The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Indians still love the Labour Party, although not Tony Blair

Once bitten by the bug, it stays bitten for maybe generations on end.

Last week of April, still a few days before the British general election was to take place, a respectable member of the Indian bourgeoisie writes a plaintive letter to a Calcutta newspaper. His identification with the British Labour Party is total. Scratch his heart, you will find the holograph of the Labour Party embossed side by side with that of the Congress. The gentleman cannot bear the thought of Labour losing the election ' or any election ' in Britain just as much as he is unable to detach himself from eternal allegiance to the Congress here at home. Even he cannot quite stomach the idea of Tony Blair, a habitual dissembler of facts, continuing as prime minister of the United Kingdom. The proof of Blair's mendacity was incontrovertible, according to this honest citizen of Calcutta. For had not the British attorney-general forewarned Blair that it would be a monstrous trickery perpetrated on the electorate if, despite the report of the United Nations inspector of arms control, buttressed by further reports submitted by official British intelligence sources, that no weapons of mass destruction were stockpiled in Iraq, Britain still joined the United States of America to make war' It was an unfair war, an infamous war, a war structured on the edifice of a massive falsehood. Tony Blair was co-perpetrator, along with George Bush, of this shameful act of malevolence.

The puritan ethos of the well-bred Indian bourgeoisie cannot reconcile itself to the spectacle of a certified purveyor of blatant inexactitude such as Tony Blair ensconced as prime minister. And yet, he cannot also bear the thought of a Labour defeat in the elections. He therefore thought up a solution to the problem and communicated it, post haste, to the newspaper editor; let the good Labourites drop Tony Blair as leader, and everything would be all right with the world. The gentleman's prayer was only half-answered; the Labour Party managed to win the general elections, Tony Blair however has not yet been dethroned from leadership.

There has been this almost symbiotic relationship between the Indian middle class and the British Labour Party ever since the early decades of the 20th century. The Labour Party was an early endorser of the Indian freedom movement. From the days of its inception, the Fabian Society, whose members were important constituents of the Labour Party, was a staunch supporter of the Indian cause. That romantic figure in Labour annals, the spellbinding leader of the miners, Keir Hardie, would set aflutter Indian hearts too. The network Krishna Menon had assiduously put together in the Thirties to lobby for Indian independence, the India League, had on its roster of membership an impressive number of Labour MPs. In 1942, the Congress rejected the proposals of the mission led by Sir Stafford Cripps, Congress leaders were thrown into prison later that year by the British war cabinet of which the Labour Party was a part. Nonetheless, the links between the Congress in India and the Labour Party in Britain did not snap. Indians have been in the habit of reminding themselves that, after all, it was a Labour government which handed them, on a platter, the gift of independence in 1947, never mind if the country was divided at the same time. Besides, the Welsh oratory of Aneuran Bevan keeps stirring the memory of many Indians: an icon is an icon for ever and this particular icon represented the quintessence of the Labour Party's thundering idealism of yore.

A similar kind of sympathetic bond has been long maintained between the Indian bourgeoisie and the Democrats in the US. For the most part of the last century, the Democratic party was regarded by Indians as the standard-bearer of liberalism in the classical sense. The Democrats, it was perceived, were against colonialism and took a dim view of Britain's continuing control over India. Franklin Delano Roosevelt fired the Indian imagination by his New Deal, which licked the problem of economic depression by applying the Keynesian prescription of extensive public works programmes. Roosevelt's sponsorship of the Tennessee Valley Project evoked similar excitement, as did several other measures he initiated to encourage the free flow of ideas in the cultural sphere. The sense of enchantment was strengthened by Roosevelt's declaration, while World War II was still on, of the Atlantic Charter, which reiterated the American keenness to speedily ensure India's independence. FDR was not alone. His consort, Eleanor Roosevelt, was, in the view of middle-class Indians, an even more flaming radical; her radicalism concerning specific domestic issues including stress on a better deal for the black population, bowled over the literati in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.

That kind of emotional linkage persisted through the vicissitudes of the Korean and Vietnam wars. True, both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi went through blue phases while coping with Democrat presidents ' in the case of Nehru, Harry S. Truman; for the daughter, Lyndon B. Johnson. But in the interstices of such disappointments was the Camelot near-fairy-tale woven around John F. Kennedy, which bewitched congenital Indian romanticists. With all his aberrations, Kennedy has retained his heroic image amongst large sections of Indians, in the process helping the image of the Democrats too. An additional factor creating euphoria around the Democrats has been their consistently overwhelming presence in the India lobby in the US congress.

The British Labour Party has, over the past couple of decades, moved right and further right in its international policy. It has been, in recent years, even more loyal to the US administration than preceding Conservative regimes. The Labour government has tightened immigration laws, gravely jeopardizing the interests of aspiring immigrants from India. India's honeymoon with the Labour Party, however, refuses to end. Expatriate Indians in Britain may have begun to entertain mixed feelings about the Labourites, but not so ' certainly not yet ' Indians in India. The latter species have however their private sorrows: by raising tuition and other fees, Tony Blair has made Oxford and Cambridge education prohibitively expensive for Anglophile Indians.

Similarly, despite the fact that the party of the Democrats is for the swift termination of outsourcing arrangements, while the Republicans favour such contracting out of work and employment, the Indian bourgeoisie are not yet prepared to discard their affection for the Democrats. The dazzling profits Infosys, Wipro, TCS and lesser entities are chalking up are the gift of American big industries, which strongly advocate outsourcing so as to pare their costs. The Republican party, in which big industry is strongly entrenched, cannot but support outsourcing to the hilt. On the other hand, the Democrats, with their close links to American labour interests, are pledged to abolish ' at least, modify ' the contracting out arrangements. Should the Democrats come back to power, in, say, 2008, and announce a veto on outsourcing, the Indian economy is likely to face an unending sea of trouble. That is in a speculative future though. For the present, old loyalties die hard; so is the case with old romantic dreams.

The heart has its reasons. Indians would love to see the British Labour Party remain perennially in power in Britain, but without doubtful characters like Tony Blair at its helm. And Indians in India would continue their love affair with the Democrats in the US ' unless they are compelled to do some rethinking in the wake of an economic debacle caused by a shift in US domestic policy which rained rack and ruin upon them.

But one never knows; in the final round, it is perhaps a toss-up between the romantic and the matter-triumphs-over-the-mind schools.

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