December 17 was quite a day. First, the lok pal bill was cleared by the Rajya Sabha with the kind of dignity that should be the norm in both Houses of Parliament. It made Indians proud. Then, the United States of America deliberately defended the manner in which it treated an Indian diplomat posted in New York. More often than not, India has been subservient to the US and its overarching, arrogant administration and state department. I recall going for a US visa interview in 1970, where I was asked whether I had any communist antecedents. I replied in the negative. I was then asked what my father’s name was. It had not been mentioned in the application form at all, hence the silly question was not even required. Nevertheless, I answered. When the consular officer heard my father’s name — the latter was a leading columnist and the publisher of the journal, Seminar — he said, rather pompously, “We shall have to give you the benefit of the doubt.” It is this kind of uncouth condescension and lack of grace that have always characterized the US’s behaviour towards the rest of the world. However, all hell breaks loose if a citizen of the US is seen to have been insulted in any way in any part of the world. Such double standards are wholly untenable in present times.
This rather brash attitude can only stem from a culture’s fundamental insecurity in still trying to find its roots and identity in a ‘new world’. It masks this profound insecurity by playing a big bully across the world, running roughshod over the sentiments of nations and peoples, without any understanding of diverse cultures. The US has thrown its weight around with numerous nations — barring China — owing to its confidence with regard to its sheer size and power. It has ruined peace in vast regions and has forced age-old friends into combat for its own selfish socio-political and economic goals.
The American State talks of civil liberties but has had a sorry record in its own land. From Guantanamo Bay and spying on world leaders to the exploitation of politically fragile nations that are rich in natural resources and ham-handed interventions in international disputes where it is not wanted, the US has a lot to account for. The US manages to get away with a lot only because of its military and (at one time) economic might.
Over the last decade, India has often fallen in line with many of the US’s ideologies at the cost of her own rooted and nuanced sensibility. It has silently supported the bumptious, crude and often unilateral positions of this new ‘partner’. But when Walmart could not make headway in India, the US suspected that there may be many more such obstacles to its interests in India, and so it cooled off. Now, with the US’s shameful treatment of Devyani Khobragade, India has the chance to retaliate and regain its pride. Severe action is necessary if India is to make even a mild incision in the US’s thick skin. India is big and strong enough to take the blows. It has survived and imbibed much over the centuries and its time to shine will come again despite the US’s blatantly offensive behaviour. Other nations, before long, are likely to join hands in deterring the US from its bullying tactics.
India must use this opportunity to rewrite its foreign policy priorities and concentrate on consolidating its position in its immediate neighbourhood. India’s position in South Asia and her influence in West Asia, Southeast Asia and Japan, and its larger relationship with China, are of far greater consequence than pandering to an intrusive and aggressive US that treats many other nations, barring Israel, with great condescension. A change of guard is imperative if India is to regain its rightful place in the world as a fine civilization.