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Friends not masters - India Today

Swapan Dasgupta ()
October 12, 1998

Title: Friends not masters - Wanted: New interlocutors in Washington in
Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: India Today
Date: October 12, 1998

Over the years, it has become customary for Indian prime ministers to
end their foreign visits on an almighty high. Atal Bihari Vajpayee's US
visit was no different. So what if all those brave words about not
signing the iniquitous CTBT sound a little less convincing now. And so
what if Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms is still
pressing the Clinton administration to not yield on sanctions. When the
transient paparazzi convince themselves that India is flying high, India
does end up flying very high. Earthly realities can wait sleeping out
the jet lag.

Of course, that's being a bit unfair. The prime minister's New York
visit did produce tangible results. First, Vajpayee's UN speech clearly
indicated that India doesn't have the stomach for a long, sustained
spell of diplomatic isolation. India has affirmed that it is a soft
state that believes in meeting antagonisms halfway. This may seem
galling to the BJP and RSS that hoped for a new beginning.
Unfortunately, India wilted under pressure and it hasn't taken Vajpayee
too long to realise it. However, to suggest that this implies a return
to the wishy-washy pre-Pokhran days is wrong. Vajpayee has broken with
the past and is not guided by spurious Third Worldism and
anti-Americanism. India has countered Nelson Mandela and Vajpayee did
embrace Benjamin Netanyahu. That's a big advance from Sonia Gandhi's
family diplomacy.

In this context, the prime minister's Asia Society speech last Monday
could form the central text of the Vajpayee doctrine. When he described
India and the US as "natural allies", he was not merely acknowledging
the futility of 51 years of anti-imperialist posturing. He was also
conceding that we backed the wrong horse in the Cold War. That's an
encouraging start. What is important now is to put some meat into this

It's doubtful whether conventional diplomacy can achieve the necessary
results. India's diplomats still traipse round the world scoring
imaginary goals against the imperialist heartland. They combine their
inadequate entertainment allowances with a ghetto mentality. The end
result is India's diplomatic irrelevance. This has to change, but not by
thrusting organisations like the CII or other New Delhi-based think
tanks into the new frontiers of Indo-US relations. A new beginning
cannot be made either on an attitude of slavishness or by contesting the
fundamentals of Indian self-interest. Likewise, Washington needs to put
its traditional South Asia experts out to grass. Having entered into a
cosy relationship with the anti-BJP intelligentsia in India, they are
either misfits in the new dispensation or plain obstacles in the path of
a more meaningful, but equal, bilateral relationship.

To succeed and endure, any strategic partnership needs fresh
interlocutors. It is heartening that Jaswant Singh established contact
with Senator Helms. He should now make it his business to meet Speaker
Newt Gingrich and maybe even invite conservative polemicist Irving
Kristol to visit India. Think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and
the editorial page editors of The Wall Street journal are also worth
cultivating. They, rather than the liberal establishment in the US, may
understand India and appreciate its compulsions better. They will
certainly comprehend the advantages of a democratic India over a
totalitarian China.

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