It was 2005 and we were on board Air India One heading to Washington DC as part of the media delegation accompanying Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh when he signed the historic Indo-US Nuclear Accord. It was also the time that Shahrukh Khan's song "Ab phirta hun mein London Paris New York L.A. San Francisco, Dil mein mere hai Dard-E-disco" had hit the charts. Nikhil Lakshman, Editor of Rediff.com and I drew parallels between the Khan in that song and Dr. Singh-the restlessness of the two, wanting to push ahead with reforms, travel the world and sell the India story.
The lyrics of the song went "Lamha lamha armanon ki farmaish thii, lamha lamha jurrat ki aazmaish thii". And it certainly was a certain kind of 'jurrat' (daring) that Dr. Singh did, when he boldly got the US to sign a nuclear accord with us even though we were not a signatory to the NPT. Every 'lamha' (moment) of the way, he fought with his own allies (Left parties) and his detractors to push the envelope for India.
That was seven years ago. Coincidentally, Nikhil and I were together again in the PM's media delegation, this time reporting from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran. By now the Prime Minister looks tired, badgered by the opposition in the Parliament, sitting amidst rulers of countries like North Korea, Venezuela, Belarus, Cuba, Zimbabwe and of course, the host Iran. He looked out of place on that podium. Yes, India was one of the founding members of NAM and benefited from the movement's relevance in the past. But today India sits at the high table of the G-20 and aspires to be permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Sitting in the media centre in Tehran, I felt distinctly uncomfortable clad in a hijab, and surrounded largely by male reporters from countries that we can't identify ourselves with. The summit began with a loud Islamic prayer that seemed unending. The volume had been deliberately turned on extra loud in the media hall till it was booming and resonating from the walls. This wasn't meant to be just a prayer, it was again another message in the propaganda war against Islamophobia. Then there was the bizarre speech by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayotallah Khameini. It was a rant against the US, against Israel, against the Western world, and its media. The Ayotallah painted a frightening picture of creating a new global order where India would be a part of this politically volatile, chronically war-prone group of illiberal countries.
No thank you, dear Ayatollah, you may have given a pride of place to our Prime Minister by seating him up there on the podium but India has to really think hard about partnering with other NAM member-countries. Trade, yes. Partnering...err... Let's talk, shall we?
Post Cold War, the NAM grouping could have become the voice of the poor and underdeveloped countries. Although G-77 exists with that economic mandate for developing nations, NAM with its higher profile and historical status should have appropriated that role. Had that been the case, India could have been an exemplar in NAM for these countries in the last decade. It could have taken the lead in showing these countries the way to achieve a healthy growth rate by ushering in economic reforms. But somewhere down the line, the India story has also now gone awry, our confidence in our own abilities undermined and the world looks at us with doubt mixed with incredulity. Where did we come from and where are we going?
Most of the NAM member-countries are mired in difficulties, dependent on the richer Western nations or multilateral institutions for bailouts and have no answers to their economic and political problems. Yet there were hardly any positive outcomes at the summit - what we had instead were rants. NAM was mandated to improve the quality of lives of its people, guarantee human rights, democracy and free speech. Instead we have despots, dictators, autocrats and leaders of Banana republics rubbing shoulders with each other, talking of providing a new management for global order.
And guess who wants to take the lead in providing the new global management: Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi of Iran said, "NAM member states believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran heralds their aspirations." As per Iran's news agency IRNA, the Iranian Vice President claimed that in private meetings, NAM leaders "renounced self-imposed dictates of the bullying powers."
The 600-page final communique expressed support for Iran's nuclear energy programme and rejected the United States' sanctions against Iran, condemned Islamophobia, demanded global nuclear disarmament and talked about the rights of Palestinians. It also stated that Venezuela has been chosen to host the next NAM summit. In that sequence, the one after Venezuela will surely be hosted by North Korea, maybe?
The takeaway from the NAM summit is that not only is India happy to be a part of all this, but it also tells the world about our geopolitical preferences. We chose to attend the NAM summit in Tehran while deciding to skip the United Nations General Assembly session in New York later this month.
NAM gum jayega... and if we don't mend our ways, we shall meet the same fate. By Smita Prakash (ANI)