India & U.S.

The secret accord

Print edition : July 22, 2016

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter at a joint press conference at South Block in New Delhi on April 12, the day they sealed an understanding on three agreements, including the LEMOA. Photo: PTI

During India's joint military exercise, called Malabar, with the United States and Japan, off Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa, on June 15. Photo: BOBUHIRO KUBO/REUTERS

What are the terms of the deal that Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded with President Barack Obama and what do they mean for the country? Modi should explain.

THE government of India owes a clear duty to the nation to publish the secret agreement it concluded with the United States, along with other agreements, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., on June 7. The published agreements were long in the making. Earlier, U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter settled an understanding with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on three “foundation agreements” in New Delhi on April 12. One of them was to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) “in the coming months”.

The very next day, on April 13, The Hindu published a news report from New Delhi and Washington which pointedly asked: “Is there a behind-the-door deal that we don’t know about? The current deal seems pretty one-sided and the Narendra Modi government wouldn’t have taken it if they didn’t see the worth. It begs the question if there is a behind-the-door deal. If yes, what is it? Is it worth it? And more importantly, when a new U.S. government is elected to power in November will it still uphold it?” The fears proved to be well founded. The Hindu’s Special Correspondent reported from Washington, D.C., after the Modi-Obama summit on the basis of an authoritative briefing: “According to a senior Obama administration official, a significant achievement of Mr Modi’s visit is the finalisation of a document on the shared strategy of both countries in Asia-Pacific. The official said this document— kept confidentialoutlines a joint strategy to deal with specific situations that could emerge in the Asia-Pacific region in the future” ( The Hindu; June 9, 2016).

Why the paeans of praise

This is nothing but a treaty of alliance in which the important clause on the casus foederis is spelt out. “ Casus foederis is an act or event that involves the clauses of a treaty of alliance” (Chas. W. Freeman Jr; The Diplomat’s Dictionary, U.S. Institute of Press, 2006; page 40). The correspondent had company in Washington, D.C. Chidananad Rajghata’s report from there confirmed The Hindu’s report completely on all the details. “The mysterious road map: Aside from designating India as a major military partner, U.S. officials also said Obama and Modi had ‘completed a road map’ describing ‘what we will be doing together to achieve that leader’s vision’. They mysteriously insisted that the road map would not be disseminated but indicated broadly that it advanced the ‘joint strategic vision’ of the two countries in Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean into specific actions” ( The Times of India; June 10, 2016; emphasis added, throughout). Note that what the “senior Obama administration official” said was reported in direct quotes.

This explains the paeans of praise for Modi and the various characterisations of the secret deal. Without it, the leaders’ joint statement and press briefing amount to nothing. The secret deal is aimed at China. What “an administration official” told the Press Trust of India (PTI) a day earlier makes that abundantly clear. The Times of India reported on June 8: “There were clear indications on Tuesday [June 7] that Washington and New Delhi won’t allow China’s unbridled domination in Asia-Pacific; there has to be a place for all. Ahead of the meeting, the Obama administration made it known that the U.S. is ‘committed’ to help India build its defence capabilities until it can be the ‘net provider of security’ in Asia, regardless of whether or not there is a formal U.S.-India alliance. ‘There is a recognition that as India grows and develops, the capacity to protect its interests, not just in the immediate region but broadly throughout Asia-Pacific, particularly in the Indian Ocean region, it is in the U.S. interest to build India that capacity until it can truly be the net provider of security,’ an administration official told PTI ahead of the Modi-Obama talks.”

Seven points deserve note. First, the U.S. official felt emboldened by the progress already achieved to say what he did ahead of the talks and he did so in direct quotes. Secondly, the secret accord was in lieu of a formal treaty of alliance which requires, under the U.S. Constitution, ratification by the Senate; but it in effect amounts to a treaty, bypassing the Senate. Thirdly, the accord does not enjoy domestic support in its jettisoning of non-alignment. Fourthly, it is concluded with a lame-duck administration. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump might take a different view. Fifthly, it does not reckon with the reality that the U.S. views India as its footman in its own fight with China. Sixthly, if “it is in the U.S. interest to build India”, will it allow India to diverge from the U.S. line at any given point? Seventhly, where does it leave India in its relations with its immediate neighbour China and what impact will it have on the talks on the boundary dispute? Lastly, will the U.S. be satisfied with this, or seek a yet tighter embrace?

Only the secret deal explains the applause from the U.S. side. If Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal hails it because it “overcomes the hesitations of history”, it is because it rejects India’s historic commitment to non-alignment by which Atal Bihari Vajpayee swore as Minister for External Affairs (1977-79) and as Prime Minister (1998-2004). Anja Manuel, who worked in the State Department and was involved in the talks on the civil nuclear deal with India, told Mandira Nayar: “Now, when I talk to Indian officials they see China similar to how we in the U.S. see it. So, the new alignment between India and the U.S. is because both are looking over their shoulders at Beijing. This is a positive development, but we must ensure that we are clear and consistent with Beijing about where the lines are” ( The Week; June 19, 2016).

Another patronising pat on India’s back as “a great ally”. This is from Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives. What had Modi done to earn such unprecedented, extravagant praise? One voice is ominous. It suggests that the U.S. will, like Oliver Twist, “ask for more”. John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN: “India must begin acting like a close partner and ally. Despite the growing closeness, it is no secret that frustration continues to exist in many areas, both defence and non-defence.” He added that the U.S. expected a lot from its partners and allies, including joint patrolling, significant contributions to armed conflicts, and a strict adherence to human rights, among other things” ( The Times of India; June 9, 2016).

Contributions to armed conflicts?

Does this spell India’s “contributions to armed conflicts” initiated in the past and the ones to be initiated by the U.S. in future? Remember, Vajpayee as Prime Minister flatly refused to send Indian troops to Iraq in 2003. The Lok Sabha passed a resolution in his support. He told the Communist Party of India (CPI) leader A.B. Bardhan, “Comrade , zor zor se bolo” (Comrade proclaim your opposition louder and louder). But there was a school of hawks, comprising defence “experts” and retired diplomats, who mindlessly supported dispatch of Indian troops as a projection of India’s power to jump onto the American bandwagon. India’s name would have been mud in Iraq had they prevailed. Meanwhile, India is participating in a joint naval exercise with the U.S. and Japan close to islands contested by China. India’s Navy said, on June 10, that “the primary aim of this exercise is to increase interoperability among the three navies and develop common understanding of procedures for maritime security operations”.

Reuters’ understanding of India’s move will be widely shared. “For India, the gathering is a chance to put on a show of force close to China’s eastern seaboard and signal its displeasure at increased Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean” ( Hindustan Times; June 16, 2016)—as if India could not have increased its own naval activity in the Indian Ocean.

The deception in LEMOA

Talking of which brings out the deception in the deal on the LEMOA. The reciprocity it provides is spurious. The U.S. will have free access to the bases on Indian soil. To which U.S. base can India possibly have access except the one on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, whose removal India agitated against for long? Demilitarisation of the ocean was the issue. There is another aspect. The natives were expelled and relocated. India, which consistently spoke up against colonialism, will now become an accomplice to a leading colonial power.

The allies’ interests do not coincide; on several areas they diverge. One is reminded of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance of 1954, which was ostensibly directed against the Soviet Union. The U.S. is pursuing a two-pronged policy towards China—containment and dialogue. When it suits its interests, it will jilt the Indian ally, as it did to Japan after the 1972 rapprochement with China.

Modi has a duty to explain to the President and to the nation when Parliament meets for the monsoon session. When did he hold a press conference in the two years since he became Prime Minister? He has a lot to account for on his domestic and foreign policies.

NAM, a capacity to judge freely

The sordid deal with the U.S. should prompt questions of a fundamental nature on India’s foreign policy. A country’s foreign policy is shaped by its image of the world and its image of itself in such a world. Nehru’s policy was nationalistic to a fault. It comprised four elements—independence of manoeuvre; patronage over the neighbours, bar China; leadership in Asia; and a voice in world affairs. He was no romanticist or idealist. He was governed entirely by the national interest.

