By Varsha Rajan Berry

United States President George W. Bush’s visit to India and Pakistan from the 1st March – 4th March 2006 came at a time when he is dogged by domestic controversies, his stock back home is crashing and there is wide spread resistance to his policies not only in the US but across the world. An important element of the Bush administrations agenda to win legitimacy for its policies is to bring more allies on board and this is where a more- than- willing India makes its entry. The Manmohan Singh Government keen to get into the US scheme, with little regard for the traditional principles of non-alignment on which India’s foreign policy has hitherto been based. This deal has wide-ranging ramifications; in the realm of geo-politics, third world solidarity and trade and development. This article attempts an analysis of the implications of the first aspect.

The fallacies of the Bush administration and its hegemonistic agenda are well known.
Little is known, though, about India’s perceptible shift towards the US.
Both the two major political parties, the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), seem to believe that the Bush administration’s policies coincide with India’s long-term interests. Prime Minster Manmohan Singh calls it  ‘enlightened self-interest’. After the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government assumed office in May 2004, there were expectations that the foreign policy would undergo some major shifts, and it did, only for the worse. The Indian vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meet in November 2005 is an illustration. Faced with sanctions, Iran was depending on active support from the Non-aligned bloc. India, which used to consider Iran a ‘strategic partner’, voted with the US and the European Union. It was in fact only Egypt that demanded the whole of West Asia be declared a ‘nuclear weapons free zone’. Indian officials, on the other hand, echoed American concerns, stating that they do not want “another nuclear power in the neighbourhood”.
The BJP has now come out in full support of the India-US nuclear agreement and the vote against Iran at the IAEA meeting in the 1st week of February. The Congress finds the pro-US shift in foreign policy beneficial for some short-term gains!

According to reports, the Bush administration has offered close bilateral strategic ties in the short term. In the medium term, the two countries will be partners in the “war on terror” and in the long term, according to US officials, India will be given the ‘privilege’ of being a part of the proposed anti-China coalition.

It is important to understand Bush’s visit, the protests and the joint statement in this political context. The Joint US-India statement issued after the meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Singh on March 2nd clearly reflects the Indian approval of the principles on which the US hegemony is established globally.

The five sections, in which the statement is divided, are:

1. “For economic prosperity and trade” or commitment to corporate interests.
2. “For energy security and a clean environment” or an energy alliance.
3. “For innovation and the knowledge economy” or sustaining scarcity.
4. “For global safety and security” or global interventionism.
5. “Deepening democracy” for financing regime change.

The No Clear (Nuclear) Deal

George W. Bush arrived in India on the 1st March, but much had preceded him. For example, the hype created by the media over the “historic visit”. And the whole retinue of US officials, including Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, all at pains to prepare ground for a safe and successful visit.

More notable than this, however, was the shadow of a nuclear militarism preceding the presidential visit. The Bush mission bodes ill indeed for South Asia and particularly for India and Pakistan, and our fears have come true. The so called historic deal has been signed and now India will proceed on its separation plan and implement the commitments in the July 18th, 2005 statement on nuclear cooperation and will lead to full civil nuclear cooperation between India and US.

The deal should be analysed from three angles:

(a) The sanctity it gives to arsenals and undermines disarmament. It will lead to an arms race (US has already made the offer for the sale of F16s to India) in the region making South Asia even more insecure. There is also talk that there is also a defence deal, which has been inked, which is neither being discussed in Parliament or being made open to the media.  This deal will, down the line, have a more frightening nuclear dimension and not to mention the effect of it on the peace process between India and Pakistan. The government probably cares less of what this means for the impoverished millions of the region but the people do care which was evident from the nation wide protests to Bush visit. The agreement will increase worldwide resentment of US’s and India’s double standards and encourage future proliferation in Iran, Pakistan, Syria, North Korea. We are not sure whether the deal would as mentioned encourage “responsible” behaviour on India’s part because once it gets imported nuclear technology and material it might direct its own scarce domestic uranium to military use.

(b) Another predictable consequence is a close India-US partnership on the Iran question. The IAEA is meeting again right now in Vienna and we have not got a clear India stand at the time of writing. Another possible fall out will be on the Iran-Pakistan-India oil pipeline. This offer of nuclear cooperation, especially for power production will throw the entire Indian geo strategic planning into disarray with an uncertain future for gas pipelines from Iran and Myanmar.

It is no coincidence that Mani Shankar Aiyar the erstwhile Petroleum Minister was stripped off his portfolio a few weeks before the Bush visit. Aiyar was not only determined to go ahead with the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline but also proposed a pan-Asian oil grid.
(c) The pan-Asian oil grid was an attempt to connect the oil and gas fields of Kazakhstan in Central Asia and Indonesia in East Asia to the energy consuming economies of India and China. Aiyar was recently in China and signed historic   Sino-Indian agreements not only related to energy requirements but also on no competition, joint bids in production and transportation. All of this probably would have to take a backseat now, as the new petroleum minister, Murli Deora, has been carefully ambivalent on the future of his predecessor’s ventures. The US could not have asked for more as a pan-Asian energy grid would dramatically shift the balance of economic power from the US and Europe to Asia. . This is an opportunity lost for forging a new progressive geo-political front to US designs in the region. 

The so-called security deal between India and US has created a great sense of insecurity in South Asia since it gives legitimacy to the dictates of the big boy “India” in this region However the Indo-US closeness has resulted in a great deal of fissures among members of the ruling UPA coalition.  Embarrassingly for Manmohan Singh, the Left parties who provide outside support to his Congress led government, coordinated massive protests in almost every corner of the country. Muslim organisations, farmers, workers and various people’s organizations and movements joined the protests. The issues highlighted during the rally and speeches made were around the nuclear agenda, Iran-Pakistan- India oil pipeline, asking government to rethink its policies on the alignment with the US and try to think of a major alternative to the power centre of the US and Europe. The rally also condemned the cartoons

 This is a fallout of not only Indo-US deal but on the issue of India’s voting against Iran in IAEA, the pro-free trade reformist economic policy of the government, the betrayal of the developing world by India at the WTO’s Hong Kong Ministerial.

The UPA government was elected to power on a progressive agenda to reverse the policies of the previous right wing BJP government. In the last 21 months it has fast-tracked its precursors most regressive policies. As the UPAs crisis of legitimacy deepens on the social, political, economic and foreign policy front, it remains to be seen if progressive political forces will align and attempt to forge an independent trajectory for the country that aligns India to the developing world. 

Resistance to the UPA government is growing, not only from the mainstream left but also from sections as diverse as the Muslims, farmers, and workers. The rallies against Bush saw a rare unity across all these sections. The US attempts to get more close with South Asian affairs and this will probably have a multiple impact: of creating new decisions and set off more violence in the name of terror and counter terror on the one hand, and on the other, of strengthening a more diverse unity in the country and the region.