Sunday, August 19, 2007

Left in the limelight..

Three columns in the Hindustan Times; each by Vir Sanghvi, Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai were written on the Left recently in the aftermath of the Left's positioning on the Nuclear Deal. All three start of, as pious recognition of the presence of probity in the Left leadership and end up questioning the position of the Left on the Nuclear Deal as well as questioning the very basis of existence of the Left. In the course of doing so, blatant falsehoods are peddled. Sample this from Vir Sanghvi: "The CPI didn't play a role in the freedom movement" (Hasn't Sanghvi ever heard of Meerut Conspiracy Case and the about the revolutionaries incarcarated in Kalapani?)and so on.

All the articles are blatantly flawed; not just for their argumentation; but also for their serial lack of objectivity as well as analytical rigour. It is a travesty and a recognition of the mediocrity that peddles television media today. And to say that these three ordinary analysts who have dominated mass media soundbyte in the country today are considered stellar journalists is a further indiction of the quality of the media that prevails in the country today. Why do I say so? Read on.

The Nuclear Deal with the United States cannot and must not be seen by divorcing it from the larger strategic relationship that has been drawn between the two states for the past 9 years. From the NSSP (Next steps in strategic protocol) moves in the NDA regime to the defence agreement signed by Pranab Mukherjee in 2005 with Washington, there has been a clear indication of how India wills on to bandwagon with the unipolar nation that is driving world political economy today. The reasoning offered is that it is in India's interest to do so. Divorced from this understanding is what exactly does India's interest entail? The interests of the middle classes who would stand to gain by this relationship to get immediate visas or the upper business classes who shall get their cut of the bargain when they sign up on lucrative partnership/ investment deals with their American counterparts; should only these interests be considered Indian national interest? How does one define national interest? This question is never asked in the media; the mass media in particular with it's dependence on short term memory and emphasis on formal and personality driven politics is incapable of asking that question.

It is in this regard that one should read the Nuclear Deal. While entering into a strategic partnership with the United States, care must be taken whether this would hamper India's geopolitical interests in the periphery of its environs. During the Cold War era, the balance of power game played between the United States and the USSR drew India toward the latter, even as the country tried to play even-handed and get benefits out of the relationship from both the superpowers.

After the end of the Cold War, there has been a significant turn toward hegemonization of world polity by the US establishment, particularly since the coming to power (in a dubious manner) by the George Bush regime. This neoconservative regime has tried to dominate world polity by focusing its efforts on the energy sector, seriously involving itself in the West Asian region, by launching a phoney war against Iraq and now tries to take that forward in Iran. Even the Horn of Africa wasn't spared.

The redefinition of the relationship with India has to be seen in this context. Ostensibly formal politics defines this relationship as between two democracies (although the content of the rather "formal democracies" is never argued upon). Never is it understood that in the system of international politics, relations are defined between nations as units of power, no matter whatever be the content of power internally in the different units be.

Clearly the United States wants India to be a bulwark against the rise of other powers in the Asian region (read China) and to prevent the multipolar formation of forces such as the Shanghai Co-operation Council (a tie up between Russia, China, Kazakhstan and other central asian powers). The dangling of the nuclear carrot is to be seen in this very particular context.

One only needs to trace the sequence of events since the then Petroleum Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar notified an energy partnership with Iran and Syria, which has the potential to transform relations between these various units in the Asian region and also had the oeuvre to bring in new markets to these nations. The entry of cheap gas into India was seen to be fruitful not just for reasons of diplomacy and statecraft but also to the aam aadmi, as steady supply of natural gas was bound to help depreciate the pressing necessity for energy consumption in the country. What immediately succeeded this incident was the announcement of a nuclear partnership by Condoleeza Rice, the secretary of state for external affairs of the US. What followed later was the removal of Mani Shankar Aiyar from power and the bringing in of Murli Deora, a person who has a track record of pro-Americanism and corporate cronyism. The pipeline deal since then has been left in the lurch, as many spanners to the works has been brought about by the government itself (witness the PM saying that it would be difficult to get an banking underwriting for the deal even before the deal was conceptualized!). The offering of an alternate pipeline through American cronies in Central Asia (Turkmenistan) also added fuel to the theory that the deal was being sabotaged by American influence.

When George Bush visited (during which time, these very reporters went gaga over his retinue of K-9 dogs, his attire and his body language), the nuclear deal was conceptualized and agreed upon, as a step forward in the Next Steps in Strategic protocol movement launched by the NDA regime. Lets consider the merits of the Nuclear Deal itself, something that has been threshed out a zillion times in the media, but quickly.

The deal promises India a steady supply of fuel (subject to certain conditions, which were debated endlessly from the point of view of nuclear scientists who saw this as a threat to India's unique indigenous three stage nuclear fuel generation process), setting a stimulus for the set up of ancillary businesses in India, while giving nuclear suppliers in the US (who have been stymied domestically because of the stall in nuclear generation) a fillip by giving them a captive market. From all estimates however, this deal would still materialize into a situation when only 8% of the energy generation in the country would come from the stable of nuclear energy in 2020.

Now opposition to this deal (which was consolidated during the 123 agreement, which went ahead to give India-specific commitments, overruling several prior objections to nuclear proliferation in third world countries, in the United States), was hinged on two legs. One leg was the ultra-nationalist one, which saw the deal as a cap on India's nuclear weaponisation programme (articulated by the BJP and its acolytes). The lesser version of the position was that articulated by the scientists, who still felt that the express commitments made were still harmful to the three stage indigenous process and the ability of India to be able to export that indigenous technology as well as reactors. The other leg, while sympathetic to the latter argument of the scientists, looked upon this deal in the angle of strategic partnership as well, seeing the deal as creating a situation where India acts as a junior partner of US imperialism in the South Asian region, thereby creating a dangerous situation where the current battleground against the US (which has been waged through the aegis of terrorism) would shift toward India full time (the theatre has already started playing itself out, witness the multiple terrorist acts in the nation, even by terrorist cells recruiting Indians themselves), as well as the further creation of hitches in India's already estranged neighbors. While countries in Europe, for e.g., had grown from nationalistic divisions after World War II, to form co-operative councils with stout economic relationships through the aegis of the European Union. Such a possibility has not been achieved in the South Asian region, because of the lingering antagonism between the various nations, India, China and Pakistan.

It is in this context that one should view the opposition of the Left toward the nuclear deal. Despite the pronouncements by Manmohan Singh that he would articulate a foreign policy that is considerate of a relationship with other powers as well as the United States, empirical evidence on the ground doesn't say so. The growing nexus with the United States has continued to under-cut relations with the multipolar world bringing a baggage of problems geo-politically, realistically and forcefully. The Left, which has always articulated an anti-imperialist zeal throughout its existence only continues to do so and hence rejects the deal. Its as simple to understand why when seen in this understanding. The Left is criticised by saying that the parties were dictated to by Moscow and were beholden to China. Easily forgotten is the fact that the largest and perhaps the only relevent constituent (the CPI(M)) wasn't recognized by the Chinese Communist Party as a fraternal Communist party till 1978 and which had split from the original CPI, primarily because of the differences in understanding of the nature of the Indian state and the bourgeosie, which were not shared by the right-CPI, ideologically closer to the Soviet party. That the CPI(M) was seen as an independent communist party, just like the Italian one is never mentioned. But I digress.

Let me get back to ranting now. Why do these superficial reporters (Dutt/Sanghvi/Sardesai) fail to understand this or atleast fail to report this? Is it because they lack the understanding of international politics? (Barkha Dutt called the details in the 123 Agreement as gobbledygook, thus disregarding any pretense of understanding things in detail). Is it because they want clearly to see national interest in the lines of what the urban middle class would want to interpret and love to hear? The latter seems to be the most plausible reason.

Why should the Left, whose traditional constituency is NOT the urban elite or the upper middle class, peddle its understanding to suit these very same sections? How are the ordinary Indian citizens who are also dependent on energy in great ways, going to benefit out of a deal which is only to get us 8% of the energy requirements at enormous cost in 2020? Why can't the very same investment made in renewable and environmentally secure sources of energy? Aren't these legitimate questions, which should be asked by a voice, that is not tarnished by the corruption that prevails in bourgeois political parties today in India?

It is but logical therefore that the Left, whose probity is lauded by these columnists, must represent the voice of the ordinary citizen, even if she/he doesn't understand the "gobbledygook" of the 123 agreement.

Taking this argument forward now, let us now understand how this translates into the political positioning of the Left vis-a-vis this government. The current UPA Government was formed as a coalition supported by the Left from the outside, on the basis that this will be a secular and humane alternative to the communal-driven and avowedly neoliberal NDA government that was defeated at the hustings. With 61 MPs, who were primarily elected after being victorious against Congress legislators, how can the Left be part of the government? That would be against the grain of probity that is subjectively installed in the Left consciousness. This is the precise reason for the formulation of the Common Minimum Programme, a catalog of policies that are not very different in content from the Congress party's, which won the most number of seats in the hustings.

So, everytime the Left stopped certain policies from culmination (FDI in Insurance/Retail; Disinvestment of well performing PSUs; pension reforms; others), all of them were in contradiction to the very DNA of what suggested the Left's social policy of increasing equitous development and creating self-reliance. Did the Left ever oppose FDI in manufacturing? No media person talks about that.

It was but sure that a confrontation between the neoliberal-led Congress government and the Left was bound to happen. The Left considers the Congress as a landlord-big bourgeois party which mouths social democracy while articulating the interests of its primary sections. No wonder, the Congress never did sincere land reform to eradicate rural oligarchies and consequently inequities that still plague the nation. Yet the bigger danger of communalism that has an innate fascist form (structurally different to the European version, but consequentially very similar: witness Gujarat) bound these very same antagonist forces. It was similar to the alliance between the Soviet Union and the Allied Powers against the German led axis powers in the World War.

Instead of harping upon the differences in the left-right-centre spectrum that constitutes every democracy, the superficial media sees this differences through the vacuous angle of "ego" and "personalities"; as if Manmohan Singh's reactions to the left's opposition were only driven by his "pious" personality rather than his neoliberal outlook. I see this trend as the biggest example of foreign direct investment from America, where the media plays a similar role in the manufacturing of consent (credit to Dr. Chomsky) and harps on the same meta-analysis in the television rooms without a substantive content.

I hope Sanghvi, Dutt and Sardesai realise their limitations and improve upon their substantive thinking. Anything less and these self-declared national experts are nothing but mediocre hacks who are lucky to get the spotlight that they get. I feel sorry for their viewers.


Varahasimhan said...

Good write-up.


Srini said...


Good write up sonna poraathu. I am sure you have picked up some holes in the argument.. Waiting to hear you.


Karan Vaswani said...

Hmmm... I don't think you should expect "objectivity" in opinion columns -- their positions are no more partisan than yours, after all. :) Lack of analytical rigor, on the other hand, is a more serious accusation -- but again, it is either unpardonably naive or willfully disingenuous to expect short opinion pieces to be like academic papers. :) That aside, thought I'd respond to a couple of your substantive points:
1. I totally agree with you that the N-deal should not be divorced from the larger issue of our developing strategic relationship with the U.S. -- Barkha Dutt herself pinpoints this as the real issue. Where the difference of opinion arises, as you rightly point out, is on whether such a strategic relationship is in India's geopolitical interests. Clearly, India's upper and middle classes, as you point out, believe it does -- and Barkha Dutt et al, who are writing in English, after all, can hardly be faulted for sharing that view -- they are not maunfacturing consent so much as sharing and reflecting a pre-existing middle-class consensus, and it would behoove you to acknowledge that. The real question is: How does rejecting America's strategic embrace improve our geopolitical influence in our neighborhood? :) China has offered no opposition, so we are not worsening our relations with them. Nepal, Sri Lanka and Mauritius don't care either. And we aren't exactly bosom buddies with Pakistan and Bangladesh anyway, are we? :)
2. Your second point has to do with the Iran pipeline. Let's be honest here, CPI-M party line notwithstanding: Will having a large part of our energy supply run through Iran and Pakistan really bolster our national security? :) Pakistan is highly unstable. The pipeline could be disrupted by anti-government saboteurs in Baluchistan and Sindh at any time. Even aside from that, giving Pakistan a chokehold on a vital natural gas supply is not exactly the wisest of strategic moves; all we have to do is look at the way the EU's dependence on Russian natural gas is limiting their room to maneuver on foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia. You yourself bring up power politics -- well, it makes a lot more sense to deal with Pakistan from a position of strength, not one of energy dependence. Peace will come from India achieving a position of unchallengeable regional hegemony -- as the U.S. did in the Americas over a century ago, and as China is gradually doing in East Asia. Giving Pakistan a means of easily disrupting our energy supply is not the way to achieve this. :) And I say this not as a matter of jingoistic anti-Pakistan sentiment, but "power politics" oriented realpolitik.
4. Investments ARE being made in renewable energy. I'm sure you've heard of Suzlon. :) And the Tatas are stepping up their solar energy partnership with BP, and their so-called "air car" investments. I don't think nuclear is the best source of energy either, and I think the real objection should be the biohazards posed by the adoption of this technology on a large scale, and the problem of waste disposal -- a problem that has led to the abandonment of nuclear energy in Britain. But, like I said, the real issue here is our strategic partnership with the U.S., and a reorienting of our traditional foreign policy, and that I totally support.

Karan Vaswani said...

One more thing: Don't assume, as you seem to, that power politics
are the only determinant of international relations. They are
important; but ideological affinities, cultural ties and other
considerations do also play a part in practice, whatever the
hard-headed votaries of realpolitik may say. :)

Oh, and as far as attracting terror attacks goes, let's remember that we've had problems because of the Kashmir issue for decades. Terror attacks come and go -- remember the Sikh separatists in the 80s? It would be very lame to make them a prime determinant of strategic policy. :) Hmmm, I'm pretty good as this commentary nonsense. :)

Ashok said...

Great rant against the superficial TV journalists... but how do u argue against The Hindu which has editorially endorsed the deal?

Srinivasan said...

Dear Karan,

The trouble with Barkha's/Rajdeep's/ and Vir's articles are that they engage themselves in formal politics, reducing content on issues such as the Nuclear Deal to mere clash of egos and personalities. Its a large indictment of the quality of the media today in our country.

As regards your points, here are some of my counter-ones:

a) The issue of strategic relationship with US: The problem with the strategic relationship with the US in the context of the Nuclear Deal is the fact that there is an deliberate attempt to undercut the improving relations with our neighbours. NSSP/Defence Agreement/Naval co-operation/Strategic defense exercises etc are pitting India with the US against the Shanghai Coop Council and endangering any progress to undercut the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan. No matter how much we can argue that a relationship with the US would be beneficial; it doenst' consider that the new trade routes through China and improvement of bilateral trade in the region has greater potential than reliance on overseas trade with the US. More than the nuclear deal thereofre, it is the content of the current UPA Dispensation's foreign policy that matters concern. By bandwagoning with the US, it reduces all opportunities for strategic independence.

b)Having a pipeline through Iran is useful for both us and Iran. How? Cheap Natural Gas, plain and simple. As for security, an extension of the pipeline to China would make this simple enough. Plus the money-back-guarantees, in case of a sabotage are reason enough for this line to be secure. Remember that the antagonism between France and Germany in the early 1950s was equally wrathful before the EEC was formed.

c) EPW has already made a case for alternate energies apart from the Nuclear Deal. What is being emphasized are other considerations that militate against making the nuclear deal a sine qua non.

d) Yeah. Precisely. There are considerations other than realism that must drive international relations. A whole school of social constructivism exists. The trouble is that we are now going in for a nuclear deal with a regime that has been responsible direclty for the loss of 6,60,000 lives in an occupied country (Iraq). That adds more fillip to the moral argument against the deal!.

e) Terrorism..Kashmir/Sikh separatism are localised problems accentuated by the problems of Indian federalism. These acts of terrorism were localised within the environs of that federal unit (Punjab and J&K).

The current terror attacks in Mumbai/ Ahmedabad/ Varanasi etc are fuelled not by regional separatism but something else; which stems from a hatred of imperial intent in the West Asian region (Political Islam, you might call it). The trouble is that Indian muslims are increasingly getting attracted to the same. These are not the types of attacks that come and go, but have other portents. I am sure you realise that.

Lastly, I would love to have people like you arguing in the HT about the deal rather than superficial "ego" and "personality" arguments that are being peddled today in the name of analysis!

Srinivasan said...

@ Ashok...

Indeed The Hindu has said that the 123 is a sound and honorable agreement. But there were also cautionary pieces by Siddarth Varadarajan about the strategic angle in the background of the deal.

EPW wrote an editorial too (in fact criticising the Left too):

Anand said...

In the larger context:

Does anyone know a recent poll of Indian citizens' (I don't mean a poll of 500) position on nuclear issues?

- About a nuclear bomb.
- About non-proliferation.
- About attitudes toward the US generally and specifically its adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- About attitudes toward China.

If these positions are not what we expect them to be, we should be working towards changing them.

Regarding China, how was the media coverage of the recent SCO in which India and Iran had observer status?

Karan Vaswani said...

Anand, as you can no doubt imagine, the vast majority of people in India have no conception of foreign policy and, frankly, no particular views on this issue -- so general opinion polls will not tell us very much. People in rural Chhattisgarh and Andhra simply do not care, one way or the other. The middle classes are the ones who do have a point of view -- and the consensus among them is clearly a pro-American one. On a different note: Almost all great powers are imperialist, whether through direct military intervention or other means; there's no point in decrying this. The Chinese, Russians, Japanese, etc have all had their own imperial projects in the past too. It's just that China and Russia are unable to match the U.S.'s power projection capabilities at present. So I wouldn't allow American imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan (which I oppose, but not with any particular moral fervor, let me hasten to add) to sway me against a close strategic relationship with the U.S.

Karan Vaswani said...

Srini, I finally found some time to re-engage you on this issue.
(a) I actually agree that in the longer term horizon, i.e. 15-20 years from now, our bilateral trade with other Asian countries will be far more important than with the U.S. Most of that trade, however, will also involve sealanes, not river or land routes. Ditto for our trade with Europe and the Middle East -- containerized shipping will remain far more efficient and economical than land routes for a long, long, long time to come. I for one would like U.S. naval presence to continue for the forseeable future, as would ASEAN, Japan, Korea, Australia -- just about everybody in the region, frankly, precisely to keep those vital sealanes secure. After all, even Asian exports to the U.S. usually use the Pacific routes.
(b) Cheap natural gas is all well and good. Money-back guarantees will not help us very much, however, in the case of actual disruption of supply -- especially as we have no way of enforcing those guarantees if they are not honored. I repeat: You haven't given me a convincing reason why we should allow our energy supplies to be hostage to Pakistani domestic developments. If the pipe was an undersea one it would be an entirely different situation, but that is not what has been proposed. Again, just look at how Russia has been blackmailing the EU on natural gas to see what could unfold -- piped natural gas in inherently much less flexible and much more vulnerable to disruption than, say, crude oil which can be conveyed on tankers, or coal, or, yes, nuclear energy. I think your example of Germany and France is inappropriate, because both were roughly equal powers. Europe as a whole is not susceptible to a regional hegemon precisely because no one nation-state in the region can tower economically, politically, demographically over the rest. A more apt comparison for our role in South Asia would be the U.S.' role in North and Central America, or China's (coming) dominance of East and Southeast Asia, or Russia's (erstwhile) hegemony in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Our goal should be to emerge as the regional hegemon -- seeing Pakistan and other SAARC countries not as France saw Germany (as an equal) but as the U.S. saw Mexico, Honduras and the like, or Russia saw Poland and Hungary. We can have peace and stability in the region, certainly, but only after we emerge as the undisputed regional hegemon. And the way to do this is clearly not to give Pakistan a chokehold on our energy supplies. :) You don't see Mexico or Honduras messing around with the U.S., after all, do you? :) :)
(d) Let's be honest. The Iraq adventure was a great folly. But it should not affect our strategic choices one bit -- anymore than Russia's actions in Georgia (do you know about Abkhazia and Ossetia?) and Chechnya, or China's in Tibet and Sudan. There are no angels in these matters.
(e) I agree that the complexion of terror attacks in India is changing somewhat. I would argue, however, that much of the animus behind the attacks has to do with Kashmir -- although we can't be sure of course, because in many cases no particular group has claimed responsibility. My point however is that our foreign policy should not be held hostage by fear of more such attacks, which i suspect will continue anyway. Nor should our strategic aims be subordinate to the sentiments of minority groups -- anymore than U.S. policies towards Africa are influenced by the sentiments of African-Americans. :) We should certainly engage China; there is currently a complex dance unfolding between Russia, China, Japan and the U.S., and it should be possible to forge strong strategic links with the U.S., Australia, Israel and Japan without alienating the Chinese and the Russians. Pakistan, on the other hand, should be engaged like James K. Polk engaged Mexico, or Teddy Roosevelt engaged Central America -- by speaking softly and carrying a big stick. :) Keep in mind that most of our neighbors to the East -- Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia -- already have stronger strategic ties with the U.S. than we do. For that matter, so do the Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, etc in the Middle East. None of these countries will complain about our getting closer to the U.S. Nor will China, given their complex relations with the U.S. at present. The only aggrieved party will be Pakistan.

Anand said...


Let me address your point:

Peace will come from India achieving a position of unchallengeable regional hegemony -- as the U.S. did in the Americas over a century ago...

I really have difficulty understanding this. You call the Cuban Missile crisis peace? Here's the event described by Theodore C. Sorenson, Special Counsel to President Kennedy:

...He could not afford to be hasty or hesitant reckless or afraid. The odds that the Soviets would go all the way to war, he later said, seemed to him then 'somewhere between one out of three and even'.

(Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian)

A chance of annihilation between one-third and one-half is not a pleasing prospect.

In fact, the world came very close to a terminal nuclear war during the Cuban Missile crisis. Noam Chomsky points out in his book "Hegemony or Survival", that American and Soviet actions led to a situation where a Soviet submarine almost did deliver a nuclear tipped torpedo. There were three Soviet generals and one of them countermanded the order. The world was literally one minute away from terminal nuclear war.

That's peace?

Karan Vaswani said...

Actually, to the best of my recollection, I didn't call the Cuban Missile Crisis peace. :) (So I assume that was a rhetorical question.) But I do consider it an outlier event. Remember that the threat in that case didn't come from the countries being hegemonized; it came from a rival superpower. (In fact, the missile bases in Cuba were a Soviet countermove to U.S. deployment of Jupiter missiles in Turkey.) U.S. hegemony in the Americas predates the Cuban Missile Crisis by over a century. As I recall, during the period from 1845 to 2007, the U.S., as a result of its overwhelming military and economic hegemony, has not been attacked by another New World country even once. That does not mean wars did not occur, but they were wars instigated by the U.S., not its weaker neighbors. :) They were won quickly and decisively by the U.S., and were usually fought (successfully) to force other Western Hemisphere countries to accede to U.S. wishes in economic matters (gunboat diplomacy), or to bring about regime change. The early wars with Mexico (1845) and Spain (1898) were fought to acquire territory: California, Nevada, Utah, parts of four other current U.S. states, the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico. In no case did U.S. hegemony increase the chances of the U.S. being the victim of an aggressive war; on the contrary, it made this impossible. Now, I don't know about you, but I would rather India be in a hegemonic position, than a non-hegemonic position. Because if there's one thing thousands of years of human history conclusively demonstrates, it's that there's always a hegemon out there. :) The real question is, do you want to be the dominator or the dominatee? :) Incidentally, I notice that the Buddha has come out in support of the n-deal. :) Good for him!