Quit Bamming Us, Obama!

  • US Foreign policy is same, be it Bush or Obama
  • US needs Pak to bully Iran, it won’t help India
  • Don’t expect much from Obama’s visit
  • 21st century belongs to Putin, Xi

(Vithal Rajan)

On Republic Day, 2015, Barrack Obama will be in Delhi. He is simultaneously a visionary black American leader, and the President of the United States of America, and hence the most powerful man on earth. What can India expect from this last visit of his before he demits office in two years time? Well, the world looked up to him with moist eyes after he published The Audacity of Hope and wished him all success. He did better than many had hoped for and became the American President. His very success turned him into a two-faced man.

Vithal Rajan PhotoWith clear-headed realism he focused on two key internal issues that could benefit the common householder. The first, a universal medicare policy that could give health cover even to the poor half of America. The second, a rational immigration policy which could unite millions of immigrant families, without whose underpaid work, inflation in America would go through the roof. He is likely to fail to a great extent in achieving both objectives, except for some degree of canny tokenism, because of the rich white backlash to his Presidency.

As American President, never mind his colour, he has tried to do the ruthless international job he was elected to carry out. His predecessor, George W. Bush, far short of Obama in intellectual comparison, knew enough though to launch wars, breaking solemnly covenanted international laws, and with impunity executed Saddam Hussain of Iraq, the head of an independent country. Obama, knowing where his duty lay, executed Gaddafi of Libya, the head of another independent country. He tried to go one step further than the little Bush by trying to take out Assad of Syria, but was stopped in his tracks by Putin of Russia, while the rest of the world leaders, including Manmohan Singh, stood silently by. Neither Saddam Hussain nor Gaddafi were angels, but in many respects better than the cruel dictators the American governments had foisted on Latin America for over a hundred years, in pursuit of the ruthless Monroe Doctrine which decreed that no other imperial power had a right to interfere in its dominion over the Western Hemisphere. It is a matter of record that no Arab nation, except Egypt, could show the same degree of modernization and women’s emancipation as Libya and Iraq did under their dictators.

The rubbishing of the Middle East was perpetrated by the Bush-Obama duo in search of cornering the oil and energy resources of that region, and their conniving Arab partner sheikdoms allowed it to happen, since neither Saddam Hussain nor Gaddafi huddled with them. Their individualism, so revered as a philosophy by Americans, led to their tragic murder. It would be a mistake for Modi to think that their mafia-like rubbing out was a naive American attempt at stopping international terrorism.

Certainly, the shrewd Indian Prime Minister will pressurize Obama to bring the Pakistani leaders to heel, but he cannot succeed, for the simple reason that the Americans need Pakistani sunni animosity to cordon off shia Iran and try and beat that country down to accept the oil subservience that existed before the days of Dr. Mossadeq, whose attempt at independence was openly subverted by the CIA in the early 1950s. The present dramatic fall in oil prices is not lucky happenstance but an iron policy forged by America, and supported by the Saudis, to bring Iran, Russia and Venezuela to their well oiled knees.

So, what is Obama’s agenda this January? As America’s first salesman he needs to get rid of inventories of defence material, nuclear technology, and other build-ups hurting profit. Secretary of State Kerry, who failed to win the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, has already voiced his alarm at Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. He would like us to continue to buy American solar PV panels whose prices have crashed in a clear-out sale. Every little bit of profit helps, and American leaders focus on serving their corporate giants, especially in these hard days when the Chinese are inching them off the top-shelf.

A perception of Pakistani threat may compel India to buy some of these cast-offs, just as it bought the ancient aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, under Russian pressure, but all that will not ease the threat of militant infiltration across the western border. The stoking up of communal hatred against the Indian bogeyman keeps in power the elite Pakistani military establishment, in which is ensconced its terrible ISI. They will continue not only to threaten India but hold the Pakistani civil population in frightened subjugation. Obama is helpless to bring any relief here, despite his disingenuous statements about democratic values.

In the outcome, India most probably will buy from America what it does not need, just to let American leaders declare their mission a success, and retain goodwill for India. None of them need really worry that India will steal away any jobs. Not even the giant IT industry, which has boosted Indian business confidence and produced a rich crop of millionaires, is capable of launching a worthwhile challenge. Indian IT professionals and their expertise are rented out to American industry, and serve it much as our accountants and babus shored up the British Empire a hundred years ago. Low-priced generic drugs, made by Indian companies like Dr. Reddy Labs, do irritate American pharmaceutical giants, who do not like to lose even a small part of their well-padded profits, but while they may buy judges of arbitration cases they win little sympathy from the suffering American public.

Modi’s ‘make in India’ slogan was differently voiced by the late trio of power economists, Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and Chidambaram, as essential for their ‘export-led growth strategy.’ It has been the centre-piece of India’s economic planning from the time Mahalanobis framed the first Five-Year Plan. This vague desire to industrialise has never challenged any competitive economic power since the early 1950s, though at that time India was among the industrial fore-runners, with all of Europe flattened out after a brutal world war. The cause of our inability to perform then is the same as the one that restricts us now. An effective world economic challenge can only be mounted by a country with an effective large domestic demand. China which lay completely destroyed in the 1940s has succeeded in becoming the world’s second largest economy as of date precisely because it has created the most populous middleclass in the world with a strong domestic market. India has failed to utilize its early potential because political and economic policies have excluded over 80% of the population from participation in growth.

This is why the RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan’s call to ‘make for India’ is a break from a hackneyed sloganeering past. However, to be a really effective strategy, the government must focus on what needs to be done to bring the 800 million poor into a regenerative national economic cycle. Such a strategy might include very much higher investments in education and skill training; rural infrastructure; formation of self-assertive organisations and associations at the grassroots; and breaking of the chains of bondage in the grip of local leaders. This last essential requirement will pose a challenge to the established and corrupted power elite, but their own survival one day may depend on taking it on before being forced to when it is too late.

President Obama will return from India half satisfied with what he achieves, but he has never aimed, nor has been permitted to aim, for much more. In two years time he will retire to a cushy job, most probably in Harvard, and he will be regularly brought out as the poster-boy of American liberalism. A latter-day Uncle Tom cannot hope for a larger page in history. The 21st century, in any case, belongs to Putin and the enigmatic triad of Hu-Wen-Xi who hold the definitive balance of power in world politics.

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