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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 15, March 28, 2009

Pitfalls of Toeing the US Line

Editorial

Thursday 2 April 2009, by SC

The policy of rapprochement with Washington, as has been steadfastly pursued by PM Manmohan Singh, has alienated large sections of the people from the principal ruling party, the Indian National Congress. Though the Congress spokesmen publicly defend this policy, the party itself is not going all out to highlight it in the election campaign.

The fact is that the economic reforms, implemented by the US favourites, Manmohan and P. Chidambaram in particular, have accentrated negative tendencies in the Indian economy causing heightened disaffection among the populace thus making a severe dent in the INC’s popularity. At the same time the people have not failed to note that Manmohan could not, despite all his painstaking efforts, elicit full US support to India in tackling the key problem of terrorism (which is intertwined with New Delhi’s troubled relations with Islamabad) in the wake of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai spearheaded by the Lashkar-e-Taiba which, incidentally, continues to operate from Pakistani soil even if under a different name. As usual, the US is playing a double-game in its dealings with India and Pakistan—speaking in different voices in the capitals of the two countries basically on the question of the militants’ extradition.

Moreover, the Congress leadership’s full backing of Manmohan as the PM in the event of the party and its allies returning to power in South Block does not inspire confidence among the public in general, given his serious health problems and advanced age. This is going to be definitely used by the Opposition during the election campaign.

Another potential candidate for the post of the PM, the newly appointed Home Minister P. Chidambaram, is incapable of leading a broad coalition following the Lok Sabha polls. He does harbour Prime Ministerial ambitions but these have come up against opposition from the Congress’ main regional allies in the UPA—they have already raised serious objections to any such move. Moreover, his activities during his stewardship of the Finance Ministry—especially his lobbying for the American companies’ entry into the Indian retail market—have made him suspect in the eyes of the people at large and severely compromised his candidature for the highest post.

There is also a lurking fear in the party that due to his personality as also the outside support (primarily from the US) he enjoys, Chidambaram, on occupying the PMO, would in all likelihood not relinquish it for young Rahul Gandhi at the appropriate time.

With the new US Administration settling down in Washington, a Sino-US rapprochement is on the cards. Even if they don’t acknowledge it openly, the fact is that the more perceptive and analytical minds in the Indian policy-making apparatus are now being able to comprehend in full measure the fallacy of the myopic pro-American policy the South Block followed in the last five years vis-à-vis China under the direct influence of the neocons during the Bush Presidency; and this is being brought out in sharpest relief when New Delhi comes face-to-face with Beijing amid considerable aggravation of India-China relations in the prevailing scenario.

There is now a growing realisation in Congress circles capable of gauging the public mood that only that leader who does not evoke any sense of irritation or alienation among the masses due to her/his outspoken advocacy of the US course in Asia can improve the situation for the ruling party/alliance at the Centre. And the name that invariably comes up in this context is that of Indira Gandhi besides Jawaharlal Nehru.

March 26, S.C.

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