Protesting too much

Indo-US relations

The WikiLeaks ‘India File’ makes interesting reading. There is perhaps nothing startlingly new in most cases but nuances reflecting pressure, irritation and scorn are evident in certain dispatches. This would be so in most diplomatic correspondence as diplomats are expected to be upfront and frank in their assessments of personalities, events and trends from the perspective of their own national interests and concerns.

Thus the Americans were leaning on India to be more accommodating of US concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear ‘ambitions,’ saying that the fate of the civil-nuclear deal was in the balance. Though India has come through reasonably unscathed, critics at home would wish MEA to throw all diplomatic caution to the winds in airing India’s bottom line always and every time. These are macho reactions, not calibrated responses that keep the country’s overall interests in mind, but must up to a point be accepted as legitimate chatter within a democratic society.

The American belief that India’s West Asia policy and attitudes towards Israel are governed by the Muslim factor, are only partially correct. Every country must cater to domestic sensibilities, something that pragmatically informs India’s stance towards Myanmar. But this apart, there is genuine sympathy for the Palestinian cause and outrage at the brutal manner in which the Israelis have often behaved, with uncaring American connivance. The US Jewish lobby clearly has far more influence on Washington than the Muslim factor does in Delhi. Yet there is admiration for Israel’s achievements here and state relations are cordial and collaborative. There has never been anti-Semitism in India.

US policy towards the Islamic world is problematic, driven as it is by oil and geo-strategic interests. The unholy mess created in Iraq, based on a pack of lies, and Afghanistan (where the Taliban and other Islamist jihadis were  spawned with US support) have kept West Asia on the boil. Washington’s long-drawn flirtation with frontline ally, Pakistan, through another long and continuing saga of unparalleled deceit, has been instrumental in the nuclearisation of that country (with Chinese assistance) and its becoming an epicentre of cross-border terror as a means of state policy.

Yet the US has also been a generous friend and it is good that Indo-US relations are vastly better than before and are gradually assuming a greater degree of mutual understanding and respect. Those at home who might now raise a hue and cry about WikiLeaks’ India File should not protest too much. The revelation of an election-bribe box by a Congress supporter to a US diplomat does no more than confirm a known and disgraceful practice. But taking the diplomat’s word for it may not be entirely warranted as envoys, like others, are prone to embellish and exaggerate their reports to win kudos back home.

Impatient politicians

Demands for the resignation of the prime minister as though he has been found guilty by WikiLeaks is an absurdity and shows how shallow some politicians and impatient power-grabbers can be. And to suggest that the US is wicked to want to promote its economic interests in India and might speculate on cabinet and official level changes that bear on this is equally naïve. Diplomats, including Indian diplomats are paid to win friends and influence nations.

One has this past week also heard excessive protest in India about its nuclear power programme in the aftermath of the Japanese quake-cum-tsunami disaster that has led to near-melt-downs and radiation leaks. These have no doubt been alarming developments. The government has wisely ordered a through review of all existing nuclear power plants and future programmes with special emphasis on safety standards and defensive measures.

These consultations must take into account public views and international experience and assessments. This, however, is a far cry from demanding a stoppage of the nuclear programme largely on ideological grounds and uninformed panic based on total misjoinders of facts and events. This despite India’s good nuclear power safety record.

The Jaitapur site in Ratngari district falls in seismic Zone III that experiences tremors of far lower magnitude than the massive M-9 earthquake that hit Japan. The nuclear plant to be built there by the French company, Areva is designed to withstand far greater shocks than that to which Zone III is subject. Secondly, the Arabian Sea is less prone to tsunamis than the Pacific, and so tsunami waves of just over 10 metres that battered the endangered Fukushima N-plants can be ruled out at Jaitapur. Thirdly, whereas the Japanese plants are at an elevation of 10 metres, the Jaitapur plant will be located 25 metres above sea level.

The suggestion that the proposed Areva plant is totally untried and untested is challenged by Indian nuclear engineers as several of its parts and components have been tested. The assertion is a bogey intended to frighten the uninitiated. There is always a first time for everything. For India to continue on its coal-oil fossil fuel path would be to court global warming and ignore the imperative of achieving a low carbon footprint. Better demand management can help but it will take time before renewable source like solar power is available in bulk at affordable prices.

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