Dialogue  July-September  2007, Volume 9  No. 1

Editorial Perspective

India Looking East

India, though late, realised the importance of its relationship with East and South East Asia; formulated ‘Look East’ Policy. The country is trying to strengthen its ties, including the trade ties with the countries of the region. None can deny that strategically and economically strong eastern neighbourhood of India shall provide strategic safety and economic strength to this country. India needs to develop all-round bilateral and multi-lateral relationships with its eastern neighbours

After declaration of the policy, some positive steps have already been taken to promote trade. Nathu La Pass was opened last year after 44 years for trade with Tibet/China. There is proposal to re-construct Stilwel Road to connect Brahmaputra valley with Myanmar and China. The Moreh in Manipur and Tamu in Myanmar have been opened up for trade between the two countries. The Champhai (Mizoram)- Hri (Myanmar) road and a third opening in Nagaland aims at promotion of Indo-Myanmar border trade. The road-network and Asian Railway network will connect India with the countries of South East India and China. With the aim of creating big trading block, India is moving towards Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreements (CECA) covering free trade agreement (FTA) in goods, services, investments and identification of the areas of economic co-operation.

The "Look East" policy and opening of the trade has started paying dividends. The share of the trade with our eastern neighbours have started increasing. The share of our trade with China has increased from 2.5 per cent in 2000-01 to 7.0 per cent in 2005-06 and 7.7 percent during April-October 2006. During April-October 2006, the share of our trade with Singapore and Malaysia has increased to 4.0 and 2.2 per cents respectively. The quantum jump in our trade with these three countries has been to $21.8 billion from $7.0 billion. The trade share with other countries has also increased considerably. It needs mention that the ‘Look East’ policy provides enormous possibility for the development of the whole country, especially the North-East region of India. Most of the trade through land route will pass through the NE region, benefiting it the most. The border trade will benefit the region also because of its being land-locked. The sea trade will benefit other parts of the country equally.

To take maximum benefit from the policy, the North-East region should develop industrially. The new NE industrial Policy has practically made the whole region a special economic zone. This, however, is not going to bring benefits if the lethargy and the corruption is not controlled. After all, the industry departments of various states of the region have only benefited the ‘subsidy eaters’ uptil now. For the flow of fund from South East Asia, the roads, power and security is a must. We must bid farewell to the culture of ‘bundhs’. This is needed also for developing tourism. For this, the North-Eastern states must administer and administer properly. Insurgency and extortion enterprises must give way to production oriented industries. Undue complacence towards the illegal migration from Bangladesh and huge illegal trade with that country must not continue. A state declaring thousands of suspected aliens deported from neighbouring hill states as Indian citizens within couple of days., its inability to protect Indian citizens and thereby the change of the texture of the work-force by replacement of the Hindi speaking laborers by Bangladeshis, inter-state land encroachment drives, sheltering terrorists in MLA’s house and all such news send wrong signals. We wish the situation to change for better. Otherwise, it is hard to share the optimism of Mani Shankar Aiyar or Pranab Mukherjee that ‘Look East’ policy shall bring prosperity to the NE region. It is time that we take steps to frustrate the evil design of Bangladesh, ISI and their Indian collaborators towards India and the region. Otherwise, no policy initiative, no opportunity is going to benefit the North-East region.

A point, which is even more valuable for India, is to discover East and South East Asia, without which it is not possible for the Indians to discover themselves. India should gratefully acknowledge the debt of these countries for preserving much of our literature, art and wisdom, which we lost during the last millennium. .

The Indian Political Culture: the Need to Arrest the Rot

The last session of the Parliament could not transact any business. It was adjourned sine-die. It is unfortunate that such things are happening for the last ten years. The controversies mostly around the non-issues lead to such developments. The two national political parties – Congress and the BJP – deserve the blame. Minor share goes to other political parties. Our politics have ceased to be people-centric; it has become power-centric. Rather than issue-based dialogue, our politicians/political parties have become confrontationists. We are fast developing into a quarrelling nation. The common man is the worst sufferer.

The rot in Indian political culture has assumed dangerous proportion. The politicians have the temerity to blame even the farmers, committing suicide, creating unnecessary controversies, diverting the attention of the society from real problems, behaving in a way which makes even highest representative body of the nation irrelevant. The Indian politicians are not ashamed of politicizing every aspect of the public life; they interfere in education, governance and vital matters of national security. Even our history, culture and tradition is laced with politics as it happened in the case of the Government affidavit in Ram Setu case. We may ignore the ill-informed statements of Karunanidhi and others, and the objectivity frame work of the Indian left intellectuals, but not that of a Central Government Ministry/institution. The Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India had crossed the limit on two counts: Firstly the issue, at best, was to be decided by a Geological body/department as Ram Setu is not an archaeological find, and even man-made structures get metamorphosed. Secondly, The issue was not the historicity of Ram; it was simply whether the bridge was man made or not. By denying the historicity of Ram, the whole matter was politicized. Our politicians are responsible for making the governments the greatest litigants; when the courts remind the latter of their duties they label and blame it as judicial activism. The courts, due to the failures of the governments and the politicians, are even given the burden of reminding the chairman of a national political party, an ex-minister, an ex-governor or the sitting ones to pay their dues.

The present Central government may or may not survive for the full term of five years. Again it is not the first time that such crisis has developed. At the centre of the controversy is not the poverty, starvation deaths, farmers’ suicides, issues of national security, terrorism, aliens becoming citizens. The development agenda of the parties is not at the core of the controversy. The Manmohan Singh Government has signed a nuclear deal with the US. Such deals were also signed by China and Japan with the US and on less favourable terms. US has not made them its colonies, nor it will do so to this country. Our links with the former USSR has not made us subservient to that country. The deal was necessitated because we need energy and more than that we need American and Western technology.

The Indo-US Nuclear deal was supposed to be a path breaking one. Unfortunately, it is caught up in controversy. There are critics of the agreement in both the countries, who feel that their country has given too much for too less. Without going into the merits and demerits of the agreement, three points need mention:

(i) There should have been less secrecy and flow of information before finalizing the deal. Every pros and cons was to be examined before inking it.

(ii) The political parties, rather than including in power-centric politics, should keep national interest in the focus while taking a stand on such vital issue of national interest. Frequent U-turn postures on such vital issues of national importance should be avoided.

The left’s reaction against the deal is guided mostly by its rigid anti-Americanism. The collapse of the Soviet Union; the demise of the communism in East Europe; China following the capitalist path, shrinking influence of the left parties in India, CPI (M) government in West Bengal itself pursuing the capitalist path of economic reforms have left nothing to the Indian left except for indulging in anti-Americanism. The sham called socialism and the unprecedented criminality attached to the same is highly exposed and well-known.

Thus CPI(M)’s uneasiness about the deal is mostly based on its dislike for America and the attempts to bring India nearer to the US. Prakash Karat, in one of his articles published in People’s Democracy Wrote: "Left parties have been watching with disquiet the way the UPA government has gone about forging close strategic and military ties with the United States … The left is clear that going ahead with the agreement will bind India to the United States in a manner that will seriously impair an independent foreign policy and our strategic autonomy."

Anti-Americanism is a creed for the Indian Communists. And we paid heavy price for the same during the Cold War period. India has also paid heavy price for its so called independent foreign policy and non-alignment. Needless to say that it is high time to go for the public audit of the costs of our so called independent foreign policy/costs of non-alignment policy and anti-Americanism.

China constantly tries to isolate India in the South East Asian Forums. It is strengthening its presence in the Indian Ocean region; trying to encircle and contain India. It is building a naval base in the Coco islands of Myamar near Indian territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. China has extended loan of $ 375 millions to Sri Lanka as per an agreement reached between the two countries for the development of Hambantota port. It is developing Gwadar in Paqkistan, Sittwe in Myanmar; is interested in port facilities in Maldives and Seychelles; is having close understanding with Bangladesh. It is supplying arms to Pakistan and Bangladesh. That country had already a Nuclear deal with America, has closest trade links with that country. It is trying to cultivate close relations with all other countries, such as Australia. Ironically, any attempt by India to have close link with the US, South East Asian countries, Japan and Australia is neither liked by that country; nor by our left. In fact, the interests of India’s adversaries is more important for the latter and a section of our intellectuals and mediamen.

It needs mention that Nationalism is not the weakness of the Indian Communists. They opposed quit India Movement in 1942; supported creation of Pakistan, declared our Independence to be fake (yah azadi jhoothi hai), started violent struggle just after independence in 1948 to capture power under Randive Doctrine, supported China during 1962 War, and now in 2007, they are threatening to topple the Central Government and destabilize the country. They oppose everything which India’s adversaries oppose.

The rot in our public life is weakening us from within. It must be arrested, and arrested soon.

On the Slippery Slopes of the Indian Media

Years ago, there was hectic debate about the desirability of allowing the operation of foreign media in this country. The hollowness of the debate becomes amply clear when we find that media in India, baring exceptions, have lost direction, often misinform, confuse and mislead; it weakens the society and the nation. Perhaps the Indian media –both electronic and print—works on the presumption that the nation is not fragile, the society is not fragile. Contrary to that even foreign media informs and educates.

Media, after frequently oscillating between covertly aiming at baring the underbelly of the political system and voyeurism to pry into private lives, has moved fast on the slippery slopes to the lowest level of ‘sting operation’. There was a sensational depiction of a lady teacher of Delhi, Uma Khurana, as a kingpin of a prostitution racket in a fake tape, which was eventually aired by a TV channel ‘Live India’. The victim of fake sting operation, she was disgraced as a procuress, beaten up, arrested, jailed, and dismissed from service. Had the tape not been proved fake by the police, the poor lady was to live the miserable life with the unwashable stigma attached. It is deplorable that the media was not only guilty of the degenerate brand of journalism called ‘sting operation’, it was also guilty of coming to the conclusions, without verifying the fact. And again the guilty TV channel not only broadcast the undercover ‘investigation’ suggesting that the teacher pushed her girl students into prostitution, but even the rioting of the irate mob, torching the vehicles and the destruction of the public property was telecast. The police was pressurized to arrest her and the govt in dismissing her. The case in point exhibites the multi-stage failures of the media, society, the govt. and the police. It is heartening that the poor lady received the sympathic support of the conscientious citizens of the country. Delhi police investigated and found the tape to be fake; Delhi High Court has taken up the case as initiated by its Bar Association president A.S. Chandhioke.

The question is whether time has not come for the Indian media to fix its ‘Lakshaman Rekha? If the media fails to evolve its code of conduct then there is no other way than to frame stringent measures to tame it. The time has come now to provide teeth to the Press Council of India. There should be no further delay in passing the Broadcasting Bill.

—B.B. Kumar

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati