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Indians love America, India’s foreign office doesn’t

Updated October 24, 2020 18:00 IST
Modi, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at Motera Stadium, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on February 24, 2020

There is a curious chasm between the thoughts and aspirations of Indians on the one hand and the beliefs (dogmas actually) of the foreign office, a most-important organ of the deep pink state. While the people of India love America and what it stands for—free speech, liberty, capitalism—Ministry of External Affairs mandarins still seem to be fighting the phoney war against imperialism and ‘neo-imperialism.’ A global survey released last month by French research group Ipsos showed that Indians love America more than anybody else does—more than even the Americans do!

Ipsos contacted about 20,000 respondents from 29 countries to seek their views over a variety of subjects such as the strength of the US economy, standard of living, rule of law, democratic values and institutions, commitment to arts and culture, and respect for human rights. India rated the US the highest with a score of 34, which was 12 more than the Americans themselves rated their country. The US’ global score was -5 per cent.

This is not a new phenomenon. There are over 4.5 million persons of Indian origin and non-resident Indians who are settled in America—the nation that believes in capitalism. How many Indians settled in the erstwhile Soviet Union, which our intellectuals told was the paradise of equality and prosperity? Or in communist China, another garden of Eden that Marxists had planned and planted? Or in Cuba whose public health system liberals never tire of lauding? And yet, India’s relations with the United States were frosty for almost half a century after Independence.

The question is: why? India is a democracy, so its political class is supposed to reflect the views, feelings, and aspirations of the people. But why was it that while the people of India felt, and feel, at home in Washington, New York, and other US cities (and in the West in general), our leaders found friends in Moscow and Jakarta? (But, typically, even as Indian rulers got friends in Moscow and Jakarta, they preferred the West for medical treatment, their children’s career, etc. Another instance of hypocrisy). India and the US have had strong economic ties (the US is the second biggest trade partner), social and cultural relations, but the political ties have often lacked warmth; at times, there was pronounced hostility between the world’s two biggest democracies.

All this happened because of socialism, the ideology that delineated our economic and foreign policies during much of the second half of the 20th century. It can be called the most overrated ideology the world has ever witnessed; all over the world, intellectuals generally favor it as much as common people detest it. Socialism means controls which lead to shortages; anybody who has lived in pre-liberalization India knows it very well because they have suffered it. Socialism means licences, even for radio and television. It means that even if you build your own house with your own hard-earned money, you have to run from pillar to post for cement. It means that when you have a marriage in your family, you have to go to a babu with the invitation card for the release of sugar. It means that you have to wait for years to buy a scooter. It means that essential amenities like gas cylinder and telephone connection, you have either to wait indefinitely or seek favor from a politician or a ‘well-connected’ person. It means that for good things in life, you look askance at imported stuff. Yet, intellectuals love socialism. And, despite the failure of socialism all over the world, they preach its virtues.

Even as India got rid of some of the worst features of socialism by liberalizing the economy in 1991, its cognate doctrine, non-alignment, was never discarded. Its basic premise is Marxian: imperialism or neo-imperialism is an offshoot of capitalism; ergo, capitalist nations should never become our allies. This thinking is still dominant in the foreign policy establishment, thus precluding any alliance with the West in general and the US in particular.

This is despite the fact an alliance with Western nations like the US and Australia is the need of the hour. For China, along with its vassal state Pakistan, is increasingly becoming bellicose against us. It is unfortunate that even as Indians have grasped this fact, the foreign policy establishment has not.

The Narendra Modi government is trying to get close to the US but the foreign office is slow, unwilling or both to shed its Nehruvian shibboleths.

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