Editorial 1/Rockets’ glare
Editorial 2/Lonely on top
Nation’s pride
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ROCKETS’ GLARE 
 
 
 
 
Nuclear proliferation and ballistic missiles are dominating post-Cold War strategic thinking in new, strange and dangerous ways. The United States carried out an unsuccessful test of a missile interceptor over the Pacific Ocean. In Washington, hawks are pushing the administration of Mr Bill Clinton to commit itself to the building of a national missile defence. US and Chinese negotiators resumed talks on arms control amid claims by US intelligence that China was again giving a helping hand to Pakistan’s missile programme. Beijing has already warned that any US national missile defence would force it to greatly expand its own nuclear weapons arsenal. Russia warned that any US missile defence could lead Moscow to rip apart all the arms control agreements it had signed over the years. India chimed in recently saying it opposed the US erecting a national missile defence but seemed hazy as to exactly why.

Seemingly these developments are linked to the proposed US missile defence system. It would be more useful to look at the reasons the world’s superpower is showing signs of abandoning multilateral disarmament towards a lone wolf policy. The immediate security reason have been estimates that North Korean missiles will be able to hit continental US by 2005. It is no coincidence Washington has said it wants a missile defence ready by that same year. There are other factors. Mr Clinton would like to deflect criticism that he and his anointed successor, Mr Al Gore, are weak on defence. The key argument made by US supporters of missile defences is that the US has no alternative way to handle the missile threat of rogue states like North Korea and Iraq.

India needs to take a closer look at these developments. New Delhi tends to act as if its nuclear weapons and missiles programmes function independently of what is happening elsewhere in the world. This is not the case. The alternative to building missiles and weapons for security has always been diplomacy. In other words, if an interlocking system of nonproliferation and arms control treaties makes countries feel safe enough they will desist from deploying new weapons — and missile defence systems. India dealt the nonproliferation regime a severe blow when it carried out the 1998 nuclear tests. Unfortunately, it has done little to repair the damage caused to the nonproliferation regime. Signing the comprehensive test ban treaty would only be the first such step. China, North Korea, the US and other countries have now joined in chipping away at the nonproliferation regime. The implications for India are obvious. The less faith the US has in the regime, the more likely it will press ahead with missile defence. If such a system is even halfway successful, it is sure to trigger a massive missile building programme by China. Some of these missiles could spill over into Pakistan. Beijing often gifts missile knowhow to Pakistan to send a message to the US that it is prepared to upset the global missile applecart if things do not go its way. If China does start a massive arms buildup, India will have to give up any talk of a cheap nuclear deterrence. The situation is still salvageable. So far the global nuclear environment is being assailed only with words. New Delhi needs to reaffirm its support for a global nonproliferation regime and take a more active diplomatic role in ensuring such a regime stays together.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/LONELY ON TOP 
 
 
 
 
Those accustomed to clichés would say it gets curiouser and curiouser. But experienced watchers of Indian politics would say it was inevitable. The rift between the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the sangh parivar grows wider and wider. The attitude of the prime minister towards attack on Christians and his unstinting advocacy of the cause of economic reforms have underlined the differences between Mr Vajpayee and his ideological family. It is too early to see in this a break up of the joint family but it will not be wrong to see in the growing differences a conflict between a man committed to being the prime minister of India and a political formation which is blinkered and incapable of seeing anything outside of saffron. The opposition to Mr Vajpayee is no longer confined to the extreme wings of the sangh parivar but it is now being expressed by some leaders within the Bharatiya Janata Party. The general secretary of the BJP, Mr K.N.Govindacharya, launched a broadside against the Christians despite the prime minister’s assurance to the Pope a few weeks ago. Mr Vajpayee and Mr Govindacharya, despite belonging to the same party, seem to be speaking in two different voices. Mr Vajpayee’s utterances register a concern for all those who live in India; Mr Govindacharya is concerned with only the majority of the population.

