A US-INDIA WAR ON CORRUPTION?

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, November 12, 2010 – During the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidential term, “Billary” ( Bill and Hillary Clinton) has been his motto. More than 90% of his policies, and his staff – those not Republican -come from the ranks of those who supported Hillary Clinton and husband Bill in their personal attacks on the charismatic African-American who overshadowed them. Within his administration, he formidable trio of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke saw India as a troublesome country that ought to be told to behave (in other words, accept US diktat) before being given any concessions. Their condescension towards India was in contrast to the stand taken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who backed Indian independence even while Winston Churchill said that the “Hindoos were a beastly people” who do not deserve freedom.Of course, Churchill believed that Muslims too ought to remain British subjects for eternity. President Roosevelt (and his idealistic spouse Eleanor) disagreed, pointing out that the Atlantic Charter to which both the UK and the US was committed stood for freedom. Of course, Churchill’s reply was that only those of European origin deserved to be free. The rest should remain in the same way as several European peoples were under the occupation of Hitler-led Germany.

Although they pass themselves off as “liberals”, there is a subliminal prejudice beneath the “tolerant”l veneer of several of the East Coast intellectuals who form the bulk of the Clinton cohort. They are people who would like to freeze “primitive” societies into their present lifestyles, the way anthropologist Verrier Elwin got Jawaharlal Nehru to do to the North-east. Because of Nehru’s policies, the Northeast of India was denied development, so that “the people may continue in their pristine way”. Even today, the standard of roads and other infrastructure in that region is way below that of other parts of India. While George W Bush embraced multiculturalism – especially as it related to the vibrant Hispanic community – Bill Clinton sought to impose solutions on the rest of the world in partnership with Europe. To the Talbotts and the Holbrookes, the only way a country can be a “responsible stakeholder” is if it accepted the US-EU position on all major issues. Small wonder that many were sceptical of the faith of Manmohan Singh that President Obama would not come to India empty-handed, but would announce several major agreements in a Rooseveltian spirit.

On November 9, Barack Obama proved the PM right by moving decisively away from the Clinton straitjacket into a Rooseveltian view of India. He accepted India’s case for being made a permanent member of the UN Security Council, thus leaving only China as the sole Great Power that opposes Indian entry into this club. He removed India from a list that included North Korea and Iran, nd placed the country alongside Germany and Japan for purposes of technology transfer. Of course,Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke can be expected to do all they can to stall the implementation of these promises. Secretary Gates is a strong backer of Pakistan’s army, and has filled the South Asia bureaucracy within the Pentagon with people hostile to India and looking to Pakistan, while Secretary Locke looks to China rather than to India for partnership. However, it looks like their boss has finally freed himself of the Clinton succubus that had hobbled him since taking office in 2009.

Manmohan Singh took an immense gamble on the Obama visit. Had the US President’s three days in India not been as transformational was they were, the many knives inside the Congress Party for Manmohan Singh would have got sharper. There were murmurs of his “pro-Americanism” and his “softness”, including towards Pakistan. The fashionable homes of Delhi and Mumbai have seen gusts of rumours that Sonia Gandhi will ask the PM to step down before the middle of 2011,replacing him with a person closer to the Cold War mindset favoured by the Nehruvians. Now that he has established his legacy by crafting a healthy partnership between India and the US, will Manmohan Singh be able to deliver on the second legacy that he and his small bit dedicated team are seeking to achieve, that of tackling the governmental corruption which is corroding the vitals of the country? It is no secret that the Congress Party has become a vast collection machine, with bagfuls of cash being sent by chief ministers and other party functionaries to satisfy the greed of VVIPs.

Now that he has established a close relationship with Barack Obama, hopefully Prime Minister Singh will ask him for help in tracking the money flows out of India into international banking havens. Just as the US (and India) seek a stable Pakistan, so too is a stable India very much in the interest of the democratic world. However, unless corruption is tackled, the country will become ungovernable. Lacking the means to track illegal money flows on their own, Indian authorities need to formally team up with the US to track down the huge hoards accumulated by Indian politicians in Dubai, Singapore, Macau and London. Once Manmohan Singh has evidence against the powerful, he needs to act fast, because the Delhi circuits are buzzing with the activity of the many who stand to lose fortunes if Manmohan Singh succeeds in his war on corruption. Already, several meetings have taken place with the intention of creating a public firestorm that could engulf the PM and cause him to quit. Having gone this far, there i no turning back for Manmohan Singh. Either he cleanses the stables, or he himself is forced to go, in ugly circumstances.

In order to succeed, the PM will need to continue to the end of his term in 2014,which is why several within his own coalition are anxious to get him to resign. They would welcome as a replacement a leader – preferably with a clean image – would who lack the bureaucratic savvy and the team to take action against VVIP corruption. Already, the Commonwealth Games committee seems to be in danger of coming up with a damp squib once its three-month term gets over in January 2011. And as for the central “anti-corruption” agencies, these are the most corrupt within the government, with their key officers taking oral orders from the many fixers and dealers who populate the higher reaches of the Congress Party. Even though her own husband lost the elections (in 1991) because of allegations of corruption, Congress President Sonia Gandhi has done little to change the systems and procedures that breed graft, preferring instead to undertake such cosmetic gestures as removing a chief minister but keeping the rest of his moneymaking team intact. Will Rahul Gandhi go the way of his mother and father and accept a “Business as Usual” approach to politics? This columnist was invited by some young members of the junior Gandhi’s informal thinktank to give his views on how to get Kerala state moving again. He was struck by the dedication of the young followers of Rahul Gandhi, and by their willingness to listen to those who – to say the least – are not their political supporters. During Sonia Gandhi’s six years in power, she has kept out from any association with government and its functioning all except those who are her loyal acolytes. This is in contrast to the Vajpayee government, which made it a point to involve admirers of Sonia Gandhi (and those hostile to the BJP) in its activities. Should Rahul Gandhi abandon such biases and seek help from wherever he finds it, and should he distance himself from fixers and dealers (the way he seems to be doing),then he would be a very credible Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014,especially if Manmohan Singh can clean up at least some of the present mess.

A sample of the scale of corruption in India can be seen from the Telecom scam, which involves the gifting of 2G spectrum to a few influential players at a cost of $35 billion to the Indian taxpayer. Unless the PM takes back all the spectrum licenses issued by the Department of Telecom during the 2G auction process, and sends to jail the officials and politicians involved, he will prove his critics right when they call him a paper tiger. In today’s India, it is the middle class that is the single biggest electoral bloc, and this is a group that refuses to be divided by religion, caste or region. All – whether Hindu or Muslim – seek a better life for their families, and know that this is possible only of the system gets cleansed of the massive corruption that is choking it to death. Unless Manmohan Singh and his presumed successor Rahul Gandhi serves this class by ensuring a clean government that ensures double-digit growth, the Congress Party is likely to get defeated in 2014,especially if – as expected – the BJP fields Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate that year. After the hideous tragedy of the massacres of the innocent that followed the Godhra train burning in 2002, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has seen to it that not a single Muslim life has been lost since then in his fast-growing state. The result has been an increase in Muslim support for Modi, something essential if he is to be PM. The Muslims of India form a formidable bloc, and no politician can reach high office without ensuring the safety and honour of this great community.

An India-US partnership will be good for economic growth. If there is cooperation in tackling money flows, it can also be good for clean governance. Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh need to join in a new war, a War on Corruption.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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