does India get out of the proposed deal?
If by India is meant some 78% of its people who live on less than 50 cents a day, the answer is zilch.
That for the reason that, even after everything were to go as projected, the output from nuclear energy would be some 7-9% of India’s total energy output by the year 2020!
And the cost of that energy, as has been pointed ad nauseum in recent debates, would be three times that of energy sourced from thermal or hydel materials.
Indeed, even India’s famed middle classes may remain outside the requisite purchasing power. And India seems in no hurry to exploit its year-long sunlight for solar power, or its abundant wind resource for wind-driven power, or to prize its vast coal reserves for clean coal technology, or to harness its abundant water resources for enhancing hydel power. Indeed, the question has been asked as to why India refuses thus far even to mine the considerable uranium finds, if uranium is what she wants. Or why it is so embarrassingly tardy in clinching the Iran-Pakistan-India Gas pipeline project. Or in securing enhanced petroleum resources by participating in the ventures that beckon in Central Asian states through the aegis of the SCO.
But if by India is meant its corporates, much may be said for the deal. A projected enterprise of some 40 billion dollars is in the offing tantalizingly, and the ‘new India’ of global ambition waters at the mouth at the thought.
Not to speak of that other aspect of India’s global ambition: by reserving some eight of its reactors for the “strategic” sector, India desires now to multiply its bomb-making prowess to a point where, with strategic American collaboration it is in a position to bomb China out of existence.
And it is the very same India (is it, though?) that floated the vision of a non-nuclear world through universal disarmament even as late as 1988.
The Left in India has consistently argued that the nuclear deal is merely the thin end of an imperialist wedge that seeks to dismantle decisively what is left of India’s posture of independence in the matter of conducting its foreign relations.
However righteously this may be protested by the present Indian government, the statement made by the Indian Prime Minister after his meeting with George W.Bush on the sidelines of the recent G-8 summit in Japan lets the cat out of the bag:
‘Dr Singh said that he was “very pleased with the state of our relationship, which has truly acquired the characteristic of a genuine strategic partnership”’ (emphasis added; The Hindu, July 10, 2008).
It is an instructive irony—one that illuminates the sanctity that the Manmohan regime attaches to commitments made to the supporting Left at the time of government formation—that the phrase “strategic partnership” was with mutual consent dropped from the draft of the Common Minimum Programme which was to become the covenant between the Left and the UPA!
Manmohan went on then to detail some aspects of that partnership:
“We have made progress in all areas. We have progress in nuclear cooperation, space cooperation, defence cooperation, educational exchanges, our working together in multilateral institutions for the success of the Doha round” (Ibid.,)
That is an enumeration which ought to leave no one in any doubt that the new corporate-led India means squarely now to climb the American bandwagon, to draw military and sundry corporate stature from such a climb, and inevitably to conduct its foreign relations in close embrace with America and the Zionist lobby. Indeed, and ominously, the collaboration on making a success of the Doha round of the WTO negotiations potentially menaces the already besieged agricultural sector in India to the terminal detriment of those that live off agriculture and those that find agricultural produce already beyond their means.
Thus, if beginning 1990 the then finance minister of India, Manmohan Singh, inaugurated the liquidation of Nehruvian welfare economics that sought to draft the state on behalf of those that most needed its humanist interventions, in 2008 Manmohan Singh, now the prime minister, is busy liquidating that other falange of the Nehruvian legacy (one that did wonders in keeping Independent India safe from the predatory policy reach of both the West and the East), namely non-alignment and the sovereign right to pursue its foreign relations in the best interests of its impoverished peoples. (See Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations, Leftword, 2007).
Clearly, the much-abused concept of “national interest” now comes to connote the interest not of the impoverished but of the rapacious consumerist classes. And the “invisible hand” instead of “trickling” only clenches more and more into a fist.
It is to be noted that inbetween, another Congress prime minister, the late Narasimha Rao, was to preside over the liquidation of that third of Nehru’s articles of faith, namely the preservation at all costs of the secular state. Rao, often called the first BJP prime minister of India, was to quarantine himself in considered seclusion as the Babri mosque was pick-axed, piece by piece, by Hindutva hordes in a day-long uninterrupted operation, a crime against the Constitutional Republic for which nobody has yet been punished some 25 years after!
I said at the beginning that these paradigmatic shifts have been underway during the leadership of a prime minister who has never yet been elected to the Lok Sabha.
No surprise then that the Indian democratic system per se seems now hostage to a new order of legitimacy.
Not the people but a clutch of CEOs drawn from across both the political and entrepreneurial segments succeed with each passing day in usurping the democratic space of governmental legitimacy.
Even as the Left has withdrawn support to the UPA, well-known satraps of the new supporting party, the Samajwadi party, are already busy seeking changes in ministerial portfolios at the behest of known industrial magnates. Indeed, the remainder of the UPA tenure seems set to witness a contest among windfall-profit-making corporates, mediated through the Cabinet.
And we thought sovereignty rests in the people. More fool we.
It has been noted that India’s political system remains severly handicapped by an absence of inner-party democracy (with the exception of the Left parties);
it is should not be hard to imagine what further damage to the very idea of democratic legitimacy and democratic governance may be wrought by the new culture of authority that corporate clout and an obliging political system seem conjointly willing to impose on the Republic.
All that betokening cliques and lobbies whose interests require that as little of policy making is made transparent to the people as can be. No more resonant instance of that than the current fiasco wherein the Congress-led UPA sought the allegiance of the Left parties to the nuclear deal without as much as showing them the draft of the agreement drawn between the Indian government and the IAEA. The pretext that the draft was a “privileged/classified” document has now been exposed by no less than members of the IAEA board of governors—past and present—who have clearly stated that such documents become privileged only when the text is adopted by the IAEA board. Prior to that happening it is for the member countries to do as they like with the draft!
All this by a government who is rightly lauded for having given to the Republic its first ever Right to Information Act!
These shenanigans around the nuclear deal, though, have performed one useful function: they have pushed into the background the misery confronted by India’s poor—some 78% of the population—as a result of galloping inflation and rising food process.
A circumstance that speaks eloquently to where the priorities of the government lie.
The less said about the state of policing and law and order in town and country the better.
It will be interesting to see how the electorate of India in the coming general elections pronounces on these occurrences. Will they simply go from frying pan into fire and vote the right-wing BJP, or can the Left stand to gain from a fight it has put up through a staunch adherence to principle and argument. Or is India doomed to produce another pot pourri that may nicely become amenable to further ravages of opportunist dismantling.
Be it said that the elections of 2009, supposing that the Manmohan government survives the trust vote due to take place on the 21st and 22nd of july, will be a watershed one.