An embarrassing missive

Published : Dec 03, 2004 00:00 IST

The tone and content of the Indian Prime Minister's congratulatory letter to President Bush on his re-election undermines the country's long-held foreign policy positions.

in New Delhi

THE majority of Indians, like most others, would have preferred a new occupant in the White House. There are indications that those in the corridors of power in New Delhi would also have preferred the same outcome. The fact that the Indian government deferred a decision on raising the oil prices until after the election results were out in the United States is an indicator of New Delhi's thinking. The George W. Bush administration has been on a buying spree in the international oil market, contributing to the abnormal rise in global oil prices. The administration does not want to dip into the U.S.' own strategic oil reserves. This move has led countries such as China to follow suit. Oil prices have reached unprecedented levels, causing untold hardships to developing countries.

However, as soon as the Bush victory was announced, Prime Minster Manmohan Singh sent a letter expressing support to the Bush administration. The tone of the letter to President Bush seems to have embarrassed many even in the Congress party. It is not known whether External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh was consulted on the draft of the letter. The Prime Minster in his letter stressed the "overriding priority" of both countries to make the future more secure. He went on to assure Bush that India as a partner "against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction proliferation, will stand by the United States in strengthening international peace and stability".

The letter went on to say that India and the U.S. shared the "major goal" of fighting religious extremism and terrorism. "We are confident that India and the United States are on the same side in this effort," it stated. The letter also expressed the hope that the two countries would "embark on a larger and more ambitious agenda for broader strategic cooperation". It identified the fields of high technology, commerce and defence for this purpose.

VERY few governments in the world, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies of the U.S., have congratulated Bush in the language used by the world's largest democracy and an aspiring United Nations Security Council member. Prominent Americans have accused Bush of taking recourse to religious extremism and jingoism to win the election. The Prime Minster's missive has been sent when the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq are getting ready to flatten Falluja along with the inhabitants of the city. The previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government used to offer help to the Bush administration regularly in its so-called fight against "jehadi" terrorism. Diplomatic observers see the hand of National Security Adviser J.N. Dixit in the drafting of Manmohan Singh's letter. "He is emerging as a Brajesh Mishra," said a diplomatic observer, the reference being to the National Security Adviser during A. B. Vajpayee's tenure. Observers in New Delhi feel that the letter's intent is to "position India" as an emerging big power with American blessings.

The plan to train Iraqi election officials in India is one such effort in this direction. Diplomats in New Delhi point out that such a move will be a tacit recognition of the "interim" government in Iraq, which is being propped up by the U.S. occupation forces. Such a move will also send the wrong signals to Arab and Islamic states. New Delhi's attempt to jump on Bush's democracy bandwagon for West Asia will not be appreciated in many parts of the world. "Democracy, American style, is not acceptable to the Arab people. Besides the American brand of diplomacy today symbolises Judeo-Christian values and has to be seen in the context of the clash of civilisations being propagated by the West," said a diplomat. He said that the emerging pro-U.S. tilt of the government was evident from its recent actions.

The desire for closer strategic ties with Washington was reiterated in a speech Manmohan Singh made at a function organised by a leading newspaper chain in the second week of November. There is also suspicion that the well planned leak of the forthcoming round of political consultations with Israel and the news that New Delhi proposes to sign a new arms deal with that country were signals to Washington. New Delhi is hoping that the Bush administration will not pressure it on nuclear issues. It is grateful to the Bush administration for the scuttling of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in his first term in office. There are indications that the Bush administration may be willing to accord, under certain conditions, de facto recognition of India as a nuclear power along with Pakistan and Israel. The BJP-led government had welcomed the controversial National Missile Defence programme of the Bush administration. The National Democratic Alliance government had also pledged to fight global terrorism in alliance with the U.S.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), in a statement issued in the first week of November, was critical of the letter written by the Prime Minster. The party suggested that it would be prudent on the part of the Prime Minister's advisers to stick to the foreign policy formulations contained in the Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance. The party pointed out that President Bush's first term in office was marked by aggressive and unilateral acts, including the waging of war against the sovereign state of Iraq and occupying it. Furthermore, the statement emphasised, the Bush administration had been using the issue of "terrorism" as a pretext to occupy Iraq. Bush has been promising regime change through the use of force against many countries. He has recently threatened to overthrow the government in Cuba.

Leaders of Left parties have said that the Bush administration has shown that it has nothing but contempt for the United Nations and international laws. The CPI(M) statement emphasised that relations between India and the U.S. should be on the basis of equality and mutual interest. "The fight against terrorism, which is of direct relevance to our country, cannot be a tool for the hegemonistic ambitions of the U.S.," the statement said.

INDICATIONS are that Bush, in his second innings, will be even more accommodative towards Pakistan. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had unabashedly put all his eggs in the Bush basket. Top officials in the Bush administration have come out openly in support of Musharraf's new proposals on de-militarising Kashmir and related issues. The Indian government had initially given short shrift to the proposals. However, in the second week of November, Manmohan Singh made the surprise announcement about a reduction of the Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir, a long-standing demand of the separatist forces and Islamabad. The move has come in for praise from Islamabad and the international community. There is a school of thought that argues that Musharraf will now cash his "IOUs" with the Bush administration. In the days to come there could be considerable pressure from the U.S. on India to make more concessions to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

Manmohan Singh told the media during a visit to The Hague in the second week of November that the Left parties had to recognise "international realities".

During his trip to attend the European Union-India summit, the Prime Minister was careful not to criticise the Bush administration. While other world leaders such as French President Jacques Chirac were calling for a multi-polar world in their formal letters of congratulations to Bush, the Indian Prime Minster was busy stressing the existing reality of the U.S. being the sole remaining superpower.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment