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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 47, November 13, 2010

An Indian’s Open Letter to President Obama

Tuesday 16 November 2010, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

The following article reached us too late for publication before President Obama’s visit to India. We are publishing it now in the hope that its message will reach the US President. —Editor

Dear President Obama,

Your rise to the US Presidency raised expectations of the Black races and the downtrodden peoples of the world. Your fight, in the first year of your governance, for extending the health insurance cover to the unprivileged sections of the American people, earned people’s gratitude for your partial victory and their wellbeing. But you do not seem to have given much thought to the problems of the poor nations of the world with whom the fate of the poorer people of the USA is inextricably bound.

Your administration is very eager to export nuclear reactors to India, evidently to solve the problems of the USA’s nuclear reactor manufacturers who, for the last thirtythree years, have been starved of orders. You yourself refused the funding of nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Even after the recent laboured trumpeting about nuclear renaissance, it is doubtful whether the American people will lower their resistance to nuclear power plants. But your administration is pushing the reactors on to our country.

Your must be aware that nuclear power is the unsafest and highest-cost power and is pre-emptive of enormous resources, which could be far more productively used in other fields. If your country could get out of the craze for nuclear power, it could have been energy-sufficient through renewable energies—wind energy, solar energy, mini- and micro-hydels, biogas, geothermal and tidal energy. These could multiply job opportunities for your countrymen and bring the unemployment problem nearer solution. Certainly, this is truer for our country where half the population is sunk below the poverty line. But both your administration and our government reckon nuclear energy as the currency for global power. This is eating into our vitals.

You must be aware of our people’s anger against the American corporate, the Union Carbide, which caused the “world’s worst industrial disaster” in our city of Bhopal, killing 15,000 people and maiming five lakh people for life. This they did by sheer neglect of safety norms in the lethal phosgene-cum-methyl isocyanate gas based pesticide manufacturing plant. The Union Carbide has managed to get away by paying a paltry sum as compensation and selling off their assets and liabilities to Dow Chemicals.

We are shocked to find that when some of our NGOs are fighting in the American Courts for adequate compensation to this large number of victims, your administration officials are warning the Government of India against associating itself with these litigations. Evidently, your officials’ purpose is to see that in the event of the US Court issuing a decree in the victims’ favour, the decrce becomes un-implementable. Is this not subservience to the tycoons? Would the American people tolerate such blatant attempts to undermine people’s rights? Is this not saying that we have to mortgage our fundamental rights to invite US investments?

Against this background of a US company-made disaster, your administration, in pursuance of George Bush’s decision, is pushing on to us 10 nuclear reactors which are even more prone to disaster. How our Manmohan Singh Government, which faces a resource crunch to fight poverty or to distribute rotting foodgrains free to the locals, has the largesse to buy a total of 20 nuclear reactors from the American, French and Russian sources worth possibly $ 100 billion, is an enigma to us. But we want you to consider what will happen to the relationship between our two countries if any of your nuclear reactors explodes or melts down taking a heavy toll of Indian lives.

Mr President, in your famous Prague speech in April 2009, you had said that “America is committed to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. In your first State of the Union address in January 2010, too, you reiterated your pledge for a world without nuclear weapons. But there has been no follow-up of this promise. Rather you increased, soon thereafter, the budget on nuclear weapons by 9.8 per cent. And your Vice-President justified this increase on the ground that this was “due in large part to the decay in nuclear stockpiles over the last decade, due mainly to the neglect by the Bush Administration”. If the mighty USA does not feel secure with this much of reduction through decay, how could you expect other powers, including Iran, to feel secure without nuclear arms? Would we, then, have to abandon the hope of universal nuclear disarmament?

NOW, to the life-and-death question of the world people including the lives of the American people. Your own NASA scientists have confirmed that climate change has been occurring at a faster rate than was predicted by the Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change. Yet, your government, like George Bush’s, seeks to evade a binding commitment to a deep cut in human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. We know your problem. The USA’s giant corporations do not like any change in their uses of fuels and their representatives are entrenched in both Houses of the US Congress. But you, as the USA’s conscience-keeper, can tell them that all their assets will get destroyed by the fast enveloping climate change unless we all change to green renewable energy systems, whose initial cost is higher but the long-term costs are very much lower.

You know how important biodiversity is for not only food security but also the overall sustenance of life. Multinational companies, which have so long been practising biopiracy for making drugs and vaccines and reaping enormous profits, have recently signed an international treaty “to share the benefits
of natural resources and their commercial derivatives” with the local communities
which have been traditionally nurturing these resources. But the US companies, which are among the largest users of such resources, are not among the signatories to the treaty, which has come to be known as the Nagoya Protocol. Will you now please take measures to stop their biopiracy and call upon the American companies to sign the Nagoya Protocol, in their own long-term interest? This is the only way to ensure the replanting, nurture and continued availability of these resources.

Kindly permit me to say one word about the supposed Indo-US collaboration in agriculture. India has nothing to learn from US agriculture, which succeeded in only converting fertile farmlands into dust bowls and is now pursuing a model of industrial agriculture yielding pesticide-laden crops. US agriculture is also a model of concentrating land ownership in a few hands and reducing thousands of agricultural communities into “ghost towns”. US agriculture is known for utmost lowering of employment opportunities and is thus unsuitable for India and the poor segments of the American population. As against this, India’s ancient agriculture was the most ecological and most productive in the world. British scientists admitted this. It is only during British rule that our agriculture declined due to removal of its forest cover, in consequence of the large-scale deforestation to provide wooden slippers to railways and charcoal to British steel plants. But the US pride will not possibly let your people learn any ecology-based lesson from ancient Indian practices.

Independent India’s acceptance of the US-led Western model of development drove us to depend on foreign aid. This led us to the IMF conditionalities and step by step to WTO. The lures of chemicalised farming technology and biotechnology (the technology that hijacked bio-science) drove us to disregard our farmers’ traditional techniques of developing new, local-environment-oriented varieties and to embrace the multinational seed corporations’ engineered varieties of seeds. This made us subject to the international agreement of the (commercial) Plant Breeders’ Rights—the UPOV Convention. As a result, the farmer-to-farmer seed exchange became illegal; local seed diversities became near-extinct and farmers are becoming more dependent on multinational seed corporations for yearly purchases of seeds. This is driving the farmers of India and other countries of Asia and Africa to ruination. In all these monopolising drives, US multinationals are the leaders—and now, the USA’s Monsanto is spearheading the spread of genetically modified technology which can only lead to a Genetic Holocaust, more lethal than a Nuclear Holocaust. We look up to you—not only as the President of the USA but also as the leader of the world’s Black races and as the repository of hope of all oppressed peoples—to stand up against these monopolistic drives, for equity, justice and security of food to all.

Lastly, as one who is deeply interested in Indo-Pak peoples’ amity, I would appeal to you to change the traditional role of US Presidents on the Indo-Pak question. From a military assistance giver, you must be a substantial aid-giver to Pakistan for liberal education, and for sustainable agricultural development to underwrite food security for the masses. With your economic, scientific and life-nurturing technological help, when the Pak people’s standard of living improves, its sense of insecurity will yield place to a yearning for friendship with its nearest neighbour, India. Liberal and scientific education will help them get over the soul-killing interpretation of religious scriptures and restore Islam’s pristine values. The peoples of India and Pakistan share the same history and same culture. Hence peace has to come the natural way, not through any country’s humiliation. For a lasting peace and stability, all the countries in this subcontinent—namely, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan—will have to come together, in a confederation. We urge you to help develop this perspective, delinking religion from the concept of nationalism.

With warmest regards,

Yours Respectfully

November 3, 2010

Sailendra Nath Ghosh

77, Manavsthali Apartments, Vasundhara Enclave, Delhi 110096

Phone: +91-11-22618670/22619482

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