Similarly, with economic reforms. Mr Vajpayee has not only recognized that economic reforms are irreversible, he has also made it clear that without increasing the pace of the reforms the Indian economy cannot grow and develop. Such a commitment is, of course, anathema to fora like Swadeshi Jagran Manch which want to make the Indian economy insular by cutting it off from global economic trends. The SJM has now prevailed upon Mr K.S. Sudarshan, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to attack the reform process. It is ironic that Mr Vajpayee has more enemies in his own backyard than outside it. He is suspect within his own camp because he is seen as not strictly adhering to the sangh parivar’s ideological dogma; outside his camp he is suspect because he remains a loyal member of the sangh parivar. As the prime minister of India, Mr Vajpayee walks a narrow razor’s edge.    


 
 
NATION’S PRIDE 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
In the history of every nation, there are occasions when difficult times are remembered with pride for the way one leader or person in high office stood up for the country or its policies and upheld the nation’s self-esteem. Indira Gandhi’s years in office were replete with incidents when, faced with the most trying circumstances internationally, she refused to short-change the nation’s pride or honour.

The many crises which Indira Gandhi had to cope with during her long years in South Block have been surpassed only by the critical period that Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government had to face following the nuclear tests in Pokhran two years ago. Two men in Vajpayee’s administration stand out for the way they have helped steer the country out of the diplomatic challenges thrown up by the Pokhran tests. Without Brajesh Mishra, national security adviser and principal secretary to the prime minister, the outcome of India’s post-Pokhran diplomacy might have been totally different. But his role as the prime minister’s conscience-keeper — not to speak of a life-time of training as a diplomat — prevents him from speaking out in public about these achievements or even acknowledging them.

Most Indians, for instance, calmly assume that Russia played a very supportive role after the nuclear tests and helped break the unity among the five permanent members of the United Nations security council in their collective opposition to Pokhran II.

Such an assumption is far from the truth. One of Mishra’s first visits abroad after the nuclear tests was to Moscow where he was received by Yevgeny Primakov, then foreign minister. Primakov, a KGB stalwart and a product of the Soviet system, had a reputation for being sympathetic to India. If Primakov was expected to receive Mishra with a warm bearhug, what Mishra got instead was a lecture on how wrong the Pokhran II nuclear tests were. It speaks volumes for Mishra’s presence of mind and equanimity that he listened to Primakov in silence, but only for five minutes.

The prime minister’s principal secretary silently interrupted the Russian foreign minister by standing up and signalling that the meeting was over. As a stunned circle of officials from both sides watched, not knowing what to expect next, Mishra told Primakov that he did not go to Moscow to listen to a lecture of this kind. Had he wanted to be lectured to, he would have gone to Washington and met Madeleine Albright, Primakov’s counterpart in the United States.Under the circumstances, Mishra said, there was little point in continuing the meeting.

During all those years of “Hindi-Russi” friendship, no Indian had ever spoken to a foreign minister in Moscow thus. Primakov knew he had reached a dead end and he immediately thawed. From that point onwards, the Russian attitude towards the Indian nuclear tests changed. It is anybody’s guess what the Russians may have done along with the rest of the permanent five had not Mishra put his foot down in Moscow on that fateful day.

A few months after this incident, Mishra went to South Africa, which was evangelical in its opposition to Pokhran II. Mishra had to go to South Africa because that country was to soon host the nonaligned summit and take over the chairmanship of the nonaligned movement for three years. A meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government was to follow.

Mishra met an array of South African officials and ministers, most of whom were expectedly nasty. The situation was compounded by the ugly fact that Mishra did not know where L.C. Jain, the Gandhian appointed by I.K. Gujral as high commissioner to South Africa, stood although Jain was accompanying Mishra to all his meetings in Pretoria. Jain was against the Pokhran tests and made no bones about telling the South Africans as much.

A point came when Mishra decided that enough was enough. The South Africans were planning to push NAM at its Durban summit into taking a stand against India — the very NAM which India had, for decades, considered to be part of its diplomatic fiefdom. It had to be stopped at all costs.

At one meeting with the South Africans, Mishra abruptly threatened that if Pretoria persisted with its wholly negative attitude towards New Delhi, the Vajpayee government would break off diplomatic relations. How would it look, he asked, if Mahatma Gandhi’s India broke off relations with apartheid-free South Africa? The South Africans were suitably stunned.

If the Durban summit went off without any of the anti-India convulsions that Pretoria had planned with its friends outside NAM, it was because Mishra had the courage to stand up to South African bullying.

The second person in the Vajpayee administration to have stood up to international bullying on the nuclear issue with creditable results is George Fernandes, the defence minister. Unhonoured and unsung, Fernandes contributed more than anyone else in the government towards stabilizing India’s post-Pokhran relations with central Asia. Many of the countries in this volatile region were so confused by the Indian tests that while they were willing to go along with sanctions on India as long as it brought them benefits, they also did not want to lose out on the lucrative arms business which India offered.

But more recently, Fernandes outdid himself on a visit to London. One of the programmes on the defence minister’s itinerary in London was a meeting with Stephen Byers, chief of the United Kingdom’s department of trade and industry, who did to Fernandes what Primakov did to Mishra.

The minister had to listen to a lecture from Byers and Fernandes’ reaction was typical. He bluntly told his young British interlocutor that he did not have to be told about British values, policies or compulsions. The minister told the British official that he had made his first visit to london when Byers was just three years old. Having said that, Fernandes turned on his heel and walked out on Byers without any formal goodbye. If Britain is now in the process of clearing 65 of 70 licences for arms sales to India, some of which have been pending since the May 1998 nuclear tests, it is at least partly because Fernandes refused to be cowed by someone whom he considered an upstart, to put it mildly.

After the two year long successful run of its foreign policy, the Vajpayee government’s external relations are being undermined by its desire to be all things to all people. The Mishra-Fernandes kind of responses based on self-confidence and conviction are being given the go-by in favour of a please-all policy, which involves compromises that strike at the root of what Vajpayee and his party have all along stood for. The ministry of external affairs is bending over backwards to prove that there is a quantum jump in India’s friendship with the outside world and that leaders from all over the world are falling over each other in offering their hand of friendship to New Delhi.

Such a policy is fraught with serious pitfalls. It is bound to unravel the moment there is a serious crisis or even a challenge nowhere as critical as the one that faced India after the Pokhran II nuclear tests. India cannot be and need not be friends with everybody at all times, an expectation which is wholly unrealistic. Take, for instance, South Block’s reaction to the British decision to partially lift arms sales to Pakistan. The real challenge for New Delhi in this case is not the licences being cleared for Pakistan, but the highly successful visit made by General Pervez Musharraf’s foreign secretary to London a fortnight ago. After that visit, the Tony Blair government has clearly concluded that Musharraf is a better option in Islamabad than another fundamentalist general — or mujahid — and that the only way to avoid such an alternative is to constructively engage the present junta there instead of isolating it.

It is not the arms sales, but the British commitment to the foreign secretary to provide electoral assistance to Musharraf’s programme of local elections in Pakistan, which actually cuts at the very root of an Indian campaign that the general needs to be isolated because he dons an olive green uniform instead of a trademark politician’s apparel.

Sadly, this is yet another case of South Block missing the woods for the trees. The coming week will similarly show, as Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, begins his talks in New Delhi, that China is another case in point where convictions have given way to expediency. Very little has changed since mid-1998 when Vajpayee wrote to President Bill Clinton citing China as the reason for India’s nuclear tests. Nor is there anything to suggest that the defence minister’s descriptions of China during that period have altered. If anything, the strategic threats to India from China have only worsened. In pursuing a please-all policy, South Block is only fooling the Indian people who will eventually have to bear the consequences of South Block’s failure to stand up the way the Vajpayee government did in the months after the Pokhran tests.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Play of red and green

Sir — Harkishen Singh Surjeet has merely confirmed Mamata Banerjee’s suspicion that the Congress in West Bengal is the B-team of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (“Surjeet swivels mayor loss gun on Congress”, July 10). If Surjeet rues that “the Congress has given the Trinamool Congress a gift on a platter”, then one automatically assumes that he had expected the “gift” to come the CPI(M)’s way. That statements like this lay bare the ideological bankruptcy of the communists is beyond question. But what it reveals about the current plight of the Congress is even more startling. The red insides of the “watermelon” party have gradually begun turning a Trinamool green. The members of the state unit of the party are now known by which camp they are closer to, the left or the Trinamool, rather than as members of the oldest national party. Surjeet’s statement can, perversely, be a spur to the moribund party. At least, it can take pride in the fact that it still has the power to make a difference.