On assuming office as Vice President of the Interim Government and member in charge of External Affairs in 1946, Nehru laid down at a historic press conference, on September 27, his foreign policy in these terms: “India will follow an independent policy keeping away from the power politics of groups aligned one against another.” He reiterated this in the first foreign affairs debate in the Constituent Assembly on December 4, 1947, adding, however, that if war came and a choice had to be made, “we are going to join the side which is to our interest”.

A government functioned for the good of the country, he said, and the ultimate aim of foreign policy was to find out what was most advantageous to one’s own country: “We propose to look after India’s interest in the context of world cooperation and world peace insofar as world peace can be preserved.”

Several features of these pronouncements strike one immediately on reading them today. The humility of tone and the unambitious approach are clear. He did not propound this policy as a dogma for the entire Afro-Asian world to follow, as he was to later, but simply as one that suited India best. Most conspicuous was the accent on the country’s self-interest, as distinct from any ideology, and on independence to pursue that interest as India deemed fit. These factors are very relevant today, and a non-alignment that is inspired by such an approach still has its validity notwithstanding the changed circumstances.

At a press conference on November 12, 1948, Nehru began with a disclaimer and ended with an assertion. “I rather deprecate talking about India’s leadership in Asia or anywhere. I do not like this business of leadership, but the fact is, whether it is leadership or not, various matters like the geographical position of India, the resources of India, the bigness of India, the potential of India, etc. etc. make India by far the easiest meeting ground of all the East, South, West Asian countries. In a matter connected with the economy, South, West or East Asia is keeping some kind of defence and thus India becomes a pivot of it; it is so situated.” On December 2, 1948, he told Congress president Pattabhi Sitaramayya: “Inevitably India is becoming the focal point of many activities in Asia.” In this he failed. But the patronising attitude towards smaller neighbours persists to this day.

Non-alignment meant no more or no less than a capacity to be able to judge freely. To Nehru’s four elements, time added two more—pride in economic revival and military power. A sixth was added by domestic politics—the Hindutva hue, in which Modi revels.

Nehru had no illusions about the Soviet Union or China. He refused to enter into an alliance with the U.S. as time rolled by because he knew he would earn the hostility of the Soviet Union and China, particularly the latter. He kept his views to himself and confided only in his officials, as the record shows. China is the next-door neighbour. The U.S. is far away, though militarily far superior. Economically, it is China that is on the rise.

The China factor

But even as Chief Minister of Gujarat and before he became Prime Minister in May 2014, Narendra Modi gave the country the benefit of his enormous expertise in foreign affairs, hitherto kept secret, when he declared, on February 22, 2014: “China should stop its expansion policy.” He also recalled the 1962 war. The oration was delivered at Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh ( The Times of India; February 23, 2014). Whatever be China’s stance in South East Asia, it has followed a friendly policy towards India to the point that it has retreated from its former support to Pakistan on the U.N. resolutions on Kashmir to support for the Shimla process. There are areas where it cannot yield—the boundary west of the Karakoram Pass. It had declared its refusal to discuss this with India as far back as in April 1960. Nor can one expect it to cancel its boundary agreement with Pakistan of March 2, 1963. It rests squarely on the British Note to China dated March 18, 1899, as varied by Curzon in India’s favour in 1905. Pakistan did not cede but acquired 750 square miles of administered territory, a fact acknowledged by every foreign scholar.

In 1959-60, China very much preferred non-aligned India to the U.S. ally Pakistan. China’s Ambassador to India, Pan Tsu-Li, warned India, on May 18, 1959, that neither country could afford contests on two fronts—China with India and the U.S.; and India with Pakistan and China. He was scolded.

On July 1, 1954, Nehru unilaterally decided that old official maps, which showed the boundary from the trijunction of Afghanistan-India-China to the trijunction of India-China-Nepal as “undefined”, should be replaced by ones that showed a clear line which was not to be negotiated. It is this map that is the basis for laws that would imprison any who question it. Rebuffed in April 1960, China accepted Pakistan’s proposal for boundary talks after ignoring it for a year. This is where the “romanticist” and “idealist” Nehru brought us.

