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HVK Archives: Emperor Gujral does have some underwear but, no clothes

Emperor Gujral does have some underwear but, no clothes - The Asian Age

M. J. Akbar ()
31 August 1997

Title: Emperor Gujral does have some underwear but, alas, no clothes
Author: M. J. Akbar
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: August 31, 1997

The list of optimists who want to father a child out of an impotent
government is not only long but keeps growing. It is a curious paradox but
the very weakness of a government tends to breed hope. One is not talking
about mere carpetbaggers, who make up a substantial portion of any
capital's task force and whose chief pleasure derives from direct hits at
the knees of any trembling authority. In the specific case of contemporary
Delhi they have been floating around with huge smiles ever since Mr H.D.
Deve Gowda was placed on top of a ramshackle heap a little more than a year
ago, secure in the belief that they would be able to push through decisions
through crevices in ministries like information and broadcasting or
industry or commerce, departments which are surrounded by gauze instead of
walls, the gauze liberally pockmarked with loopholes through which vested
interests attempt to squeeze decisions on the sly. The temptation to cut
across traditional policy or even preempt emerging decisions is not
restricted to individuals motivated by a private agenda; governments have
their wish lists too, and can be as opportunistic about the main chance as
any individual.

Certainly the administration of President Bill Clinton has managed to
convince itself, doubtless after careful and consistent prodding from the
recently departed ambassador Frank Wisner, that the moment to establish a
Pax Americana on South Asia is now. Ever since the demolition of the Soviet
Union and their victory in the Cold War, the Americans have been
concentrating on converting the world into one large trading zone with two
central objectives: to sustain the extraordinary luxury in which the United
States and Europe live, and to keep every part of the world inside that
nebulous environment called aspiration. Violence is strictly injurious to
the health of this purpose, for war destroys potential markets for the
transfer or co-production of manufactured goods at profitable prices. This
utilitarian view of the world should not ipso facto be condemned as
immoral; its only problem is inequality, not immorality. Nations which
fritter their resources in endemic, tribal wars may have more than one
reason to be grateful for colonialism, as colonisers have traditionally

The Americans have taken their rationale two steps higher on the ladder of
political evolution. First, unlike the British, they have no desire to
become the policemen of their empire. The reason for this is not entirely
altruistic. After two world wars and one Vietnam, Americans have acquired a
not unreasonable aversion to dying in foreign fields. The British gloried
in the fact that some corner of a foreign field would remain forever
England; the Americans want that some corner of a foreign field to remain
forever foreign. An American President today has to run his foreign policy
on a twin track. He must conquer all he chooses to see before him; and he
must achieve his victories by shedding only local or non-American blood if
there is any need for blood to be shed at all.

However this does not mean that Washington is coy about control. It may
not want to be the policeman of the world, but it certainly wants to be
both judge and jury. Like any judge, it wants to give the impression of
being reasonable, of listening to both sides - but Heaven help those who do
not obey the judgment once it is delivered. The United Nations has become
the preferred Senate as well as the secretariat of Pax Americana: the
Security Council has become the House of Lords, or the final jury for
appeal; while multinational forces gathered under the UN banner are
deployed to ensure compliance by rogue states which might dare to challenge
the wisdom of Pax Americana. Once again, this peace is often welcomed by
those - who must obey: if you

were a Muslim in Bosnia, for instance, you would definitely want the
multinational force to remain in your country for a couple of generations.

The glue of the new empire is the promise of prosperity: not an original
thought but given a fresh twist. It would be too generous to suggest that
unlike Pax Romana, slave labour has been done away with: when Nike pays
dirt-wages in its factories in Vietnam, there is some parallel somewhere.
But the galleys have been banished, and the assurance of shared consumerism
if you join the system is much more credible than it was a couple of
thousand years ago. There is never going to be a Milwaukee in India, of
course, but at least you can escape from Aarah and Chapra, if you get the

A happy combination of individuals and circumstances have given Washington
the window of opportunity it needed in South Asia, the most important being
that India has a Prime Minister with just one star on his horizon and
Pakistan has a Prime Minister with only one option on his compass. Mr Inder
Kumar Gujral knows that he is not going to last very long; at the outside
he may survive one more Budget, particularly if his finance minister is
ready to take all the unpalatable decisions which the next government wants
to inherit rather than introduce. If Mr Gujral is unfortunate the next
elections will be held in March; if he is fortunate the elections will be
held in September or thereabouts. He has consequently decided to buy his
place in history by changing the geopolitics of the subcontinent. He also
knows that only the Americans can deliver peace with Pakistan; it is beyond
the capability of the antagonists to do it for themselves. Problem: India
has insisted since the Shimla Agreement that if there is going to be a
solution then it can only be through bilateral talks. Solution: A trace of
dust in the eyes of the Indian Parliament and the people. Mr Gujral and Mr
Clinton will read from a written script which honours formal positions,
while the difficult work of give-and-possibly-take is done by a select
American team with access to both sides.

The trouble is that President Clinton wants to stand in the middle,
towering over Prime Ministers half his size when the photographs get taken
of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat - sorry, that should be Inder Gujral and
Nawaz Sharif - shaking hands. Moreover, Americans can find space for
niceties, but only up to a point. This is Pax Americana, gentlemen, not
Pax Indiana. If Delhi does not want to admit that there is a triangle in
these talks, then Washington is going to ensure that everyone and his uncle
understand that the formal concession made to India is pitiful nonsense.
That has already been made clear by the alteration of dates for the
meetings in New York between Messrs Clinton and Gujral. The latter also
has to maintain the fiction that he will not discuss Kashmir with the
American President. If they are not going to discuss Kashmir, what are
they going to discuss? The tariff rates for rags? There is not much time
either; if President Clinton wants to meet Prime Minister Gujral (rather
than ex-Prime Minister Gujral) on Indian soil he will have to take a flight
to Delhi in the first half of 1998 rather than the second. Nawaz Sharif
has no problems with any format or indeed the agenda. He is happy to share
his woes on Kashmir with anyone, male or female, in the White House, and
even more delighted if he can ensure a permanent status for the United
States as the official Big Brother.

That is not the only or even the most relevant difference between Nawaz
Sharif and Inder Gujral. The hard fact is that the Prime Minister of
Pakistan has the authority to negotiate; the Prime Minister of India has
none. Nawaz Sharif has the mandate of the people; Inder Gujral does not
even have the full support of his rickety alliance in the contrivance he is
attempting to set up.

Inder Gujral is an accident presiding over a convenience. He has no moral
right to commit the government of India to any position from which it would
be difficult to withdraw because at the moment he represents no one but
himself and perhaps a few friends. He has been made Prime Minister for the
worst of all possible reasons: because a majority of MPs in this fractured
Parliament are terrified of facing the people. Why are they terrified of
democracy's most creative moment, an election? Because they are frightened
to oblivion, if not death, of the BJP coming to power?

It is the most absurd situation imaginable. A certain number of parties,
with the fraudulently-secular Congress the most prominent of them all, have
decided that Indian democracy is acceptable only as long as it refuses to
vote for the BJP. They are ready to form any alliance, however pathetic, in
order to keep the BJP out at a time when they are convinced that the Indian
people want the BJP in. Please note: it is the Congress and the Janata Dal
and the CPI who are convinced that the BJP will win, although the BJP
itself may or may not be as certain.

If Mr Gujral wants to hand over India-Pakistan relations to the United
States then the least he can do is to consult the people of India; in fact,
this may be a good issue on which to call a general election. It would
provide a definite purpose to an event which is inevitable in any case.
Today he is an emperor without clothes, and if this column does allow him
the possibility of some underwear it is merely because of his personal
credibility. He does not run a government; he is merely the caretaker of a
waiting room. He was actually right when he said that he was helpless; he
just does not have the authority to be helpful. Only a mandate from the
people can provide him with the authority to devise serious policy. This
conglomeration of incompatible politicians were not elected to survive on
Congress support: indeed, if they had told the people that this is what
they were proposing to do, the BJP might have won the last election.

Mr Inder Gujral can go to New York and carry on to Washington or Islamabad
or wherever he wants; but at some point he will have to return to New
Delhi. And at some point after that he will have to check with the Indian
people since we are a democracy. A settlement that is not endorsed by a
majority of the electorate will unravel before the smile on President
Clinton's face has melted.

There are people in this country, not all of them from the BJP, who believe
that three into two won't go; that the distance between Delhi and Islamabad
is best measured in terms of a straight line rather than a transcontinental
route. For two decades now Indian policy has been consistent in that view.
If a Prime Minister in search of history wants to dump that position he
might just discover that history might instead never forgive him.

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