The current opposition of the Left to the Indo-US nuclear deal 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 Home Ministry and the Intelligence Bureau 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 telecommunication services from China, Pakistan and Bangladesh should be subjected to a special security vetting.
The CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, allegedly at the instance of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, raised a 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 President Hu’s visit, a news channel had invited me to participate in a discussion on the visit. CPI Rajya Sabha member D. Raja was also a participant. I told Raja, “It is surprising that you pressurised the government to issue visas to 1,000 Chinese engineers. You were not bothered about Indian engineers not getting these jobs. If a US company had wanted to bring 1,000 American engineers, would you have urged the government to issue visas to them?” “Mr Raman, you are an eminent person,” Raja said. “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 exercise in the Bay of Bengal involving the navies of these countries, plus Singapore, is the beginning of this project. It is not without significance that the vigorous campaign of the Left parties against the Indo-US agreement and against the growing strategic interactions between India and the US 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 Left’s campaign against India’s relations with the US could reflect more China’s concerns and interests than those of India. I have never been excited over the Indo-US nuclear agreement. Nor do I share Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s enthusiasm for US President George W. Bush. I am inclined to feel that what we are seeing now is a one-night stand between Singh and Bush and like most one-night stands, the happy thoughts will become an embarrassment in the course of time. I do feel 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 middle of the Islamic world and that about 45 per cent of the world’s Muslim population lives in the South Asian region. Ours is 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 Left dictate our foreign policy and push it in a direction that favours China. I find it difficult to discount the suspicion that the Left has mounted their present campaign to promote Chinese, and not Indian interests.
After joining the Intelligence Bureau in 1967, I went on a visit to Calcutta. Those were the days of the Cultural Revolution in China. The Marxists were not yet in power in West Bengal but were very active. As I was travelling in a taxi from Dum Dum airport, I saw the slogan, ‘China’s Chairman is our Chairman’, painted by the Marxists on walls everywhere. Today’s Indian communists don’t say this. But they do seem to believe that ‘China’s interest is our interest’. It is this belief that is behind their present campaign against the Government of India. Their hidden motive should be exposed.
B. Raman is former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is currently Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.