The abrupt return of Ambassador Nancy Powell to the US is only part of the story. A meatier chunk is being served in New Delhi. The normally pro-US centrist political parties seem to have lost their enthusiasm for America.
When clubbed with the Left parties who are traditionally critical of the US, this is the first time in about 10 years that almost all mainstream Indian parties have gone silent on America.
The BJP manifesto doesn’t mention the US even once and offers no plan on engaging with Washington. It talks instead of improving relationships with the BRICS, G20, IBSA, SCO and ASEM.
BRICS is a grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa whose origins may be traced to 2006. G20 is an economic bloc in existence since 2003 which has the BRICS nations plus the US, UK, China, EU and others.
IBSA is India, Brazil and South Africa, also from 2003. SCO is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation from 1996. It has China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members. India has Observer status. ASEM is the Asia-Europe Meeting from 1996. It has 49 members.
The total absence of the US in the BJP manifesto is a putdown. The US had revoked Modi’s visa in 2005 on grounds of violating religious freedom. Until this February that is where it stayed. Nancy Powell met Modi in his Gandhinagar office in February which was interpreted as a gesture of friendship.
But the US state department said the same day that its visa policy towards Modi is unchanged. The BJP appears to have taken note.
The Congress too makes no mention of the US, which is even more remarkable given the bonhomie between Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama between 2008 and 2010. New Delhi and Washington were friendliest in UPA1 and Obama first’s tenure.
The relationship cooled in UPA2 and Obama’s second tenure. It has unravelled now with a new government coming up in India in June and in the US in 2016. The Devyani Khobragade case has mattered but it is not big enough to cause the damage that it has. Evidently, the warmth was skin-deep.
While the BJP and the Congress manifestos merely snubbed the US, the CPI(M) and the CPI are explicit. The CPI(M) manifesto says: “The decade-long UPA government has shifted the course of foreign policy towards a pro-US orientation. In the first term it surrendered the independent basis of foreign policy by entering into a strategic alliance with the US, by military cooperation and signing the Indo-US nuclear deal.
“The consequences of these steps have unfolded in its second term. India acted against its own interests by curtailing relations with Iran. The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline was scuttled at the behest of America. India drastically cut down oil imports from Iran to conform to the illegal US sanctions.
“India has strengthened its military and security ties with Israel and consequently downgraded its support to the Palestinian cause. The UPA government has joined an India-Japan-US trilateral security relationship – a US-sponsored move to counter China.”
The CPI(M), which would hold things together in the event of a Third Front government in New Delhi, says India must sever military and security ties with Israel, a close ally of the US.
Its manifesto is direct. It says it would revise the Indo-US nuclear agreement, stop import of foreign nuclear reactors and seek removal of nuclear weapons from the US military base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
It would not renew the Defence Framework Agreement with the US and would halt all work on military collaboration agreements with the US.
The CPI is India’s oldest Left party. It provided India’s only communist ministers – in the United Front 1996 coalition government in New Delhi. The party is now weak but its inputs have gravitas.
It is equally dismissive of the US. Its manifesto says: “Foreign policy is becoming subservient to American imperialists. National interests are being sacrificed under American pressure. In the name of strengthening defence preparedness, purchases are being made from USA and Israel to help the crisis-ridden American economy, particularly its Military-Industrial Complex. In WTO, India went against the consensus of BRICS to please the Americans.”
In short, a Third Front government is a worst-case scenario for the US.
Only the Aam Aadmi Party has anything mildly positive to say about the US. The AAP manifesto seeks to ‘supplement India’s meaningful engagement with the US’ with that of ‘other blocs such as BRICS and IBSA’ and ‘encourage a multipolar world’.
But that is neither here nor there. The AAP has opposed FDI in multibrand retail which American corporates didn’t like.
What political parties say becomes important in the Indian context. Policy usually flows from parties although the UPA had a parallel view from the government.
The American context is complicated in comparison where almost everybody has influence on policy – corporates, rights groups, intelligence networks and so on.
Right now we know this much: the US has lost clout in India and that is not such a bad thing.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.