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Be Indian, or oppose deal

Be Indian, or oppose deal

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 5, 2006

In 1949, when Sardar Vallabbhai Patel was asked by someone to react to the turmoil in Indonesia, he is reported to have retorted: "Ah, Indonesia. Yes, Indonesia. Just ask Jawaharlal." The story may well be apocryphal but it does suggest that hard-nosed, pragmatic politicians are only too aware that barring times of war, foreign policy rarely intrudes into the domestic discourse of democracies. As some of the BJP's more obtuse strategists discovered in May 2004, people don't change their voting preferences because Atal Bihari Vajpayee hugged General Pervez Musharraf.

History may provide some comfort to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, having successfully negotiated a very fair nuclear deal with the visiting US President, suddenly finds himself buffeted by the visceral anti-Americanism of many of his colleagues in the Congress and, of course, the Communists. That the Communists would oppose any initiative that runs counter to China's hegemonic designs on Asia is well known. In 1999, Indian Communists, after 22 years, realigned with the Congress. China's hysterical response to the Pokhran-II blasts served as the catalyst of rapprochement.

Yet, it is not the Communist opposition that worries the Government in the context of the Bush visit. That opposition is a Pavlovian response and lacks both credibility and the numbers. It was, for example, patently disingenuous of the CPI and CPI(M) to suddenly be concerned about the US emasculating India's nuclear arsenal. Many of us remember that in 1998, the Communist parties were protesting the NDA Government's nuclear policy. Their fellow travellers were teaming up with cash-rich American non-proliferation bodies to denounce India's nukes in international circles. These intellectual mercenaries were very much in evidence over the past week.

What has alarmed the Government and the Congress is the evidence of massive Muslim mobilisation against the Bush visit. Whether in the metros or the district towns, the opposition to Bush and Indo-US strategic initiatives was almost entirely Islamist. The mobilisation was effected through the network of theological seminaries. Those who carried placards comparing Bush to various four-legged animals and proclaiming their willingness to become suicide bombers for the faith even replicated the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban in dress.

It is important to note that the concerns of demonstrators were pan-Islamic and centred totally on happenings in West Asia. Indian Muslims were instigated to view India's foreign policy through the prism of their faith. More ominously, the Government was threatened with political retribution if the Islamist hatred for America was disregarded.

The whole country must unite against this communal blackmail. The defence and foreign policy of India has to be based on national interest, not sectarian considerations. Indians may not like what is being done to Iraq but which should get priority - India or pan-Islamism? In 1919, Mahatma Gandhi courted the pan-Islamic Khilafat Movement for short-term gains. India was the long-term loser.

All Indian nationalists, whether they happen to be supporters of the Congress or the BJP, must compliment the Prime Minister for so far disregarding these friends of terrorists and doing what is in national interest. The opposition has a right to carp about the political management of nuclear talks but it should have no reason to complain about the outcome of the negotiations. Indeed, with the Indo-US agreement, the UPA and NDA have successfully established the continuity of India's nuclear policy.

Today, there is a broad nationalist consensus on the terms of Indo-US strategic engagement. Regardless of their other differences, all nationalist parties must now act in tandem to ensure that the necessary modifications in American law are speedily effected so that India gets international recognition as a nuclear power. This necessitates a mobilisation of the Indian diaspora and the active involvement of political parties, corporates and religious and community groups. On this issue, there is no scope for partisan politics. You are either with India or with the unholy alliance of Green and Reds.

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