1959 repeats itself

We are now, in 2016, precisely at the crossroads we faced in 1959 when we took the wrong road. India under Modi seems bent on traversing that road with the U.S.’ encouragement; avowedly to keep China at bay. A dangerous move in response to an imaginary, or at least exaggerated, menace. India is strong enough militarily to ward off a Chinese attack —of which there is no danger. China is content with what it has. Indian diplomacy is too inept to prise open the deadlock which it is in its interests to resolve.

The urge for an alliance with the U.S. is inexplicable in terms of the national interest. It is explicable only in terms of the same ideological factor that led Modi to call China expansionist.

It has roots as old as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ancestor, the Jana Sangh. Its biographer Craig Baxter recorded: “In 1965, the Jana Sangh continued to hold that the ‘oldest and largest’ democracies in the world must pull together. [Balraj] Madhok in his Jullundur presidential address again expressed this view: ‘mutual interests of India and U.S.A., apart from their common attachment to the democratic way of life, point to closer relations between them in the days to come’. In the early days of the party, none of the top leadership had visited the United States, but this was changed when Vajpayee was given a Leader Grant under the Education Exchange programme to observe the 1960 American presidential elections. [K.R.] Malkani visited the United States as a Niemen Fellow at Harvard University and, after the 1962 Indian general elections both [Deen Dayal] Upadhyaya and Madhok toured the United States privately. …

“A Jana Sangh supporter who is an alumnus of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and a close associate of Madhok, Ram Swarup Sabharwal, acts in New Delhi both as a publicist for Israel and as a resident agent of the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League. At functions arranged by Sabharwal, in either of his two capacities, the gathering invariably includes a number of Jana Sanghis and RSS members. A number of Jana Sanghis have visited Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, and South Vietnam as have several members of the Swatantra Party, PSP [Praja Socialist Party], and, more recently, a few Congressmen. Sabharwal often arranges the financing for these trips. The Jana Sangh is the only party in India, with the exception of some Swatantra leaders, which gives a measure of support to the American actions in Vietnam. Its stand on Israel is to some extent a reaction against the Muslim neighbours and enemies of Israel and probably not insignificantly due to Sabharwal’s publicity. On the other hand the party looks askance at Pakistan’s allies in CENTO [The Central Treaty Organisation] and Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), Turkey and Iran. The question of overseas Indians pervades the Jana Sangh view toward both Burma and Ceylon. Toward Nepal the Jana Sangh takes a step-fatherly stance which is not much appreciated by the Nepalese. Seeing Afghanistan as a potential enemy of Pakistan, the party gives lip service to a separate Pukhtoonistan, but cannot forget that the Khyber, if not the Hindu Kush, was once the boundary of the Hindu empire.”

The RSS organ Organiser had an article entitled “Thumbs up for Trump” (June 12, 2016). It said: “Social media trends have been suggesting that the third largest ethnic group in the U.S., of Bharatiyas, is generally in favour of Trump. Till the last election in 2012, almost 65 per cent of the Bharatiyas in the U.S. were voters for the Democrats, according to a study. In contrast, a shift this time is quite discernible. Such political support by the Bharatiyas for the Grand Old Party (GOP) is being seen for the first time in the U.S. electoral history.

“Significantly, Trump supporters are mostly Hindus and many of them have been quite vocal on the social media. One such page on Facebook is ‘Hindus for Trump’. Its description says: ‘American Hindus are model citizens, educated and industrious. They want a responsible nation where Americans are both safe and free.’” Trump is shown as Lord Vishnu, sitting on what looks like a lotus with “Om” inscribed at its centre.

“Another major development is the formation of a Political Action Committee (PAC), formed by some leading Bharatiya-Americans to raise financial and electoral support for Trump, called ‘Indian-Americans For Trump 2016,’ the first of its kind. It was registered as a PAC on 21 January 2016 with the Federal Election Commission. It said in a statement, ‘The officers of the Indian-Americans for Trump 2016 urge all Americans to join in the effort and support Donald Trump in his endeavour to make America great again by electing him the next President of the USA.’

“By and large, the Bharatiyas have welcomed Trump’s policies on illegal immigration and economy besides his firm stand against Islamic terrorism.”

This reflects the BJP’s self-perception and its world view. But to get a correct view of the U.S. with which Modi has dragged India into a secret alliance read Simon Jenkins’ book A Mission Accomplished?



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