Yours faithfully,
Ramen Mitra, via email

Culture of disrespect

Sir — There couldn’t have been a more irresponsible and immature act than the self-publicized absence of Buddhadev Bhattacharya at Shyama Prosad Mookerjee’s birth centenary (“Boycott Buddha gets Atal lesson in courtesy”, July 7). In justifying his absence on the grounds of “political differences”, Bhattacharya has displayed his myopic understanding of a personality. He proves himself to be a politician who cannot see beyond politics. I was shocked at this crude act of cultural immodesty. Is this what sanskriti is all about? What, however, comes as a real shock is that he found nothing wrong with the invitation extended by an absolute ideological opposite, the American ambassador. It suggests that the communist couldn’t resist the living foreign capitalist while ignoring the late patriotic philosopher, who wouldn’t be of much use to him.

At a time the communists talk of fundamentalism, the display of such impropriety on their part shows how farcical their ideological stance is and how absurd their pseudo-secularism.

Yours faithfully,
Sarita Kejriwal, Calcutta

Sir — The deputy chief minister of West Bengal is no doubt a true communist (“Manners maketh a comrade”, July 8). If we look at the statements, doctrines and performances of the Indian communists over the years, we will find that they always move against the tide.

During the freedom movement, there were allegations that the communists served the British as informers. They termed Rabindranath Tagore a “bourgeois poet and zamindar”, Vidyasagar, a Hindu reformer, Vivekananda, a Hindu missionary, and Shyama Prosad Mookherjee nothing but a communal-minded person. But none can deny their flexibility. For they now worship Tagore, arrange Vidyasagar mela and so on. Hopefully, Bhattacharya and his party will admit one day that the statement on Mookherjee was a historical blunder.

Yours faithfully,
Debanjan Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — Few sons of illustrious individuals are equally illustrious. Jawaharlal Nehru, son of Motilal Nehru, and Shyama Prosad Mookerjee, son of Ashutosh Mookerjee, are notable exceptions.

By not attending the inauguration ceremony of Mookerjee’s year long centenary celebrations, Buddhadev Bhattacharya has belittled himself in the eyes of the people of West Bengal. Neither Indian nor Bengali culture teaches such behaviour. Besides, what is the point of warring with the dead? Bhattacharya’s decision should be condemned by all and sundry, especially the chief minister, Jyoti Basu.

Yours faithfully,
J.N. Singhi, Calcutta

Peril in paradise

Sir — With the likes of Farooq Abdullah in the country, who needs Pakistan to threaten the unity of India? What Abdullah terms as autonomy is nothing short of cessation. He still seems to be living in pre-independence India and his lust to be “king” of a province seems to have got the better of his allegiance to the country.

India has always suffered because of the dearth of chief ministers and politicians who think beyond the borders of their respective states. And if a chief minister has forgotten all feelings of nationalism, can we blame the common man?

Yours faithfully,
Sanjay Vasa, via email

Sir — The way the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has condemned the autonomy demand for Jammu and Kashmir at its national executive meeting reflects its hegemonic mentality towards the state. The RSS does not want to go back to the pre-1953 Jammu and Kashmir, but has no qualms about taking India back to the pre-historic Ayodhya days. What it fails to understand, or is not willing to admit, is that no problem of the multi-religious country can be resolved through a divisive and communal mindset. The real solution lies in having discussions with the representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Yours faithfully,
Tameemuddin Humble, Gaya

Sir — While the government must be complimented for its forthright rejection of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy resolution, this opportunity should have been seized to bring an end to the Kashmir problem.

The three wars India fought in 1948, 1965 and 1999 are well known. What is not so well known, however, is that the preparation for these wars cost the Central exchequer Rs 2.5 lakh crore. Add to this another half a lakh crore, given to Srinagar in the form of civilian budget subsidies. And some two lakh lives have been sacrificed in the name of Kashmir since 1947.

The only way to end the imbroglio is to declare the line of control the international border. It should also be made clear to Pakistan that India reserves the right to cross the LoC if the Inter-Services Intelligence continues to pursue a proxy war.

Yours faithfully,
Prafull Goradia, New Delhi

Sir — “Autism in Kashmir” (June 28), exposes that the reality is different from Kashmir merely wanting to go back to the pre-1953 status. Farooq Abdullah is in dire political straits. Doubtless he has resorted to cheap gimmicks to divert attention from his government’s non-performance.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

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