One of the most anticipated recent events in Indo-US relations has just passed. The 7th meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, during his fourth visit to the US in the last two years, cheered bang like by the Indian commentariat and some members of the Indian diaspora in the US ended with a whimper. The only thing of note to happen was India’s acceptance into the anti-nuclear proliferation Missile Technology Control Group that would help it purchase some more technology as well as export missiles.
There were other usual topics up for discussion and reference such as India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), so far blocked by China in aid of its ally Pakistan. It was George W. Bush who had unhinged Pakistan from the ridiculous US policy of Indo-Pak parity, a long held tenet of the bygone US administrations. Now China is pursuing the same failed US parity policy in insisting Pakistan, one of the most irresponsible nuclear armed nations, be allowed into the NSG if India is. The foreign policy of most countries brooks no moral and ethical compass. And China’s irresponsible position on India’s wish to enter the NSG is no surprise at all; China itself flouted many international norms and rules to be where it is now in terms of its nuclear arms.
It took India several decades after Independence to learn that countries have no permanent principles of foreign policy, or permanent foreign policy itself; countries have no permanent interests either. All countries are guided by their naked national interests regardless of how they are clothed, packaged and marketed. And those national interests change with the times. For the longest time Indian foreign policy failed to take this stark truth into account.
Hence, India finds itself outsmarted and outdone by the Chinese dictators. Lately, India has legitimately increased, enhanced and broadened its foreign policy to begin and nurture trade and strategic geopolitical relationships. And China is cheesed off as India continues to revitalise its relationships with countries like Japan and extend its influence in countries such as Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iran to counter the Chinese encirclement of India with the well known “string of pearls” that includes Pakistan and Sri Lanka. With the recent Chinese trade and technological incursions into it, Nepal threatens to be the next to be strung with other pearls.
The South China Sea has become a volatile region because of the increased Chinese claims and presence challenging the claims of smaller countries in the region. In this volatility US is naturally looking for possible partners. It can no longer rely on its long time client Pakistan, currently sitting in China’s lap. India too is naturally seeking partnerships to keep China at bay; therefore a natural convergence of Indian and US interests. That explains why Modi, and Manmohan before him, have been paying special attention to the Indo-US relations. The US is still the richest, the most technologically advanced and militarily the most powerful country in the world. Its trade with India is on the increase. It is now the top supplier of arms to India. India will also benefit from “make in India” with some US arms manufacturing shifting to India.
Of course any relationship with the powerful is fraught with dangers. In India’s case there have already been rumblings from some quarters about the increasing military cooperation with the US. The real fear is that with the agreements on military logistics, maritime security and others India may be heading toward becoming another Pakistan; a base for projecting US’ geopolitical power with diminishing returns for India and increasing envelopment of India in the US geopolitical embrace. In one swoop, an alliance with the US, a long held dream of some BJP elements, would take the once impractically nonaligned India into a mindlessly US-aligned India.
And yet this is exactly what the US Security Council Inc and US India Business Council, two of the most important organisations of the US diaspora, have tried to do by seeking changes to the US laws to confer on India a “Nato like” status. This was their dream project, and if completed, was to be a surprise gift to the visiting Modi. They failed and I must say I am not the least disappointed at such a failure. The Indian diaspora of the United States citizens and residents may not see anything wrong with this status. They may simply see it as the culmination of their dream of the US, their adopted country, helping the motherland India enhance its military might and economy. They will obviously see no harm if a sovereign India becomes a de facto US ally; after all they are US citizens.
However, much of the diaspora in countries such as Canada, UK and Australia would find India walking any deeper into the US embrace absolutely disagreeable. India is the largest democracy in the world. It is a major country not given to belligerence and invasions in the international arena. While one can understand the strategic partnership with the US, made necessary by the previous neglect of India’s military preparedness and an anaemic foreign policy of the years gone by, but a total surrender into the lap of the US or the US orbit of influence will diminish India’s personality, its sovereignty and stature in the world. Important and self respecting countries do not trade away their independence and freedom in international relations for trade or bits of military or other technology.
India must not allow other countries’ geopolitical machinations and designs, be it China, US or any other country, erode its independent presence on the world stage. Falling into the US embrace is no answer to any dangers on India’s borders. Ancient and important civilizations must stand on their own, fight their own battles and not outsource their ultimate defence to others, no matter how strong or unpredictable the enemy.
Nobody shall dare challenge or attack a prosperous, egalitarian, united, vibrant and powerful India of a billion plus Indians. Prime Minister Modi, please stop the self aggrandising speeches made to the diaspora and get busy building that kind of India.