Today, the Indo-US nuclear deal has signalled an end to the hypocrisy of the Indian political establishment. The preachy sanctimoniousness about American imperialism is restricted to the Left, writes Sagarika Ghose.Updated: Sep 09, 2008, 22:27 IST
A decade ago Jairam Ramesh wrote an insightful essay entitled ‘Yankee Go Home But Take Me With You’. It was an analysis of the elaborate hypocrisy of the Indian political establishment, which preached a loud anti-Americanism publicly and privately yearned for all things Starred and Striped.
Today, the Indo-US nuclear deal has signalled an end to the hypocrisy. The preachy sanctimoniousness about American imperialism is restricted to the Left. MPs now take crash courses in leadership at Yale University under the India-Yale parliamentary leadership programme. Many of the government’s key economic advisors are bureaucrats and academics who have had long tenures either at the world bank and International Monetary Fund or at Ivy League universities. When George W. Bush came visiting in 2006, Manmohan Singh said that as far as America and India were concerned there were “no limits on partnership”.
Attitudes to America have transformed as rapidly as Indian society has transformed. In the ’60s and ’70s, the Nehruvian elite studied at Oxbridge, scorned upward mobility, was proud of non-alignment and believed that proximity to the Soviet Union was India’s manifest destiny. Now a rapidly globalising India in the throes of an upwardly mobile revolution has adopted America as its subconscious role model, notwithstanding the radical chic’s protestations about Bush.
In the aftermath of that landmark waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the efforts by the US to get it passed, it seems clear that America, for reasons best known to itself, sees India as the ‘good guy’. And the Indian middle class, in its anxiety to emigrate, study and imitate the US, seems to have shed all reservations about America. Today, the Left’s hatred of America and the BJP’s artificial diatribes against the US’s ambitions seem incongruous in the face of a massively pro-American middle class in which it would be difficult to find a family that doesn’t have at least one member residing in the US. After all, the India International Centre, the hub of India’s chattering class, was designed by an American. FabIndia, the preferred garment store for the ‘authentically desi’, was founded by an aristocratic American entrepreneur.
There are several reasons for this growing public closeness. First, the increasingly influential NRI community in America, distinguished by individuals like PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi, Citicorp CEO Vikram Pandit, Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Indian immigrants to the US are not seen as the labour class. Instead they are comparable to privileged white communities in their affluence, education and achievements. This NRI community, with its strong links to India, forms a powerful mouthpiece for their long lost country, convincing American classmates, colleagues and politicians that India is a repository of talent and values that resonate with Americans such as hard work, social conservatism and big families.
There is an army of talented Indian academics teaching at campuses across the US. Many of these universities have far livelier South Asia studies departments than in fusty Oxbridge. The Tatas are even setting up an academic centre at the University of Wisconsin. Indian-American children are winning Spelling Bee contests. And Indian bankers are funding presidential campaigns. The Indian story in America is by and large a success story and the American vision of India is shaped by the dynamic representatives of the subcontinent that they see around them in New York and Chicago.
Second, the magnitude of US business interests in India draws the countries closer. The millions of outsourced jobs, the inflows of FIIs, the many American companies and business links make the US India’s largest trading partner. Third, the sheer scale of American ‘soft power’ in India. Hollywood films, coffee bars, TV shows, fashion, rock stars, books, magazines and the cultural attractiveness of America for the English-speaking and aspirant Indian has never been higher. The latest film Rock On is a blatant imitation of an American ‘back-to-college’ movie, complete with investment banker/rock musician hero and rock band groupies. India intrudes occasionally in this first-of-its kind American film set in Mumbai and made in Hindi.
But fourthly, there is another important reason why the estranged democracies are drifting ever closer. And this is because they have discovered, quietly, and almost at the same time, a common enemy. The rise of China, with its ruthlessly pragmatic foreign policy, its lack of compunction in arming militias in Sudan or dictators in Pakistan, its cheap exports and its scant respect for democracy are no source of comfort to the US. For India, China is the uneasy neighbour at odds with a globally important India, which tried to block the NSG waiver, kept India out of gatherings like the Apec and the East Asia summit, and has never supported India in its bids for membership of the UN Security Council.
The Islamist terrorist is the other common enemy. If George Bush is the ‘Great Satan’ for many parts of the Muslim world, then India, too, is perceived by many as brutal towards its Muslim minority, holding down the Muslim-majority Kashmir with the force of 400,000 troops. America is on the hit list of global jehadis; India on the hit list of local groups thirsting for vengeance. Sections of India’s political class and Parliament spoke out strongly and justly against Bush’s unilateral invasion and bombing of a sovereign country. There were racist attacks against brown-skinned people after 9/11.Yet the people-to-people contacts did not suffer any real setback.
So perhaps it’s time to introspect on our relationship with America. There was a time when to be known as ‘pro-American’ was to be accused of being a CIA agent or suffering from a slavish loss of sovereignty. But now it’s perhaps time to ask why America has worked so hard to give India a ticket to the world’s high table. No doubt the US is motivated by its own commercial and strategic ambitions. But it is also proof that America, more than any other country in the world, seems at peace with India Rising.
Sagarika Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN