Indian leftists are outraged by the way Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen has defended the nuclear deal with the US. The uproar has focused on Sen’s description of critics of the nuclear deal as ”headless chickens.” Sen has now apologised for his language.
But surely this is not the key issue. Prakash Karat, chief headless chicken of the politburo, is not a thin-skinned ninny. He is a suave politician who has shrugged off far worse abuses in the past.
No, the fundamental reason for the Left’s outrage is not Sen’s language but his claim that India should regard George Bush as its best friend. ”There has not been, and I don’t think in the near future we will see, such a friend and supporter as this president. Absolutely. There is none.”
Now, leftists view Bush rather as the Pope views Satan. They are incensed at being told that Satan is our best friend.
For decades, Marxists were passionate supporters of the Soviet Union and its East European empire. They saw white imperialism as the greatest threat facing humankind, and red imperialism as salvation. They were not ignorant of the mass killings of Stalin and Mao, but regarded this as collateral damage in the great fight against US imperialism.
The collapse of the Soviet Union exposed Marxists as life-long supporters of murder and torture in support of a bankrupt philosophy. The revolt against communism in East Europe showed that red imperialism was not salvation at all. Marxists found themselves toppled from the high moral ground they had long thought was theirs.
Then came 9/11. Suddenly, the US under Bush was determined to use its full military power against anybody it saw as a threat, without reference to the UN or anyone else. Once described as ”the reluctant sheriff” (because of its reluctance to use its awesome military power), the US became a trigger-happy one. It invaded Afghanistan (amidst much global approval). Then it invaded Iraq (amidst much global opposition). It called Iraq, Iran and North Korea an axis of evil, threatening all with military retribution.
This dismayed even Indians well-disposed to the US. For Marxists, it was a tonic. They saw in Bush proof that they had been right all along, that US imperialism was indeed the main threat to humankind.
They prepared to do battle with the great Satan.
Naturally, they were dismayed by the Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement of 2005 envisaging a strategic Indo-US partnership. First, the Marxists lambasted various clauses of the Hyde Act, echoing Indian scientists who said that the legislation fell short of promises made in the Bush-Manmohan agreement. There followed tortuous Indo-US negotiations on the 123 bilateral agreement. India won argument after argument, and Indian scientists agreed that the final 123 draft was as good a deal as India could expect.
Why then has the Left doubled its objections and threatened to bring the government down if it proceeds further? Because the Left’s main objection was never to nuclear co-operation, but to the very concept of Indo-US partnership. The Left views Bush as the ultimate symbol of US imperialism, of US willingness to attack anybody anywhere on bogus grounds like lack of democracy or weapons of mass destruction.
Now, the Left is hardly alone in anti-Bushism. Many moderates in Europe are extremely worried about US muscularity, and revel in its discomfiture in Iraq. People across the ideological spectrum in India view Bush as a disaster.
But does this contradict Ronen Sen’s view that India has not seen and will not in the near future see a US President who is as strong a friend and supporter as Bush? I don’t think so. Much as we may disapprove of Bush’s muscularity, the record shows that no other US president has ever been willing to ride roughshod over the anti-proliferation lobby, the pro-Pakistan lobby and the pro-China lobby.
Former ambassador to the US Naresh Chandra notes that Indians dislike Bush and like Clinton. Yet, he notes that Clinton gave India little save sanctions. Clinton sought to punish India for its nuclear explosion, not convert it into a high strategic partner.
Earlier US Presidents – Bush Sr., Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy – did nothing much for India. Nor in the future will Hilary Clinton, who strongly opposed some clauses of the Hyde Act.
Why is Bush so strongly pro-India? Because of the same simple-mindedness he has shown in other foreign policy areas. Bush is determinedly anti-intellectual. He divides the world into good guys and bad guys, and cannot see shades of grey. This can be very dangerous: it led him to invade Iraq. Yet, that same good-guy bad-guy lens has led him to see India as a very good guy. And so, he has brushed aside objections from US experts who call this view of India a gross oversimplification.
From Ronen Sen’s viewpoint, the issue is not whether we like or dislike Bush. The issue is whether he has done more than any other US president to promote partnership with India and crush anti-Indian lobbies. The answer is surely yes.