India's democracy upsetting US?

America is waking up to the prerequisites of dealing with a vibrant democracy, says Amulya Ganguli, a political analyst.
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Updated on Feb 25, 2006 02:38 PM IST
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None | ByAmulya Ganguli (IANS)

US President George W Bush's reference to the need for patience in the negotiations with India on the nuclear deal between the two countries suggests that America is waking up to the prerequisites of dealing with a vibrant democracy -- an unusual experience for Washington.

Till now, the US has dealt either with adversaries challenging its suspected hegemonic ambitions - the former Soviet Union, Red China and Iran - or with two types of allies.

The first type - or the one Washington may have preferred - comprised virtual client states like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq during its war with Iran, and other countries mainly in the Middle East.

There were also Chile, Argentina and other military dictatorships in South America as also South Africa under the apartheid regime.

The phrase 'banana republics' evolved from the American practice of propping up petty tyrants in Latin America.

Heavily dependent on American military and economic aid and undemocratic at home, these countries served as America's front paws during the Cold War.

Even after the demise of the Soviet Union, many of them remained essentially autocratic and under America's tutelage, mainly in the Middle East.

There were changes elsewhere, mainly the gradual restoration of democracy in South America and the end of the white supremacist government in South Africa. But the impact of these regions on international affairs has been minimal.

Among the other allies of America, which were not as subservient as the Arab countries, were the Europeans nations.

Of them, only France has tried to maintain a certain distance in policy matters from Washington from Charles de Gaulle's time, an attitude most in evidence at the start of the Iraq war, which made then US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice speak of the need for punishing France.

Her other comments in this context underlined America's arrogant attitude towards 'friends': Russia should be ignored, and Germany forgiven, for having opposed the Iraq war along with France.

The long, post-World War II occupation of Germany by the Allied Powers had virtually reduced it to the state of a vassal, which was expected to do America's bidding. And Russia no longer posed any major threat in strategic terms.

Although democratic, unlike the Middle Eastern countries, the European allies of the US were not expected by Washington to follow a line directly opposed to that of America if only because of the 'special relationship' of the kind which was supposed to exist with Britain. A similar relationship was also there with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Turkey.

Yet, the hauteur of the American attitude towards them could be seen from the fact that when the Turkish parliament and government refused to let the US use its territory for the invasion of Iraq, then US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz wondered why the Turkish army, long nurtured by America, did not intervene.

India is an oddity in this respect. It's never been in the American camp, having openly shunned alliance like NATO, SEATO and CENTO.

All through the Cold War, it was on the wrong side of then US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's categorisation: 'If you are not with us, you are against us!'

India's enthusiastic espousal of the concept of non-alignment made it an automatic adversary of the US because it ran counter to the American efforts to build up an anti-communist military bloc. For all practical purposes, therefore, the US considered India to be a part of the Soviet camp.

Although perceptions have changed after the end of the Cold War, America's attitude towards its allies - and would-be allies - apparently hasn't. It still expects an ally to follow either the subservient model (Pakistan, Egypt) or the quiescent model (Britain, Japan).

Its latest experience with India, therefore, is perhaps making it aware of a third model, where a boisterous and 'noisy', as an American newspaper called it, democracy allows intense and persistent criticism of its own government's and America's policies.

The US is apparently unaccustomed to such attacks, as the responses of the US ambassador in New Delhi, David Mulford, show.

As anyone acquainted with the Middle Eastern countries is aware, the American ambassador's status is way ahead that of other envoys. So, Washington's man in New Delhi may have presumed that it is within his rights to tell his country's new ally how to vote on the Iran issue or to tick off the chief minister of a state for calling Bush the leader of an 'organised gang of killers'.

The American establishment may be theoretically aware of the liveliness and even unruliness of an open society.

But after long years of having its way with other democracies (except France), it must have been taken aback by the vociferous resistance to the India-US nuclear deal by a section of Indian nuclear scientists and the media, apart from, of course, the opposition parties.

Yet, Washington cannot afford to be too pushy because it probably needs India more than India needs the US.

It is not only that India's harmonious multicultural democracy provides an ideal example of what America is trying to establish in the Middle Eastern countries but the Indian system is also diametrically opposed to the Chinese model, with its continuing emphasis on mind control, as Beijing's line on the Internet search engines shows.

What is more, the US also probably sees India as a military counter to China, which may be the reason why it acquiesced in New Delhi's nuclear capability.

The US knows, therefore, that it cannot allow its relations with India to languish, let alone deteriorate.

On the other hand, India may be in no hurry as its long experience during the non-aligned period has shown that it could survive and even prosper in semi-isolation.

So, it is not averse to marking out areas of nuclear technology where it will be 'no go' for the IAEA, a position America has accepted.

But it also has to accept what Pakistani dictator Ayub Khan once said - that relations between two allies have to be one between friends, not masters.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst)

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