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PRAKASH KARAT | 11 JUNE, 2016

A New Symphony Indeed, But With U.S As the Conductor


NEW DELHI: Every time an Indian Prime Minister has visited Washington in recent years, the corporate media has gone into overdrive and a lot of hype was generated about the “historic" nature of the visit and the breakthrough achieved in Indo-US relations.

The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States, the fourth in the past two years, was no different.

The corporate media, the strategic experts and the think-tanks, some of them purely American-funded, have all sought to embellish the outcome of the Modi visit as a substantial achievement. That it was a reinforcement of an unfolding unequal relationship is something they would fervently reject.

That is why a reality check is necessary. A careful reading of the lengthy joint statement shows that basically, the Obama administration has pursued the issues which concern the United States and given little away on what Indian interests want.

Besides the standard rhetoric of all joint statements with the United States about “shared values” of freedom, democracy, universal human rights and so on, the United States advanced what is central to the strategic ties, which have developed over the last two decades. And that is the defence relationship and military collaboration. Ever since the United States put its post-Cold War geo-political strategy for Asia in place, it has relentlessly pursued the goal of enlisting India as a strategic ally.

The centerpiece of this strategic alliance has been military cooperation.

The US drive was motivated by the strategic goal to contain a rising China. Modi had clambered on to this project as witnessed by the US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region issued during President Obama’s visit to India in 2015. The current joint statement reinforces this collaboration against China by declaring the US and India as “priority partners” in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region.

Narendra Modi was the fourth Prime Minister to address the US Congress since 1992 when the shift towards the United States began. His predecessors – Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh – have all contributed to the development of strategic ties with the United States. It is this that qualified them for addressing the US Congress.

The journey that began in January 1992 when, during the Narasimha Rao government, the Indo-US Army Executive Steering Group was set-up and joint naval exercises begun, has been marked by a step-by-step forging of a defence relationship which is now culminating in India becoming a military ally of the United States.

It should be recalled that it was during the Narasimha Rao government that the first defence agreement, “Agreed Minute on Defence Cooperation” was signed. During the Vajpayee government’s tenure, the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) was adopted which included an agenda for cooperation in nuclear, high-tech and defence sectors. In between, the United States brought India under the International Military Exchange Training (IMET) programme under which Indian military officers would be sent to the United States for training.

The Manmohan Singh government picked up the thread from the NSSP and went in for a ten-year military agreement in June 2005 which was called the New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship. It is under this Framework that the United States sought to get the foundational agreements like the Logistic Supply Agreement (LSA) signed. During the UPA government’s second tenure, the US boasted that among all the countries in the world, it is India which has the largest number of military exercises with the United States.

With the advent of the Modi government, the Framework Agreement was renewed for another ten years in July 2015. The BJP government has ventured to finalise the Logistics Supply Agreement, which has now been named as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The joint statement issued after the Modi visit has announced that the text of the LEMOA has been finalized. Only a formal signing is awaited.

The Modi government has crossed a red line by deciding to sign this agreement which infringes India’s sovereignty and strategic autonomy. This agreement will result in US armed forces using Indian military air bases and ports in future military operations in Asia.The next step will be to sign the two other agreements which the United States is insisting upon – the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

The joint statement has also given India the status of a “major defense partner” of the United States. By this, India has come on par with Pakistan which was defined as a “major non-NATO ally” some years ago. All this amounts to is that the United States would become the major partner to supply arms to India. As for acquiring high-tech equipment and knowhow, the United States has not provided these to even its closest NATO allies.

The other aspect of the strategic relationship which the United States has pursued is the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. It was this deal which was offered as a carrot for India to become a strategic ally of the US. The signing of the nuclear deal cemented the strategic relationship. A commercial dividend of this agreement for the US was the sale of nuclear reactors to India. The script went awry when the Indian Parliament adopted the Civil Nuclear Liability law – a law which was meant to indemnify the US suppliers became something else when a clause for suppliers liability was introduced.

After strenuous efforts by the Manmohan Singh government and now the Modi government, steps to circumvent the liability clause have been taken. The net result is that in the event of an accident, the insurance is underwritten by the Indian people through the nationalized insurance companies.

Eight years after the civil nuclear deal, a preliminary agreement for the supply of six Westinghouse nuclear reactors have been reached. The commercial contract is to be concluded by June 2017. But, what is clear is that it will be exorbitantly expensive. A conservative estimate is that the six reactors will cost Rs. 2.8 lakh crore. Just as in the case of the Areva reactors to be set-up in Jaitapur, the cost of electricity produced through these imported reactors will be prohibitive. But then one has to pay the bill we have incurred for becoming a strategic ally of America.

In the last two decades, whenever there has been a BJP government at the Centre, we have seen a political and ideological zeal to pursue the United States as an ally. In this, the Modi government hopes to emulate its role-model, Israel. Binding India into a close strategic military embrace with the United States is going to undermine an independent foreign policy, strategic autonomy and compromise national sovereignty in a manner which is going to have serious domestic consequences. There is no sign whatsoever that Narendra Modi stood up for India’s basic interests, whether it be on WTO issues, climate change or intellectual property rights.

Narendra Modi was right in declaring that there is “a new symphony” in Indo-US relations. He only did not add that, the United States is the conductor.

(Prakash Karat is the former General Secretary of the CPI(M) and a recognised expert on international relations)

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