| No arm-twisting please, we are a developing country
It would be churlish to deny Arun Jaitley his moment of glory at Cancun. As churlish as to deny Murasoli Maran his moment of glory in the early phases of Doha or Pranab Mukherjee his moment in the discussions on the Dunkel draft at Geneva or V.P. Singh, as commerce minister, his moment at Punta del Este at the launch of the Uruguay Round. Jaitley stood up for India, as his predecessors did. He did so in concert with the group of developing countries, as his predecessors did. But he will outstrip his predecessors only if he is able to do two things: one, maintain the cohesion of the developing countries; two, persuade his own government to resist the pressures which will be unceasingly mounted by the United States of America and the European Union.
For before we become too self-congratulatory over Cancun, let us go back a minute to Doha. The statement made by Murasoli Maran there at the start of the conference was a model of its kind. In bare but irrefutable sentences, he stripped the hypocrisy of the developed world to the bone; clearly stated the Indian and developing country interest; warned against arm-twisting; and set the stage for a Titanic confrontation between himself as Shorab leading the developing countries and the hegemonists of the developed world cast as the Rustoms. David versus Goliath. The Lilliputians vs the Gullivers. Unfortunately for Maran, Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose the very dates of Doha to take himself off on his annual pilgrimage to the Seat of the Almighty, that is, New York, at least, Washington too, if possible. There, George W. Bush massaged into Vajpayee a measure of realism over Maran’s posturing at Doha.
In no uncertain terms, Vajpayee was told of US interests and the imperative of India adopting as its own the Washington view. Or else…Double quick, Vajpayee was on the line to Doha — and the following day witnessed India’s craven surrender to the Great Powers. The reward was The Economist of London selecting Maran as Miss Doha. Of course, they would. The Economist feared India would play the wrecker. And when instead India Mark-II came in at the end with its tail between its legs, no wonder India won encomiums from The Economist. For thanks to Bush’s stern warning to Vajpayee, India’s views at the close of play in Doha had been rendered indistinguishable from The Economist’s.
What was heroic, a kind of Boy on the Burning Bridge profile about Maran’s opening speech at Doha was that by the time the conference convened at Doha, the rest of the developing world had already started abandoning ship. That is what had happened at Geneva in the final stages of the World Trade Organization negotiations after the initial show of unity at Punta del Este. The developed countries have perfected the art of bilateral cajolery, and where that does not work, bilateral threat, to secure multilateral victory. When push comes to shove, the EU can be relied on to throw a few pearls to their ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) partners to whom they have accorded a privileged position in European markets. Equally, the US can be relied on to tighten the garotte around the gullets of their Latin American dependencies. When Europe and the US start acting in concert, the unity of the developing countries starts unravelling. This was what they did, separately and jointly, both at Doha and Geneva, leaving an isolated India to shape up or ship out.
Has the world order changed at Cancun' We have seen again and again that at the commencement of every new international trade initiative the usual suspects — India, Pakistan, Brazil and Mexico, with an occasional boost from Nigeria, and a benevolent China on the sidelines — hammer together a common position which the overwhelming developing majority at such meetings initially takes. It is usually Latin America which breaks first. The ACP hold out a little longer for the best bargain from the EU, knowing that the EU knows that the ACP knows that the EU knows that the ACP’s first round of speeches at any WTO meeting is a disguised demand for a bilateral sweetener; the EU always come ready with the sweetener, leaked in advance to the more complaisant ACP members; these Trojan horses then tell their ACP colleagues what are the wages of surrender; the crass bargain is then dressed up as virtue (viz, “responsible” international behaviour) — and, voila, there is a wholesale defection the morning after by the ACP to the EU camp. Pakistan generally waits till India is well and truly isolated before jumping ship.
India could, of course, stand alone. After all it was India’s poet who sang, Ekla chalo re. And India under Jawaharlal Nehru, in the first flush of independence and principled nationalism, had no difficulty, indeed, considerable pride, in “taking the road less travelled”. (That is a line from the poem which Nehru had scribbled on a pad found on his bed-side table the night he died). We started nonalignment all on our lonely own. From a Movement of One, the non-aligned movement grew into the largest international movement ever known, covering two-thirds of the member-states of the United Nations and half the world’s population (more, if China had joined). We prevailed because we held our own.
But alas, we live in a different India today. Jaswant Singh as external affairs minister took India into the Western camp in the expectation that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s India would replace Pakistan as Washington’s favoured south Asian poodle. Jaswant Singh might even have succeeded had Osama bin Laden not intervened. Pervez Musharraf, therefore, remains America’s Bushman on the subcontinent. But the paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy having been effected, Vajpayee continues to chase the Holy Grail of a special relationship with the US. The US is not interested; what the US wants is not an India in special relationship with them but an India in subsidiary alliance, where we will provide them with Indian levies to die for them in Iraq in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.
This puts Jaitley’s posturing at Cancun on par with Maran’s at Doha. Can we sustain an anti-US/EU position in external trade with a pro-US/EU tilt in external affairs' It is, after all, an unequal bargain. If we throw ourselves on Western mercy and benevolence, we are one of a large crowd. Washington will extract from us in external commerce what few bones it is willing to throw us in external affairs. If it comes to a choice between Vajpayee being invited to dine at the high table with the Group of Eight and Jaitley being abandoned in mid-ocean, there is not a shadow of doubt that Vajpayee will plump for Vajpayee, leaving Jaitley to swim for it, just as Vajpayee chose Vajpayee at Doha and pushed Maran overboard.
Paris acquired its reputation for naughtiness when scantily-clad dancers kicked up their legs at the Moulin Rouge revealing their black knickers to a prudish 19th century audience. It was a show of defiance to prevailing mores — but the black knickers ensured that no real offence was caused. The dance was called the Cancan. Jaitley’s Cancan at Cancun certainly cocked the snook at those who want the world run their way but his posturing caused as little real offence as the girls at the Moulin Rouge. To sustain the act, and carry it to its logical conclusion, the National Democratic Alliance will have to decide whether India’s interests are best served in servitude to the West or in defiance of it. That will happen only when we restore consistency between foreign policy and foreign trade policy.