Cold Relatives

Accept it. All of us have them. Relatives you do not feel close to but yet have to keep up pretenses with. Meet them by chance in a family gathering and facile smiles and insincere greetings are exchanged—-both parties know how hollow the exchange is and yet both play along for the sake of congeniality.

I find Indo-US relations to be likewise. Dr Singh’s visit to US has been hailed as historic by the Indian press and almost totally ignored (with the exception of passing references in Washington Post and New York Times) by the American mainstream media (which falls over itself to cover a state visit by the Premier of China, any European head-of-state or by the Israeli Prime Minister). Unfortunately, like a meeting of two relatives who have had a stormy history, an Indo-US summit inevitably has a lot of fake bonhomie and a faux sense of significance which is pretty self-evident to everyone including the players in the charade.

Before proceeding further, let us first get morals and ethics out of the way. In foreign policy the only ethic is self-preservation and getting the best deal possible for oneself. However, we Indians have historically confused foreign policy with moral posturing.

We backed the wrong horse in the Cold War. That was not India’s fault—there were several compelling reasons why we just had to be on one side or the other. However, we pretended to be non-aligned and did a lot of sanctimonious table-thumping at international fora touting our neutrality—-despite the fact that everyone knew which side of the bed we lay on. And while pragmatic countries formed trading blocs and free-trade zones, we liked to pretend that we were helming alternative power blocks– NAM, CHOGM…..

We have consistently looked upon the Palestine problem as an ethical issue—a stance against imperialism. Bullshit. For all the support we have rendered to Palestine, all we ever got was a few bear hugs and kisses from Yasser Arafat. That’s it. Our staunch diplomatic support of our “fellow brothers against Western imperialism” gave us no brownie points when OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) passed resolution after resolution condemning India over Kashmir in no unclear terms—-our so-called friends then had no qualms about biting us on our bum.

Likewise we have consistently voted against US resolutions in the United Nations and frothed buckets against Western aggression on innocent countries. Which is fine. But, at the same time, we have expected US to embrace us and to not favour Pakistan—simply because we are a democracy.


We like to think that just because we are the largest democracy in the world, US is morally obligated to turn cartwheels for us and ,at the same time, treat Pakistan, the tinpot dictatorship but a steadfast (and cunningly backbiting) ally, as a political pariah. Yeah, fat chance.

So what has this meeting between the largest democracies thrown up? Unsurprisingly nothing. We as Indians would like to think that the US, by offering to sell us nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, has accepted us into the club of nuclear nations—–something which we are supposed to be proud of.

Mind you it is “sell”. What the US’s initiative does is that it opens the doors for American companies to sell nuclear knowhow to India legitimately… in essence what the US has tried to do is to open a market they have denied themselves for so long. Even here, there will be stiff opposition from Democrats (who we Indians mistakenly think are our friends—-they are not) and the Republicans who are in Pakistans’ pocket.

If any indication is needed of what our actual standing is— when it came to supporting India’s claims for a seat in the Security Council, it was no-go. All our appeals that “the world’s largest democracy demanded a voice” was gently brushed away with a firm nod of the head. And mind you, we had already dropped our demands for a veto—-which effectively meant that the membership was in any case going to be mostly symbolic. But even that did not get the US’s support—-according to them this was “not the time.”

But hold on, was not the permanent membership of the Security Council given only to “responsible nuclear states?” In which case, why does the US not support India considering that it has already given India nuclear respectability (or so we would like to believe)?

Because it has not.

Unfortunately, we Indians tend to see a lot of things in US-India relations when there is not much to perceive. We think, that just by answering a few customer service calls and writing lines of code, we can become a superpower and get “respect” from everyone. Things don’t work that way……..we have far too many systemic problems like poverty, public health, infrastructure that we need to address before we even begin to think of ourself as a superpower. Even if for argument’s sake, we became a permanent member of the toothless/spineless UN Security Council what would that accomplish? Nothing much—-just as US’s supposed acknowledgment of our nuclear status does nothing for us.

And come on, if the US had really made some important concession to us we all know Pakistan would have been in a blue funk by now. Remember that whatever the US does, it has to keep on mollycoddling their “frontline ally against terror” with real benefits and not the mere hot air which they traditionally reserve for us.

We, as Indians, might feel pissed that after the post-meeting press conference, Bush was asked nothing about his conversations with Singh (instead he was asked about the Supreme Court nominee and l’affair Karl Rove) —-but that kind of puts this entire meeting between the Heads of State in proper perspective.

And the clincher. Bush said he would visit India before his term was over but cannot give a specific time frame.

Isnt that what we tell our “cold” relatives when they ask us when we are going to visit them ?

11 thoughts on “Cold Relatives

  1. I dont think US is even a relative…Its more like two people meeting while morning walk and saying to each other “how are you doing?”
    Yes, agree with you that Indians have a tremendous appetite for illusion..Why many people still believe that the first aeroplane was invented in India (Pushpak) and that theory of relativity was well explained in the Vedas…I don’t know what we will do with a permamnent seat…
    But all the same its also hard for US to come to terms with how we Indians outsmarted them so many times- the 1971 war and the recent nuclear tests for instance…
    But Indian press has somehow got into a always India rocking mode post liberalization and any India related international news is blown out of proportion..

  2. To the US, India is like an aquaintance with a pickup truck. Someone you don’t really need right now, but might need in the future if you ever need to move. So you call up India once a month just to say howdy, and make sure India doesn’t forget your name.

  3. Well for starters, US has always had and would always will have the “mera kitna faida hua ya hoga” attitude.

    And the Indian media paints a “Eastman color” picture of our PM like the pied piper sweeping the Senate/Congress like mice in Hamlin.

    Liked your line “We think, that just by answering a few customer service calls and writing lines of code, we can become a superpower and get “respect” from everyone.”

    Bongo Shontan, chanced upon this xenophobic yet zestful blog which has lots of “Bangali” bashing in “dontknowwhattocallit” language.

    Aniruddha Dutta

  4. Foreign policy is all about “faida” though we like to pretend it is about principles. While the rest of the world keeps the “principles” for public consumption only, we Indians let the rhetoric guide our dealings with the world.

    That guy should first learn to spell “cooperative” (and a whole lot of other words), learn to construct sentences correctly and learn to make some sense before he can be argued against——-plus what this guy really wants is for us Bongs to go there and bait him…so the best thing is to launch Operation Ignore.

    Just a dog barking on the street……

  5. I think India is also very pragmatic when it comes to foreign policy and doesn’t let rhetoric come into picture… What else can explain our willingness to supply weapons to the Nepalese kings, India’s playing a major role in founding NAM while all the while being in the Soviet camp.. We are so proud of brandishing our largest democracy tag and all the same time we have excellent relationship with so many dictators… Why did we accept China’s writ over Tibet? And how come we are so good firends with Israel now?

  6. The reason why we stay mum on Tibet is because we are, to be honest, scared of China. All I said was that our notion of opposing imperialism made us support Palestine and look what it brought us. If now we are supplying arms to the Nepalese king (so that we dont have another Bangladesh on our hands) then it’s all good….its encouraging to see some pragmastism…

    Incidentally I never said we dont engage in double speak (NAM and Soviet block) but more often than not our decision to back someone is based on “moral” convictions.

  7. Hey Aniruddha ..thanx for the link. It’s a funny blog I have come across in a long time.. Looks like a FOS(Fresh off the Shakha)? Mr. Bong, don’t take personal umbrage on that guy…read some more of his..and you’ll realise he probably doesn’t even know the concept of a bait (much less throwing it).

    However given his convincing arguments, yrs truly — a true alphonso-mango-eating Marathi maanus– is tempted to jump over to his side :p

  8. Hmm., Nice policy thoughts… You guys should start writing for

  9. Hi Arnab..
    Nice thoughts from your side…

  10. Ah, foreign policy, that home of lost causes and broken dreams…
    I was teaching in a techie institute when Pokhran II happened. All hot for some serious debating, i asked the kids what they thought of it. Unanimous response: this will make the world (read US) respect India’s technology. I said, hang on a minute, the technology’s sixty years old. It’s not even very high tech: you could make a nuclear bomb (in theory at least) in your back yard. They only blinked for a second before asserting confidently that Pokhran II would help them get jobs in the West ‘and increase the respect given to Indians in Silicon Valley’ because ‘we are not to be toyed with'(!!!!!). Questions such as ‘How, exactly?’ were treated with irritated bafflement. Clearly something was obvious to them and utterly opaque to me.
    Could some kind techie please explain?

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