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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 50, November 28, 2009

PM in US, BJP on Mat, Sena on Rampage


Saturday 28 November 2009, by SC


“Yours is the first official state visit of my presidency, it’s fitting that you and India be so recognised.” With these words President Barack Hussen Obama warmly welcomed PM Manmohan Singh in the White House on November 23.

The US head of state, whose momentous and resounding presidential election victory precisely a year ago was greeted by millions across the globe (and they included countless Indians savouring the breathtaking event in the world’s most powerful democracy), spoke in his characteristic frank style carrying, as always, deep conviction.

…we want to build a future in which India is indispensable. India and the US can strengthen the global economic recovery. As nuclear powers, we can be full partners in preventing the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons, securing loose nuclear materials from terrorists and pursuing our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

Unlike George W. Bush, his immediate precedessor, Obama did not miss to emphasise that India and the US shared a “common story” of two “proud peoples” who had struggled to break free from an empire to declare their independence; he also did not forget to stress that the two states were in effect two great republics dedicated to the ideals of liberty, justice, equality and the “never-ending work of perfecting their union”.

On his part Dr Manmohan Singh highlighted how the two states, even though “separated by distance”, were bound together by the values of democracy, humanism, rule of law and respect for fundamental human freedoms. And he spoke of the need to “cooperate in addressing global challenges of combating terrorism, making our environment cleaner, and moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons”.

Obama, of course, steered clear of any issue that could raise eyebrows in New Delhi like explaining the rationale behind enhanced US military aid to Pakistan or urging for joint Sino-US efforts at improving India-Pakistan relations. But his body language made one point as transparent as daylight—2009 is not the same as the seventies or eighties when Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had, on different occasions, rudely rejected Indira Gandhi’s hand of friendship (something that is superficially sought to be presented as a Cold War legacy).

But despite the two leaders’ bonhomie and rhetoric, the two sides could not reach an agreement on arrangements and procedures for reprocessing US-origin nuclear fuel, the sticking point being the kind of reporting required to be incorporated in the proposed accord. Three days of hectic parleys failed to bridge the differences between the two sides, with the Indians making it clear that they would not countenance any deviation from the 123 Agreement in the matter even as their American counterparts insisted on including more reporting and certification requirements as mandated by the US Atomic Energy Act. This has come as a dampener as the PM was keen to conclude the remaining steps of the nuclear deal during the visit.

Meanwhile on the domestic front drama preceded the tabling in Parliament on November 24 of the Liberhan Commission report on the probe into the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992 with the BJP members accusing the government of having deliberately leaked it out to the media to isolate the BJP. The charge of the report’s leakage, and hence breach of parliamentary privilege, cannot divert attention from the contents of the report that are really damning for the BJP leadership and the entire Sangh Parivar as it categorically condemns even former PM A.B. Vajpayee for his “sin of omission” and brackets him with L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in this regard; all of them are described in the report as “pseudo-moderates” in the party. In this connection the Left contention is noteworthy; as CPM leader Sitaram Yechury has stated,

Though justice has been delayed for 17 long years in this case, justice must be done. If the law has been broken, legal action has to be taken. Concrete action must be taken against the perpetrators on the basis of evidence gathered in the report.

There can be no two opinions in this respect and the government must do the needful at the earliest.

The Shiv Sena’s assault on a TV news channel in Mumbai has once again brought into focus the Sena’s regular attempts at stifling freedom of expression. What must be clearly understood is that the Sena as well as its offspring-cum-subsequent-rival, the MNS, have been emboldened in their aggressive behaviour on this score due to the impunity they enjoy thanks to the policy of appeasement of linguistic chauvinism in Mumbai by the powers-that-be, that is, the successive State governments of Maharashtra. As a consequence the Frankenstein of such chauvinism has grown and assumed menacing proportions.

Unless the State authorities and civil society boldly rebuff such reprehensible acts, the culprits are brought to book immediately and deterrent punishment meted out, the onslaughts of the Sena and MNS would acquire frightening dimensions in the coming days.

November 25 S.C.

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