Tampa (Florida), Aug. 28: Mamata Banerjee can expect no relief from Washington if Mitt Romney is elected US President in 10 weeks. Nor can Narendra Modi, who was refused an American visa by the administration of the last Republican occupant in the White House.
The Republican “platform” for the coming election — the party manifesto — which was leaked here by accident firmly demands that “we encourage India to permit greater foreign investment and trade”. In the same breath, it unequivocally states that “we urge protection for adherents of all India’s religions”.
The platform is to be adopted by the Republican National Convention, making allowances for any changes in schedule depending on the course and intensity of Hurricane Isaac menacing the US Gulf coast, but it was spotted by some intrepid online reporters trawling the convention’s multiple websites.
It turns out that a clicking error by a Republican staffer manning the party’s Web operations resulted in the secret document being prematurely posted on the Internet. Once reporters started questioning the party’s leadership and then quoting excerpts from the platform, the draft was quickly pulled off the site. But the media scooped and some damage was done for the convention.
The Republican plank does not, of course, mention foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail or in defence production, issues that have considerably exercised sections of corporate America that are traditionally with the Republicans, because the platform is a broadly general document that is naturally short on specifics that cannot be compressed into its 16 pages.
But its implications are clear. That applies to Modi as well in that there are no direct references to the aftermath of the Godhra incident in Gujarat that resulted in visa denial for the state’s BJP chief minister.
In any case, Republican front organisations have been in the vanguard of protests against alleged persecution of Christians in Gujarat and Odisha during NDA rule. The party’s nominees on the statutory US Commission for International Religious Freedom have repeatedly mounted campaigns on behalf of Christian missionaries.
The reference to protection of religious freedom in India in the Republican platform is, therefore, not a surprise: it is also an instance of the party pandering to its southern Christian evangelical base, which is so far unenthusiastic about the November election and needs such sops to be mobilised.
Given Romney’s presence on the Republican presidential ticket, raising the bar on religious freedom abroad is also a concession to his Mormon church establishment, which sends thousands of its young followers every year to faraway countries to preach Mormonism.
Romney himself did such missionary work in Europe as a young man and was head of a Mormon church in New England before he got into the corporate world and later into politics. In fact, his reluctance to release his tax returns over the period when he was a hugely successful venture capitalist is believed to be the staggering amounts that Romney paid to the Mormon church for charity.
He fears that the size of his contributions may turn off followers of other Christian denominations and pit them against Romney because of his commitment to Mormonism. Many Christians, especially evangelicals, do not consider the Mormon church as a part of Christianity.
Just as the platform is a concession to religious backers of the Republican Party, it is also a concession to its corporate fundraisers, who are unstinting in their contribution this year to defeat President Barack Obama.
Corporate bodies in America, such as the US Chamber of Commerce and its India-related outfits have already been lobbying in a big way here and in India to persuade New Delhi — with mixed results — to open up the country to greater foreign investment.
Captains of American business who are solidly behind Romney believe that the path to American recovery is closely linked to doing more business with the BRICS countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the world’s emerging economies. Of these, India offers most promise, but only if New Delhi can be persuaded to launch a second wave of economic reforms. The view here is that leaders like the Bengal chief minister are standing in the way of such reforms.
In the process, FDI in multi-brand retail has become a symbol of sorts of such liberalisation although experts are of the view that the potential for business is exaggerated and that it will only bring profits in the long term. But because of such symbolism, Mamata will come under pressure from a Romney administration as the platform implies.
“We welcome a stronger relationship with the world’s largest democracy, India, both economic and cultural, as well as in terms of national security,” the platform’s draft asserts. It is only to be expected, given the legacy of George W. Bush’s nuclear deal with India, that the platform would advocate close ties with New Delhi. But even by Republican standards, the draft this year has somewhat gone overboard. “We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner.” Four years ago, John McCain, who was defeated by Obama, was friendly towards India but nowhere as effusive as Bush.
That was reflected in the party’s 2008 platform which was correct, but bland.
“We welcome America's new relationship with India, including the US-India Civil Nuclear Accord,” it said then. “Our common security concerns and shared commitment to political freedom and representative government can be the foundation for an enduring partnership.”
One sentence further down the 2012 document gives a clue to the reason for the current effusion. “Both as Republicans and as Americans, we note with pride the contributions to this country that are being made by our fellow citizens of Indian ancestry.”
Ethnic Indian newspapers in the US have been reporting that Indian-American Republicans have been lobbying the party hard for a more categorical assertion of the alliance with India. If the platform is adopted in Tampa without changes to the draft on India, their efforts would have borne fruit.