The BJP's psyche and the bomb

Print edition : October 22, 2004

Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb by Strobe Talbott, Penguin, Viking; pages 268, Rs.395.

STROBE TALBOTT, president of the highly respected Brookings Institution, is both a scholar and journalist. He worked for Time magazine for two decades and was its Foreign Affairs Editor. A specialist on Soviet affairs - he translated and edited two volumes of Khruschev's memoirs - and on disarmament - wrote informed books like Deadly Gambit and Endgame - he served his friend Bill Clinton as Deputy Secretary of State from 1994 to 2001. His empathy for India is deep. Not so, his knowledge of the region; understandably.

This book is absolutely indispensable. (It was published in the United States by Brookings Institution Press which brings out titles of high quality.) It is much more than a memoir of his 14 rounds of talks with Jaswant Singh, for two years and a half, after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government held nuclear tests on May 11 and May 13, 1998. It is a thorough, if unwitting, exposure of the BJP's psyche; its worldview, which is of a piece with its rabidly communal outlook; its systematic deception of the people of India; its opportunism and, not least, the stripping of the mask of moderation which some of its men put on. By now Vajpayee stands fully exposed. But, without intending to, Strobe Talbott strips his friend Jaswant Singh of his pretensions completely.

True, one cannot be a specialist on all the regions of the globe. But Talbott reveals insularity and smugness. The confidence with which he airs self-serving opinions and makes generalisations which are glib is unwarranted.

The book brings the narrative right up to 2004. Its author was in New Delhi last February when, in an interview to Siddharth Varadarajan, now of The Hindu, he criticised India for not entering into the dialogue "in a compromising mood" (The Times of India, February 7, 2004). The book, however, records Jaswant Singh's determination to strike a deal, a determination shared by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee; at least to all appearances. They reversed India's 1996 stand on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and were willing to accept it in 1998. Jaswant Singh's acolytes in the media performed a somersault in respectful tandem. As Mao said of Khruschev after the Cuban missile crisis, adventurism was followed by capitulation.

Talbott refuses to appreciate the nuclear have-nots' complaint that the nuclear-haves did not perform their part of the deal in Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968) "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control". Some American critics of India's nuclear policy admit that Article 6 has remained a dead letter. Talbott ignores this aspect.

He is prone to exaggerate. Clinton did not "play a decisive role in defusing a conflict (Kargil)... that could have escalated to nuclear war". The book itself shows that all Nawaz Sharif sought was to save face by meeting Clinton. The Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks did not mark a "turning point" in U.S.-India relations. The talks were not a conspicuous success. The relations had improved markedly much earlier and the BJP was set on improving them further once Vajpayee became Prime Minister on March 19, 1998. Clinton sent Bill Richardson, Ambassador to the United Nations, to New Delhi to meet the leaders of the new government. This was around mid-April when Vajpayee had already decided to hold the tests. Both A.P.J Abdul Kalam, then Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, and R. Chidambaram Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), said on May 17 that the green signal had been given on April 11. The exceptionally well-informed George Perkovich writes in his definitive work India's Nuclear Bomb that it was "authorised prior to April 8".

Richardson received a visitor. "Jaswant Singh came alone. He said he was under instructions from Vajpayee to serve as a discreet - and if necessary, secret - channel to Washington, to be used for anything sensitive that the U.S. leadership wished to convey to the Prime Minister. Turning to Bruce (Reidel) as the White House official present, Jaswant Singh asked that Clinton and Sandy Berger, the National Security Adviser, understand the utility of having such a channel. It would ensure prompt, high-level consideration of any matter that the American President regarded as important for moving the relationship forward. The confidentiality of any exchanges that took place in the channel, he implied, would minimise the danger of leaks from an Indian bureaucracy that might otherwise obstruct progress or embarrass the leaders." Thus did India's Nixon launch forth a swadeshi Kissinger. This was before the tests and before the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks.

Clinton nominated Talbott to be his representative in the talks only on June 6. Three days earlier, Jaswant had told Perkovich on the phone that Vajpayee had already declared a moratorium on further tests "and, further more, that he was prepared to consider joining the CTBT" (emphasis added, throughout). Talbott and Jaswant Singh held their first meeting on June 12. It did not mark a "turning point" in the relations, for Vajpayee had "decided to reach out to the Clinton Administration" immediately after the tests.

Moynihan was right in chiding the Administration's analysts rather than the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): "Your own analysts just weren't listening to the Indians, or you weren't listening to your analysts." The BJP's 1996 election manifesto said it would "re-evaluate the country's nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons". Identical words were used in the 1998 manifesto. But two things had happened in between. P.V. Narasimha Rao had decided to hold the tests in December 1995, on the eve of the 1996 polls. Since the Americans came to know of it, he changed his mind. The Americans surely knew that in 1996 Vajpayee, though head of a government that did not command a majority in the Lok Sabha and had to quit in 13 days, gave "the signal to proceed with nuclear weapon tests". He was dissuaded by his own advisers from going ahead. The 1998 manifesto should have served as ample warning. But sticklers for grammar as the Americans are, "the vow to `induct' the bomb left open the possibility, at least as understood in Washington, that India might declare itself a nuclear weapons power without testing".

Strobe Talbott.-G.R.N. SOMASHEKAR

This was silly. The May 18, 1974 test and Narasimha Rao's aborted attempt were motivated by considerations of domestic politics as, indeed, were the 1998 tests. A sad comment on India's leadership - and on "specialists" who applauded the tests.

The author provides a definitive account of the talks that followed in a lively style interspersed with flashes of humour. "It is based on my personal notes, memorandums of conversation, and contemporaneous reports to colleagues, supplemented by the recollections of other participants. In reconstructing the record, I had the cooperation of the Department of State, which gave Andreas [his research assistant] access to official papers. According to long-standing practice, the department, in coordination with other agencies of the government, subjected the manuscript to a review intended to ensure that the contents would not compromise national security." Such transparency is unthinkable in India.

The U.S.' objectives were to secure India's adherence to the CTBT, negotiate a treaty ending production of fissile material, impose "world class" controls on exports that would help recipients acquire nuclear weapons and "to refrain from putting nuclear warheads on their (India's) missiles or bombers". Jaswant Singh said India was prepared to "find a modus vivendi with the U.S. and with the global nuclear order". He "asked that we be careful not to characterise our talks as a `negotiation' since that word implied retreat from `basic and immutable national positions'. Instead, we should conduct a `dialogue'." It was the same distinction that Nehru drew on August 14, 1962 apropos the boundary dispute with China between "talks" and "negotiations" - keep talking but do not settle. Our diplomacy is stagnant because our leaders and diplomats refuse to grow up.

"However, `we explained our diplomacy in public,' he [Jaswant] said, `people will demand of me, why are you even talking to the Americans about matters that are none of their business?'" Rightly. Why indeed? Vajpayee took the easy route, which he followed throughout his term - deceive the public and the press by using flowery and opaque language. In this Jaswant was a willing accomplice. The author does not find fault with his ridiculously stilted language but with the press.

"The journalists dutifully scribbled down the oracular utterances, never asking for clarification or amplification, and then reported them to their readers as though they provided insight into what was going on in the talks." Talbott sees nothing wrong in his phrases - "Calculus of human life involved," said this famous visitor to Kandahar in his defence; "the architecture of the dialogue that had been put in place earlier will be fully implemented". Pray, how do you implement "architecture"? The sayings of Jaswant Singh would make Irish Bulls seem prosaic. Sample one - all along the untrodden paths of the future lie the footprints of an unseen hand. Jaswant Singh is more than capable of uttering such profundities.

Talbott fell for him. "He publicly - and with bluntness that showed real political courage - deplored the RSS-backed and often RSS-instigated practice of tearing down mosques and burning churches. Identifying himself as a liberal democrat, he said, `I believe that this country cannot be constructed through demolitions.' This was said en passant in a wide-ranging press interview six years after the Babri Masjid was demolished. Talbott's claim that he "made these comments on several occasions" is a figment of his charitable imagination. Not once did Jaswant condemn the demolition of the mosque; not even when he commented specifically on the incident in an interview to The Economic Times of June 11, 1996: "We have accepted our responsibility directly" - the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh had resigned. But "it could not have been stopped. You cannot saddle either a party or a society or least of all a nation (sic.) with a permanent sense of guilt - An ancient country like one's cannot come to a standstill because one mistake is made." A fine example of "bluntness" and "political courage". But then Talbott knew little of India and less of his interlocutor when he embarked on his parleys in June 1998.

Eight years earlier, this "liberal democrat" uttered a bitter and palpably false lament in Mumbai. It was reported by The Times of India (August 1, 1990): "While claiming that the legacy of Nehru was essentially westernised, Mr. Singh regretted that never in the history of this country was everything so western accepted. `Somewhere the essence of India got eroded in the last 43 years. Gai (cow), Ganga and Gita have now become communal symbols,' he lamented." These assertions were palpably false.

The report added: "Earlier he said political stability had no nexus with development and consequently had no bearing on economic growth. The accent on development hitherto had been on science and technology, which was largely based on western systems." A very modern outlook indeed. He said that Nehru's legacy in the fields of foreign policy and economics must be discarded. "We have to be idol breakers." He did not mention secularism. His remarks implied that. More so in what he told Talbott and his wife Brooke to their dismay. Small wonder that Jaswant Singh did not condemn the Gujarat pogrom.

The BJP inherited a worldview from its parent, the Jan Sangh, which proclaimed on April 27, 1969: "India... is a potential super power." However there were in the country "elements which refuse even to accept the concept of one nationhood". That concept is fully articulated in recent documents. It is called Hindutva. As the talks proceeded Jaswant Singh bared its fangs.

He told Talbott in August 1998 that "a nuclear armed India was a natural ally of the United States in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, while a nuclear armed Pakistan was a threat to both countries." In January 1999 Talbott was told that India would sign the CTBT by the end of May. "If this were actually to happen, it would be a significant development, but it would still leave ratification of the treaty for the indefinite future. When I pointed this out, Jaswant assured me that under the Indian system, signature was tantamount to ratification, which he called `a mere formality'. This was false. Signing and ratification are two entirely different things as he himself admitted to C. Raja Mohan in November (The Hindu, Novemebr 29, 1999). They were, he explicitly said, "separate decisions".

Was Vajpayee in a position to sell to Parliament and to the country deals of the kind the U.S. had in mind or the ones that Jaswant offered in private? Not surprisingly they were "couched in the future conditional tense and riddled with escape clauses". Talbott might probe deeper into Vajpayee's style of diplomacy - initiate talks; keep them going; reserve all options; and postpone the hour of decision.

ON August 17, 1999 Brajesh Mishra, the National Security Adviser, published the Draft Nuclear Doctrine. It had been prepared by the Nuclear Doctrine Group of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). On September 20, Jaswant privately assured Talbott that "since the paper had no imprimature from the government, it should not be taken too seriously. It was not really even a doctrine - it was just a set of recommendations that Vajpayee would almost certainly not accept. The United States should not `dignify' it by overreacting. India could not possibly afford a strategic triad. Its nuclear arsenal would `reside in a passive deployment' - presumably meaning not on permanent alert. He had already assigned some of his own experts to examine the `discrepancies' between the National Security Advisory Board's report and statements that Vajpayee and his Ministers (Jaswant himself included) had made about India's commitment to minimum deterrence." A leading West European country's leaders were given the same month the same explanation. The country knew nothing of this.

Jaswant could not have earned respect either by his cravenness or his deviousness. Read this account of an incident that occurred in late 1999 and note the context too. "For India to sign the CTBT - and to do so at out behest - would help counter the worldwide impression that the treaty was dead and that the United States Senate had administered the coup de grace. (It had rejected the CTBT.) The next day, however, there was a sign that Jaswant was pushing a large boulder up a steep hill within his government. At the end of our final session, he and I went off into a corner and put our heads together for a few minutes on the exact wording of the terse statement that we would, as usual, give to the press. Meanwhile, his key lieutenants, Alok Prasad and Rakesh Sood, handed Rick Inderfurth and Bob Einhorn a document summarising concessions they wanted from the United States in exchange for CTBT signature. The list included an end to all remaining sanctions by the international financial institutions before India signed up to the CTBT. Alok and Rakesh also dusted off an old demand that India be given various rights and privileges available to signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even though India would remain a nonsignatory...

Jaswant Singh at a meeting of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.-INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP

"I had not had many occasions to let my temper show with Jaswant, but I did so on this one. I was going to tear up the Prasad-Sood paper, I said, and strongly urged he do the same. He seemed genuinely embarrassed, not so much by the substance of this last-minute ploy - which I assumed he had approved - as by the appearance that he and his team were trying to pull a fast one on us. He said on the spot I should regard the paper as a `dead letter' and promised to discipline his `otherwise excellent pandits'.

"Whether Jaswant did that or, more likely, told his aides, `Nice try!' the objectionable document disappeared and a better one took its place" (pages 184-185).

It reveals at once: 1. Talbott's perception that it was a "ploy" and one to which Jaswant Singh was privy. 2. Jaswant compounded this deviousness as perceived by Talbott, by disowning two highly respected officials who had acted rightly, acted on his instructions and done their duty. 3. Talbott felt free to "let my temper show with Jaswant" and secured results.

To Indians Jaswant presents the spectacle of His Eminence. To Americans he was craven and ingratiating - a dependable Uncle Tom.

By then Talbott had learnt a lot he did not know before; not that it registered much on him. Jaswant Singh told him in August 1998 that Pakistan was "an artificial construct, structured out of hate, a step-child of Uttar Pradesh" (In direct quotes). He proposed that the U.S. and India should be allies against Pakistan. Talbott reports: "There was a growing sense in Washington that Jaswant Singh's assigned role was to be the `smiling face' that the BJP was showing to the outer world, and that he was part of a campaign to divert attention from the party's hardliners who were pursuing a nationalistic even jingoistic and sectarian agenda, with all the ill that boded for religious conflict within India as well as more trouble with Pakistan."

NOW comes one of the two pieces de resistance. On November 20, 1998, Jaswant Singh dined with Talbott and his wife Brooke in Rome when he expatiated on his book Defending India. These extracts from Talbott's account reveal a lot: "One reason he had written the book, he said, was to make Hindutva, as the guiding idea of the BJP, more comprehensible and palatable to western readers" - an explanation missing in the book itself significantly. "As he saw it, Hinduism was not just the cultural bedrock of Indian civilisation and identity but a big hearted host to adherents of other religions as well... . This view of India's historic openness to the outside world clashed with recent headlines. Hindu militant attacks on Christians had increased in recent years, especially in Gujarat. Brooke, who had travelled in the State in the late 1960s, asked Jaswant how one should understand what was happening there and how it squared with his thesis.

"The press reports, he replied, were a gross distortion of the facts. Besides, these were village feuds that happened to break down along religious lines - they were not religiously based killings as such." Jaswant had little respect for his hosts' intelligence evidently.

The author remarks: "There was in what Brooke and I were hearing, either a denial of ugly facts, such as those she raised, or a resort to casuistry to blur their ugliness and call into question the accuracy of published reports. Insofar as the facts were indisputable Jaswant assigned responsibility elsewhere - anywhere but to India and Indians. To wit, it was the Raj that had undermined the pluralism inherent in Hindu civilisation; it was the Viceroy and the British government who were to blame for the bloodbaths of 1947-48."

Now read this: "I had heard others associated with the BJP revile Gandhi as a charlatan, an ambitious and angry man who fooled the world into thinking he was a paragon of serenity and love. Jaswant was far more subtle, but during our dinner in Rome and on other occasions, he did not disguise his impatience with the idea of Gandhi as the Mahatma. ... I also found troublesome the way Islam fit into Jaswant's worldview - or more, to the point, the way it seemed to be inherently at odds with his concept of Hindu civilisation. By implication, while Parsees, Christians and others qualified as welcome additions to the Indian melting pot, Muslims did not" (pages 133-134). A year later, Jaswant told his patient interlocutor: "No one has had as much experience with Islam (read Muslims) as India (read Hindus of Hindutva brigade). You must work with us more in waging our common struggle against those forces."

The other piece de resistance concerns Kashmir. On three occasions Jaswant Singh offered to settle the dispute on the basis of the LoC[Line of Control]. One was on July 9-10, 1998, at the Frankfurt Airport. "He mentioned that his government might consider converting the Line of Control, which was based on the 1949 ceasefire line between the Pakistani and Indian portions of the territory, into an international boundary" (page 94).

The other occasion was at the State Department in August 1998. "Yet again - as in Frankfurt and as in his first encounter with Madeleine Albright in Manila - Jaswant hinted that the one benchmark on which we might actually make some progress was the fifth: Indian-Pakistani relations, including Kashmir" (page 124). The Americans had prepared a package of eight Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). "Jaswant waved this offer aside, saying, `We're beyond that. No need to play that game. We'll talk about Kashmir and we can do all eight steps at once.' He then repeated what he had told me in June about the possibility of making the Line of Control an international border." Note that the offer was made on his own initiative. It must have been cleared with Vajpayee.

Talbott continues: "I did not fully appreciate the significance of this statement at the time, mostly because I was focussed on the lack of movement on the four non-proliferation benchmarks. What I did notice, however, was a point of contrast between this round and our first one, alone in my office three months earlier. On that occasion, he had not wanted to talk about Pakistan at all. This time it seemed to be the main thing he wanted to talk about."

The motive was obvious - enlist American support to pressure Pakistan to accept what it had rejected since 1948. Nehru offered the ceasefire line to Liaquat Ali Khan in London on October 27, 1948; to Ghulam Mohammed on February 27, 1955; at the Delhi Summit with Mohammed Ali Bogra on May 14, 1955; at a public meeting in New Delhi on April 13, 1956 and to Ayub Khan at Murree on September 21, 1960. It was rejected by Pakistan consistently.

To Talbott, however, the LoC is "the most obvious solution". One is reminded of Kissinger's admonition - do not ask Americans for advice; they will give it. Talbott's potted history in the first pages of the book records that "Indians backed away from holding the plebiscite because they did not want to give the Kashmiris a chance to vote themselves out of the Union." Plebiscite is dead, but popular alienation has deepened. It persists. Let alone Pakistan, Kashmiris angrily reject the LoC. Talbott is not the only American to advocate the idea. He has companions in intellectual sloth and in the arrogance of ignorance. The people of Kashmir do not matter. Realpolitik is all.

Advani told him that he had "looked forward to" Pakistan holding its tests. This was a lie. For on May 18, 1998, he said: "Islamabad should realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world and roll back its anti-India policy. Any other course will be futile." In plain words, with the tests on May 11 and 13, 1998, the India-Pakistan equation had changed fundamentally, reducing Pakistan to a state where it could not challenge India, let alone aspire to parity of status.

He spelt out the precise implication of India's new status as a nuclear weapons state. It had brought about "a qualitative new stage in Indo-Pak relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem". Note the tacit admission that "a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem" is yet to be found. What is plain as pikestaff is Advani's notion that the aura and power of the bomb would be used to settle Kashmir on India's terms. It had the opposite effect.

Both Advani and Vajpayee were taken aback when Pakistan held its tests on May 28 and 30. The last time the Security Council discussed Kashmir was in 1965 in the wake of the war. Its last resolution on the dispute was adopted on November 5, 1965. It was purely procedural. The last substantive Resolution (211) was passed on September 20, 1965. On June 6, 1998, the Security Council passed a resolution 1172 urging India and Pakistan to "address the root causes of those tensions including Kashmir". India's tests revived Kashmir at the U.N. Even the pro-Indian Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov was provoked to exclaim in Russian "Kashmir - kashmar" (Kashmir is a nightmare).

This is what the BJP's antics accomplished. There is everything to be said for quiet diplomacy. But secrecy is not synonymous with deception. It is not only unethical but counterproductive. Vajpayee's deception was no aberration. It was of the essence of his and the BJP regime's policies, at home and abroad.

The nation was told repeatedly that no mediation or even facilitation would be accepted on Kashmir. Jaswant Singh repeatedly offered partition of Kashmir, not to Pakistan, but to the U.S. He would criticise the U.S. for bracketing India with Pakistan. He hated the hyphen in `Indo-Pak relations'. But he talked about Pakistan all the time to Talbott, exposing the BJP's obsession with Pakistan and with the Muslims of India. Hence, Jaswant's reference to India's "experience" with "Islam".

Talbott records: "The session with Advani was unnerving. He mused aloud about the happy day when India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar (former Burma) would be reunited in a single South Asian `confederation'. Given India's advantages in size and strength, this construct, especially coming from India's highest ranking hardline Hindu nationalist, would have been truly frightening to all its neighbours, most of all Pakistan."

The truth is that the BJP was not content to persuade the U.S. to tilt towards India. It wanted it to ignore Pakistan and join India in boxing it into a corner and force it into submission. The U.S. refused not for moral reasons, but because Pakistan was useful. The course India prescribed was not in the U.S. national interest. But few are the Indian leaders who would accept the legitimacy of any national interest save our own.

There is another revelation in the book about pursuit of American mediation. In November 2003, Clinton visited New Delhi again in connection with an initiative to combat AIDS. "In a private meeting, Vajpayee cautiously raised the possibility of resuming talks with Musharraf. When Clinton told him about the call he had received from the Pakistani leader earlier in the year, Vajpayee asked him to get back in touch with Musharraf and convey a simple message: Vajpayee was determined, if possible, to remove once and for all the `burden' that the India-Pakistan dispute imposed on both countries; he was prepared to reopen a channel to Islamabad without advance commitments on either side, but only if he was confident he would not be embarrassed as he had been after Lahore." A ceasefire followed on the LoC two days after Clinton's visit.

This was on the eve of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls during which both Vajpayee and Advani made much of the dtente in relations with Pakistan. The nation was told that the dtente was a result of direct talks with Pakistan.

The Draft Nuclear Doctrine was published in August 1999. The very next month Jaswant ridiculed it to the Americans and to the Europeans. If it was unacceptable, the government should have said as much to the nation; to the NSAB and to Parliament. It took a characteristically devious route. The first public repudiation was made in Jaswant Singh's "interview" to C. Raja Mohan in The Hindu of November 29, 1999. He interviewed Talbott also for The Hindu (January 14, 2000).

Later in 2003 Raja Mohan wrote in his book Crossing the Rubicon: "Singh, in an interview at the end of 1999, hinted at the possibility of India signing the treaty (CTBT) while holding back on its ratification; he also distanced the government from some of the more expansive plans for the Indian nuclear weapons programme - the Draft Nuclear Doctrine that was issued by the National Security Advisory Board in August 1999" (pages 92-93). In a footnote Raja Mohan revealed candidly, almost boastfully: "The interviews of Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott with C. Raja Mohan were a carefully orchestrated effort by New Delhi and Washington to put public signals of an accommodation on the CTBT and the lifting of sanctions."

Talbott returns the compliment in his book: "In 1999 and 2000 Mohan played a role in the story told in Chapter 9 of this book." He adds: "The interview was the first in a pair that Jaswant and I gave to Raja Mohan in a coordinated effort to improve the climate for consideration of the CTBT in India." Whether it is appropriate for a correspondent to work with the government "in a carefully orchestrated effort" to project its viewpoint when it owes a duty to adopt the straightforward course of speaking to the nation publicly and directly is a matter on which comment is best reserved here. What are government officials for? (vide the author's review of Raja Mohan's book, Frontline, June 20, 2003). Jaswant Singh said that the Draft was "not a policy document of the government of India". He spelt out the policy. The "interview" was surprisingly free from the Jaswant lingo. It bore the impress of a technical specialist at work. There was no ridicule of the NSAB. That was reserved for foreign ears in private.

It must not be left unsaid. Jaswant Singh likes to project himself as a personificator of India's pride and dignity. In what must be a unique incident of its kind in diplomacy he was insulted by a notorious loudmouth and did not walk out in protest. It was at the Association of South East Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila shortly after the tests.

"In a private meeting with Jaswant in Manila, Madeleine Albright who was never one for pulling punches, decided to land one as soon as they sat down. `You lied to us,' she said, `and democracies don't do that with each other.' She was referring to the false sense of assurance Bill Richardson and Tom Pickering had gotten from George Fernandes and Krishnan Raghunath shortly before the test. Jaswant's head snapped back in surprise. He took a moment to compose himself and said there was a difference between secrecy and deceit. Recriminations would only make it harder for India and the United States to find common ground. Madeleine should support his desire to remove the nuclear issue from the Manila agenda."

It was a dishonest accusation. The two persons Richardson had sounded were the highly trusted Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath - in whom the government did not confide for the reasons Kennedy did not confide in Adlai Stevenson about the Bay of Pigs - and Defence Minister George Fernandes, whom it evidently did not trust. Regardless, the word lie is never used in Parliament, or in civil discourse, or in diplomacy.

Dr. Paul Schmidt, Hitler's renowned interpreter, records in his memoirs the British Ambassador Neville Henderson's final interview with Foreign Minister Ribbentrop on the eve of the war. "`I can tell you, Herr Henderson,' Ribbentrop remarked, `that the position is damned serious.' Henderson lost his temper and, lifting a forefinger in admonition, he shouted, `You have just said `damned'. That's no word for a statesman to use in so grave a situation.' Ribbentrop's breath was taken away. One of the `cowardly' diplomats, an ambassador, and an arrogant Englishman at that, had dared to reprimand him as he might a schoolboy" (Hitler's Interpreter; William Heinemann; page 152).

Jaswant Singh should ask himself why she felt herself free to insult him. Nor would he have taken this from an Afro-Asian diplomat. If he had any self-respect, he should have told her off in language convoluted enough to stump her, and walked out on this coarse person.

To what a pass did these men bring this country with stunts like the nuclear tests and Operation Parakram in foreign policy and Gujarat and the rest at home? They talked of bilateralism but accentuated U.S. presence in South Asia.

Talbott's comments are restrained. Americans use more picturesque language especially in private. "At lunch time that Saturday, as we were working our way through a buffet line in the main dining room in Laurel Lodge, Clinton vented his worries about the latest turn of events in South Asia. Once we had our plates, we went off into a corner to talk. He was still fuming at the Indians. By being the first to test, they had set exactly the wrong kind of example for the rest of the world, especially Pakistan. That was partly because, as Clinton put it, India was `The Rodney Dangerfield of great nations' - convinced that it was never getting enough respect". This was not exactly an expression of respect for India; still less for those who governed it then.

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