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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 16, April 9, 2011

Deceptive Diplomats and Disloyal Officials of India

Thursday 14 April 2011, by Era Sezhiyan


WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, an Australian software developer and internet activist. As a computer programmer and hacker, he exposed some of the secret documents on extra-judicial killings in Kenya, toxic waste dumped in the African coastal regions and the misdeeds of some international banks.

In setting up WikiLeaks, Assange wrote about the objectives of his venture: “To radically shift regime behaviour we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not… The more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.”

It was in October 2010 that the attention of the world was drawn to the WikiLeaks’ release of Iraq War documents and Afghan War documents on the American involvement. Then, WikiLeaks released the first 220 of about 25,000 diplomatic cables and other documents sent from various American embassies to the US Government between 1966 and 2010. They were published by New York Times (US), Le Monde (France), Guardian (UK), Der Spiegel (Germany) and El Pais (Spain). From March 15, 2011 onwards, The Hindu of India has arranged to publish the WikiLeaks’ cables.

His Wikipedia revelations seems to be endan-gering his life itself and he is ‘constantly on the move’ from place to place and no country is safe for him. While the governments of Australia, the US and many other countries had from the beginning been active to put some case or other against Assange and to gag him in jail, there were several human rights associations and journalists who hailed his efforts against official secrecy and suppressing free journalism. In 2009 Amnesty International presented to Assange the UK Media Award. In 2010 he was given the Sam Adams Award of Integrity of New Zealand and the Readers’ Choice in Time magazine’s Person of the Year poll in the US. Le Monde, one of the five publications to cooperate with the WikiLeaks’ publication named him as ‘Person of the Year’ with 56 per cent of the votes in their online poll In February 2011, Assange got the Sydney Peace Medal by the Sydney Peace Foundation. Last year the Court records of Australia revealed that in 1993 Assange helped the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit by providing technical advice and assisted in prosecuting persons.

Regarding the US diplomatic messages about India, the cable on the pay-offs to the Members of Parliament, involving the political aide to the Congress leader, Satish Sharma, with ‘cash-chests’ for winning the confidence motion in July 2008 evoked heavy uproar in and outside Parliament. It had upset the apple cart of the Manmohan Singh Government, already tottering under a heavy load of successive scams.

To the WikiLeaks’ revelation, the responses of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister had been weak and sleazy in substance and tone. Both of them had parroted the diplomatic mantra: “A sovereign country has diplomatic immunity to discuss with its missions.” They declared emphatically that the Indian Government cannot confirm or deny these messages. It is true that the Government of India cannot question the US Government on the messages sent. However, as a sovereign country, India could have conducted an impartial inquiry about the alleged misdeeds and the persons identified in the reports. Further, under our parliamentary system, the govern-ment is answerable to Parliament and accoun-table to the sovereign people of India how far and how much the allegations globalised are correct and whether the necessary remedial measures, if any, had been taken by the government.

The Prime Minister affirmed that “in an open vote taken, the government won the confidence of Lok Sabha”. Unfortunately, he did not see the other side of the medal. The charge was not about the number of votes recorded openly in the Lok Sabha, but the question is what has been done to investigate the secret deals made outside the House with ‘chests of cash’ to win the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha. Prime Minister asserted: “We did not purchase votes to win trust motion.” The Congress party might not have been overtly involved in the deals made. But, covertly, some political godfathers might have done them for the benefit of the ruling alliance. Further, the Prime Minister blew his own trumpet that the UPA Government enjoyed the confidence of the people as evidenced by the 2009 electoral verdict rejecting the ‘cash-for-vote’ charge. He has conveniently forgotten that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, winning 352 seats in the 1971 Lok Sabha election, got in the 1977 election, held after the dreadful draconian Emergency of 1975-77, only 154 seats for her party. Similarly, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with a huge majority of 415 seats in 1984—not even achieved by Jawaharlal Nehru in the three general elections from 1952 to 1962—obtained only 197 seats in the 1989 election due to the Bofors scam.

There is a fallacious contention that the incidents of the 14th Lok Sabha should not be dragged in the 15th Lok Sabha. Then, it should be explained how the biggest 2G scam in free India, perpetrated in 2008 of the 14th Lok Sabha, has been taken up in the 15th Lok Sabha period for judicial purview and CBI inquiry.

In the case of dissolution of an Assembly and dismissal of the Ministry in a State, there are constitutional provisions of the President assuming the powers of the State Government and Parliament assuming the powers of the State Legislature. But when the Lok Sabha is dissolved, the Prime Minister continues to head the caretaker government till the next Ministry is formed. As in the Westminster model, the Cabinet Government at the Centre in India is a continuous institution in functioning and in its accountability. Personally,

Manmohan Singh has been the Prime Minister continuously for two terms which no other person had in the past achieved, excepting of course Jawaharlal Nehru.
Let us not go into the incriminating messages sent by the diplomats of other countries to their governments. In the WikiLeaks’ cables, there are several instances wherein Indian officers and diplomats in highly sensitive positions had freely disclosed to the US ambassadors and diplomats pieces of information which were highly insolent and adverse to the Government of India and to the person and office of the Prime Minister.

In the January 12, 2005 cable, the American embassy described M.K. Narayanan, the National Security Adviser of India, “as a long-time Gandhi family loyalist” and “seen as a part of the traditional ‘coterie’ around the Congress Party President, Sonia Gandhi”. The cable stated that Narayanan “came through as a hardliner on Pakistan, never afraid to voice his differences with Prime Minister”.

After a meeting with M.K.Narayanan in August 2009, the American ambassador, Timothy Roemer, concluded that “Prime Minister Man-mohan Singh was isolated within his own government in his ‘great belief’ in talks and negotiations with Pakistan”.

Ambassador Roemer had also noted: “He (Narayanan) made a point of commending PM Singh’s intellect, economic prowess, among the G-20 leaders, and self-effacing manner as ‘an accidental politician’ and former civil servant like him”.

Narayanan may belong to the category of high-ranking IAS officers; he may have adorned venerable positions in the Intelligence Bureau and as the Special National Security Advisor; he may have been a member of the high level ‘coterie’ of the Congress party. Still, occupying the highly sensitive post of the National Security Advisor, he failed to keep secure his own views and had the gumption to tell the ambassador of another country, that Singh had been ‘an accidental Prime Minister’, thereby denigrating the person and office of the Prime Minister.

Should not the Government of India take serious note and action at such an impertinence by the civil servant who was at that time, Special Advisor on National Security? Later he has been elevated to the position of Governor of West Bengal.

Of all the cables leaked out by the WikiLeaks, there is the one that carried a questionable and unethical conduct by the Ministry of External Affairs, by sending one Indian diplomat to override another Indian diplomat. At the UNO, Nirupam Sen was the Permanent Representative of India. As the Ministry of External Affairs had misgivings about his anti-US decisions, it sent Ajai Malhotra as the Deputy Permanent Representative to override Sen. Malhotra was very prompt to tell, over a lunch, his counterpart, the American Deputy Representative Alejandro D.Wolff, that his government had given him authority to override the Permanent Representative. Promptly, Wolff also sent his cable of May 19, 2006, that Malhotra had been specially sent to counter the Indian Permanent Representative and that Malhotra had a ‘direct line’ to New Delhi to ensure US-India co-operation in New York.

We cannot question the US diplomats’ cables. But we should know and Parliament should investigate about the dubious and diabolical steps adopted by the Ministry of External Affairs in sending a Deputy specifically to override his superior and the Indian Deputy giving the full inside information to his American counterpart about the purpose of his posting. Further, the Minister has the ‘individual ministerial responsibility’ for such decisions and acts of his officers unless the Cabinet has taken the relevant policy decisions in regard to the relationship with a particular government to be followed by the Ministry; then there is the collective ministerial responsibility.

While WikiLeaks has raised unbearable furore in the Government of India, the reaction in the USA of the US Government on these diplomatic cables, though less uncomfortable, is more embarrassing for it in disturbing the smooth relationship with other countries. They have arrested Bradley Manning, a US Army soldier posted in Iraq, who is alleged to have leaked out the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) cables to WikiLeaks, that is, the material including the US diplomatic messages. He was arrested in May 2010 and is in jail in the US. He may face a court martial. There is a Bradley Manning Support Network formed in June 2010 to defend Manning. Incidentally, the State Department spokesperson resigned over this issue.

What has come out by the release of the WikiLeaks cables is only a tip of a huge iceberg submerged deeply below the surface of normal diplomatic relationships. As a superpower, the USA has an enormous network of about 250 worldwide embassies and consulates with a total number of over 13,000 Foreign Service members. It is stated that WikiLeaks has with it over 251 thousand US documents. Only a small portion of them has been released in the selected five newspapers.

Era Sezhiyan is a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. Formerly he was a Member of Parliament (1962-84) and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

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