The New US-India Engagement

As in politics, so too in relations between countries: there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. These are so many that, as we regularly observe at UN forums, there may be convergence on certain issues, but invariably there are divergent views and even opposing ones on other matters.

However, this does not mean that countries cannot work together by focusing on the larger picture and longer term interests – usually relating to the economy, global security, and increasingly nowadays the environment/climate change – rather than dwelling on issues which may hinder forward movement that would benefit the countries concerned. There are always some issues that can be left on the backburner for individual countries to resolve for themselves.

This is what has happened during the visit of President Obama to India as Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations of January 26, 2015. India reciprocated with the effusiveness that had greeted Prime Minister Modi during his own visit to the US in September last: before that he had been officially a pariah for the US establishment, which had refused to grant then Chief Minister Modi a visa.

The India-US relationship has come a long way, and brought to my mind a conversation with a relative in New Delhi in December 1971, when what is known as the Bangladesh war took place. I learnt that the US supported Pakistan in that conflict, and an aircraft carrier of the US Navy was dispatched to, and stationed in, the Bay of Bengal.

A friend of my relative was driving in Chanakyapuri, the diplomatic enclave in New Delhi, and slowed down to give a lift to a foreigner who was walking by. As they got into a conversation, he asked the man, ‘Are you an American?’ When the latter replied in the affirmative, he stopped the car and told him to get out.

Such was the intensity of the understandable ill-feeling then, provoked by the US stand in that war. Besides, India was regularly looked down upon by the major powers as the country that went around the world with a begging bowl, mired as it was then in poverty – which is still a major problem – with shortages of food, famine and a poor economy adding to the negative picture. To be an Indian in those days was like being a curse.

Now there is a 180-degree turn, and India is being wooed for the business opportunities that it presents, for the consumption capacity that its over 300-milion strong and rising middle class represents. A strong and early indication of this shift was the flurry of high-level dignitaries from several large economy countries who came calling very soon after Narendra Modi was elected as Prime Minister of India.

This was followed by his own visits to regional countries, to Japan, to the BRICS summit in Brazil, and his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The trend has continued with the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister, which will be reciprocated in September this year: India’s External Affairs Minister Mrs Sushma Swaraj has gone to China a few days ago in anticipation of Modiji’s forthcoming trip.

Besides his meetings with government officials, President Obama in the company of his host interacted with the CEOs of many Indian companies, representing all the known sectors such as IT, pharmaceuticals, biotech, renewable energy, etc. However, the one area which overshadowed all others and a determination eagerly awaited was nuclear energy. The nuclear liability clause in their Nuclear Deal signed by the UPA government had been a matter of concern and contention, and it required a Presidential intervention to untangle the knot as it were. This lightened the atmosphere, and has paved the way for transactions by the billions of USD. It is now the companies dealing with nuclear energy on both sides that will have to work out the details of the how to and make things happen.

It is an acknowledged fact that, despite – like the US itself – not having signed the CTBT agreement, India is viewed as a responsible nuclear state, with the ultimate command resting in civilian hands and not the military. Further, the track record of India in the peaceful use of nuclear energy for electricity generation is very sound, there having been no untoward incident resulting in danger to life to date. This has been the basis for going ahead with the commissioning last year of the latest nuclear plant at Kudamkulam in South India. There had been protracted protests by civil society organizations against the setting up of this plant. However, their arguments have been cogently addressed and their fears proven to be unjustified. The plant is now fully operational.

As the cliché goes, there is no doubt that the genesis of an enhanced enabling environment for a win-win US-India engagement on a broad front has been set in motion. To all intents and purposes, it seems that both countries, and their peoples, stand to gain equally from this renewed relationship. However, the coverage of Obama’s visit in the American media was much less than the hype – overhype? – seen in the Indian counterpart. Whether it is because Americans are more pragmatic and realistic, and the Indians have too high expectations: only the future will tell.

Personally I was a little irked by the rather too frequent allusion to ‘Obama said this, Obama said that’ – reflecting the proclivity of Indians, some at least, to give much more credence to others than to draw inspiration from their own infinitely rich sources. This in no way diminishes any of the observations that President Obama made; it’s simply that Indians need not underestimate their self-esteem.

I remember reading what late Aubrey Menen, who was from Kerala, once said: ‘The true Indian is one who is always watching over his shoulder for the approval of the white man.’ Substitute ‘westerner’ for ‘white’ in the current scenario. This ill befits an emerging global power, and I hope that Aubrey Menen will be proved wrong soon enough. Only his compatriots can do that for themselves…

* * *

Ever and forever Demis Roussos

I was saddened to learn about the passing away of the Jesus Christ look-alike — in his younger days – Greek singer Demis Roussos about two weeks ago, at the age of 68. He was born in Egypt and the family moved to Greece after losing all their possessions during the Suez Crisis. Roussos enjoyed a string of international successes as a solo performer in the 1970s, after being a member of the progressive rock group Aphrodite’s Child. He went on to sell over 60 million records worldwide.

My favourites of his were Ever and Ever Forever, Goodbye My love Goodbye, My friend the Wind. I still love to listen to these, and many more. I have a CD of his most popular songs, and Youtube nowadays allows me to tune in to him anytime. It is the same unalloyed joy to listen to the magic of his voice rendering the soulful melodies that bring back so many memories, seeing him in his long tunic. So bad that he became so out of shape in his later years, though. He also sang with the charming Nana Mouskouri, his Greek compatriot. What wonder were these songs – are still!

The lyrics of Ever and Ever Forever are, well, eternal:

Ever and ever, forever and ever you’ll be the one

That shines in me like the morning sun.

Ever and ever, forever and ever you’ll be my spring,

My rainbow’s end and the song I sing.

Take me far beyond imagination.

You’re my dream come true, my consolation.

Ever and ever, forever and ever you’ll be my dream,

My symphony, my own lover’s theme.

Ever and ever, forever and ever destiny

Will follow you eternally.

Take me far beyond imagination.

You’re my dream come true, my consolation.

Ever and ever, forever and ever you’ll be the one

That shines in me like the morning sun.

Ever and ever, forever and ever my destiny

Will follow you eternally…

And sublime too!

 

* Published in print edition on 6 February  2015

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