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As India grows into Indo-Pacific partner, US must beware champagne activists, Hinduphobia

Author: Akhil Ramesh and Samir Kalra
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: July 18, 2022
URL:      https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/as-india-grows-into-indo-pacific-partner-us-must-beware-champagne-activists-hinduphobia-10924911.html?s=03

In order to push Indo-American relations to new heights, the US should drop its Cold-War prism toward India and clamp down on virulent Hinduphobia

The list of custodians of morality on the world stage runs long. The Washington Post editorial board, a commodity trader in Europe, the Economist magazine, US government officials were a few among the many that cherry-picked India’s imports of Russian oil to paint India as the villainous one on the world stage. Joining the chorus was India’s own Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi who, while speaking at an event in London, derided his nation’s diplomats as arrogant. The former External Affairs Minister Shashi Tharoor did not hold back either. He said that the “Indian government lacked conviction and courage to take a stand against Russia.”

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi must be turning in her grave witnessing her grandson and members of her party criticise Russia and side with the West.

While External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was gaining a new fan club in India for his riposte and “hold back no punches” approach to dealing with insinuating and loaded questions of foreign correspondents, opposition leaders and their friends across the globe found the Modi administration’s foreign policy to be too confident for their liking.

These moral trials conducted by a group of internationalists and champagne activists have many signs of being a coordinated campaign against India as the external affairs minister alluded to at a press briefing. In Indian parlance that would be a “toolkit”. The virtue signaling and moral posturing by various Western and Indian commentators coupled with the orientalist lens used by academia and scholars to view anything indigenous to India and its culture, could prove to be an encumbrance in the rapidly growing US-India relationship.

From these acts, it appears that select nonprofits, activists, journalists, thought leaders, government officials and even India’s own opposition are collaborating to chastise the Modi administration and in the process revive the so-called liberal international order. The revival of liberal internationalism or dialing the clock back to January 19th 2017 would amount to the aphorism from the Bible: “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly”.

The fallacies and hypocrisies associated with the type of liberal internationalism practiced over the past twenty years have been brought to light by several populist leaders around the globe. Yet, there seems to be an appetite amongst several administrations, primarily in the Western world to revive it. While there is a discourse in the US that the Biden administration’s foreign policy is more of Trump lite over Obama 2. 0, for its part it fails to totally clamp down on its liberal internationalist instincts. President Biden has time and again, referred to the US’s relationship with India as the most important, most recently, in his trip to Tokyo. Unlike his comments on Taiwan, these cannot be easily discounted as gaffes since the administration has been walking the talk as well.

Today, the US-India relationship is as comprehensive as it ever was, with the two democracies working on a wide-range of issues from climate change to vaccines for the developing world.

Despite this, the relationship is put through the wringer every time the administration falls back to its old ways.

In responding to a question on the price of gas in the US, Biden responded by saying, “The prices will remain high as long as it takes for Ukraine to win.”

While American domestic policy is a prerogative of the Biden administration, it is not fair to expect the same from a developing country. Based on India’s foreign policy decisions vis-à-vis Russia, it is evident that the policies are driven by realpolitik and the state’s economic and strategic interests over any strict adherence to liberal international standards. Given India’s geopolitical and geo-economic challenges in its immediate neighborhood, it is unlikely that it would overlook them to satisfy arbitrary requirements to the entry of an exclusive club of liberal nations. Nevertheless, empirical data would show that Russia’s trade with India has been on a downward trend (excluding recent oil purchases) while US trade with India has been on a steady upward trajectory. Given the increasing economic interconnectedness, the US-India relationship is bound to face bumps in the form of geopolitical tensions.

Besides the geo-economic and ideological factors, the role of the Indian diaspora and Indian citizens in taking the US-India relationship to the next level cannot be stressed enough.

In 2022, the Indian diaspora faces a double whammy of racism from the neo-Nazi American far right and this new form of a lurid orientalism from the Marxist far left.

In India, despite independence from British rule, the populace has continued to be subjected to the legacies of colonialism, which have manifested through the pseudo-secularism of self-serving activists and politicians. The diaspora and the Indians in India have a common challenge -- taking on a group of intellectuals, thought leaders and others who under the guise of progressiveness or conservatism engage in bigotry and revive racist tropes that should have died with the colonial empires.

These range from mockery of Hindu traditions, indigenous medicines and other cultural practices to undermining policies that seek to benefit the Indian economy and society at large.

In 2019, a producer working out of America’s National Public Radio (NPR) New Delhi office disparaged the Hindu community by tweeting that “[i]f Indians give up. Hinduism, they will also be solving most of their problems what with all of the piss drinking and dung worshiping.”

And in 2022, another journalist of NPR, Lauren Frayer, arbitrarily presumed that an incident of train burglary in Los Angeles was from India in a racist tweet since deleted.

Most recently, as the world was mourning the tragic death of former prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, NPR while reporting on it, tweeted “a divisive and arch-conservative leader, most powerful and influential.” The tweet has since been deleted. However, contrast that to their obituary to Fidel Castro and one would see a pattern of their double standards and pseudo-Marxist leanings.

Unfortunately, these racist and often Hinduphobic comments can come from the Indian community as well, such as ones pursuing “South Asia'' studies at various prestigious institutions in the US and UK.  Take for example, the case of a journalism student at Columbia University, wherein in her article for Indian media, ridiculed the efforts of the Modi administration in promoting Ayurveda through the Ministry and the WHO as a colonial endeavor. To paraphrase the CEO of Zoho, Sridhar Vembu’s response on Twitter, “Such commentary from Indian’s only reflects a serious case of self-loathing on their part”.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) pulled an NPR in her Diwali greetings to Hindus around the globe with her moral sermon: “Wishing you love and light, from my home to yours! As we call in the spirit of this Festival of Lights, let us continue to oppose the forces of hate, racism, and xenophobia that seek to divide us while also calling out injustice wherever we see it.”

Would she or other progressive representatives in the US Congress engage in such posturing while greeting members of any other faith?

While resolutions tabled by progressive lawmakers such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) such as Res.1196 in the US Congress that calls on the US State Department to label India a “Country of Particular Concern” a designation that carries the power to levy sanctions on India, lawmakers such as Representative Ro Khanna have offered India support. Recently, Rep. Khanna spearheaded an amendment in the US Congress that would provide India with CAATSA waivers while simultaneously underscoring the importance and need for a stronger defense partnership between the United States and India.

It is therefore vital for diaspora organizations such as the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) to be at the forefront of advocating for a common sense approach to the US-India bilateral relationship that is grounded in the countries’ mutual strategic interests. Ensuring that American policymakers have access to and make decisions based on an accurate understanding of India, rather than a misleading portrayal driven by ideological agendas is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, resources that provide such a perspective are few and far between. The newest joint venture between HAF and Pacific Forum International, a leading think tank based in Hawaii focusing on the Indo-Pacific, however, is one of those few that does. The inaugural chapter on Indo-US relations in the Pacific Forum's Comparative Connections triannual e-journal, Cold-War Era Differences & Indo-Pacific Synergies, provides a clear eyed analysis of the US-India relationship unencumbered by politics or ideologies.

The HAF-Pacific Forum’s partnership is forward looking and seeks to analyze the relationship without the baggage of the Cold-War years.

For most of the twentieth century, successive US administrations have drawn false moral equivalencies between Pakistan and India. They have shaken the hands of Indian leaders in the morning and dined with activists in the evening who were working against the same leaders. In 2022, the US is finally beginning to picture India as an Indo-Pacific partner over a “South Asian” nation and the relationship is maturing to address regional and global issues. In order to capitalise on the momentum, the US should drop its Cold-War prism toward India and clamp down on virulent Hinduphobia.


-Akhil Ramesh is Fellow at Pacific Forum, USA. He can be reached @akhil_oldsoul on Twitter. Samir Kalra is Managing Director at Hindu American Foundation, USA. Views expressed are personal.
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