The current Indo-US stand-off over the maltreatment of our diplomat has roused considerable indignation in the country. India’s long overdue tit-for-tat reaction and the pruning of benefits given to American diplomats, far excessive of the ‘reciprocity’, are necessary. However, it is not sufficient. For, every manifestation has processes that build up to it. It can never be tackled at its level alone unless these processes are understood and corrected.
In this context Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s latest press conference, widely viewed as his farewell parting shot, has, among others, provided clues to how the US could virtually take India for granted. In reply to a question, he said the highlight of his tenure was the 2005 Indo-US nuclear deal. He deliberately concealed that not a single extra unit of nuclear energy has been added since. Despite the government’s efforts to tweak the rules that negate Parliament’s civilian nuclear liability law in order to appease US corporates with exemption from any producer liability in the case of accident/malfunctioning, there has been no new nuclear power installation.
The Left parties, which withdrew their outside support to UPA 1 on this issue as it violated the Common Minimum Programme (the basis for outside support), protested and warned that this deal goes beyond nuclear cooperation seeking to reduce India to a subordinate ally of the US. Since then, India had begun to change its foreign policy to suit US’ interests. This was clearly manifested in our relations with Iran. Following unilateral US-imposed sanctions, India’s crude oil imports from Iran plunged significantly from nearly 3,71,520 barrels per day in 2010-11 to 2,67,100 barrels per day in 2012-13. This, despite the fact that, Iranian imports were much cheaper than the international market and further, India could pay in rupees or any other currency ‘appropriate to the situation’.
In February 2007, at a talk at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, former US State Department assistant secretary for non-proliferation and international security, Stephen G Rademaker had said that the July 2005 nuclear agreement had helped bring about a big change in India’s attitude. “The best illustration of this is the two votes India cast against Iran at the IAEA”, he said adding: “I am the first person to admit that the votes were coerced”.
Such succumbing to US strategic interests was further evidenced in not materialising the Indo-Iranian gas pipeline notwithstanding the tremendous cost advantage it had to meet our critical energy requirements and to vastly expand our much-needed power generation capacities. Though, officially India has advanced the reasons of the pipelines’ security in Pakistani territory and Iran’s high price demand, what is little known is that India had offered Iran a price that is less than what it now pays the RIL for domestic gas purchase. As a result, the tremendous economic and energy advantage that India could have tapped has been lost. The opportunity to pay in Indian rupees, so advantageous in a situation of economic slowdown and the falling value of the rupee, was additionally lost.
Such servile conformism to US interests was once again witnessed during the US National Security Agency’s illegal surveillance, revealed by the Snowden exposures. In sharp contrast to the strong protests launched by traditional long-standing US allies like France and Germany, India’s protests were at best mute, often displaying a ‘more loyal than the king’ attitude. The invasive American intelligence gathering, an obnoxious violation of sovereignty of independent countries and primarily of basic human liberties, led to the French president expressing in indignation, ‘extreme reprobation’, by summoning the US ambassador to France. The US president was forced to speak to the French president and to the German chancellor apologetically assuring them that nothing like this will happen in the future. President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil postponed her State visit to the US protesting such espionage. The US administration had to apologise to both Mexico and Brazil.
In contrast, a day after furious international reaction against such illegal and unethical US spying, with reports that India was amongst the top in the US list of such surveillance of telephonic conversations and Internet usage, India’s external affairs minister said that such unacceptable transgression was “not snooping”. He explained, “This is not scrutiny and access to actual messages. It is only a computer study and a computer analysis of patterns of calls” (sic).
Such brazen prostration and bending over backwards to ‘please’ the US emboldened the latter to not merely arm-twist but to take India for granted. The current diplomatic stand-off is widely viewed as an effort being made by the US to assess how much of a vassal state India can be considered as.
In this context the alleged maltreatment of domestic workers by Indian diplomats, once again, draws our attention to urgently ratify the long-pending International Labour Organization treaty. The pending legislation before Parliament on the protection of the rights of domestic workers must be adopted in the forthcoming session by adequately strengthening it. The US argument of alleged violation of its local laws is untenable when a case in the Indian courts is being considered by our legal process. The US evacuation of this worker’s family from India in the name of protecting ‘human rights’ hence is a blatant violation of Indian sovereignty. Having committed the worst forms of inhuman crimes through its illegal military interventions all over the world, the US self-anoints itself as the world’s champion of human rights. This is impermissible.
In the current stand-off, therefore, India cannot stop at a mere tit-for-tat reciprocal diplomatic response alone. It needs to correct its foreign policy orientation and restore to India its unique pride of position in pursuing an independent foreign policy, while developing better relations with all countries.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal