Journalist | Writer | Analyst
Broadcast date: 17 August 2005
ABC TV (Australia)
ABC TV Asia-Pacific interviewed a colleague from the Hindustan Times and I on the emerging India-U.S. relationship for an episode of one of their regular programmes, The Editors.
Siddharth Varadarajan: [In] entering into an alliance with the United States, India is limiting its strategic options in Asia, and is also acting in a way that goes against its professed desire to see the world as a multi-polar one. In other words, what we are doing is essentially strengthening the strategic weight of the United States in this part of the world.
Episode 29: Building bridges
Transcript (slightly edited to remove ovbvious transcription errors)
[Intro] Two of the world’s great democracies – India and the United States – have come together at last. It’s a relationship fuelled by nuclear energy. But our panellists Pramit Pal Chaudhuri from the Hindustan Times and Siddharth Varadarajan from The Hindu say there’s still much to be settled. […]
Siddharth Varadarajan, deputy editor, The Hindu: People like me who are critical feel that … this choice of playing … the role which America will define for you in Asia is something which goes against the long-term national interests of India, and of course of Asia as well.
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, foreign editor, The Hindustan Times: I disagree with Siddharth with the view that the Americans are taking any particular pressure on us. If the Americans don’t want [the Iran-India] pipeline, the country to put pressure on is Pakistan. […]
Grace Phan [ABC anchor]: The pictures tell the story. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent meeting with US President George W. Bush has been described as high on colour and chemistry, which is not to say it was devoid of substance, far from it. Both left satisfied. President Bush has secured a new friend in Asia and in return Prime Minister Singh won the American President’s backing to join the exclusive nuclear club. The historic accord is designed to permit India to buy billions of dollars worth of nuclear technology, which it’s been denied after testing nuclear weapons. So now after all the glad-handing and toasting, it’s worth assessing the ramifications of the meeting between the two leaders.
What is the quid pro quo for America’s nuclear turnaround? How will India, historically a heavyweight in the non-aligned movement relate long-term to the world’s sole superpower? What effect will the new closeness between the US and India have on relations with China? We’ll talk to our panel about this in just a moment, but first the media comment on the issue.
Anand Giridharadas wrote in the ‘International Herald Tribune’ an article headed, “India welcomed as a new sort of superpower”, and said that “regardless of how soon uranium will flow to this country of one-billion, Singh’s visit may signify America’s welcoming of a new type of superpower. Militarily potent, economically dynamic, regionally assertive, independently minded but still non-threatening to the United States, call it superpower light”. The article recalled that the Bush administration earlier this year said it was “the United States official policy to help India become a major power in the 21st century”.
G. Balachandran wrote in an editorial headed, “A great leap forward” for ‘The Times of India’, that “Bush made a surprise decision to propose lifting what some Indians have termed, nuclear apartheid, a prohibition that has stopped other countries from selling fuel or parts for civilian nuclear reactors to India”. The ‘Hindustan Times’ called the agreement an “historic bargain which could transform the global balance of power in a significant manner as Richard Nixon’s opening to China”. It added that “the deal recognised India as a thriving Asian nation that possesses sufficient gravitational force to keep the balance of power stable”.
And so to our panel, joining me from New Delhi is our regular commentator, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, the foreign editor of ‘The Hindustan Times’. Also from New Delhi is Siddharth Varadarajan, the deputy editor of ‘The Hindu’ newspaper.
Well, before we ask Pramit and Siddharth for their analysis we’ll get their observations of what people they’ve been talking to are saying about the new India-US relationship.
Siddharth Varadarajan, deputy editor, The Hindu: Well you do have three distinct schools of thought on this, one that is critical from the right side, the right-wing side, which feels that India can no longer be in a position to make hundreds and thousands of thermo-nuclear bombs and assert itself as a big power. You have the official euphoria from the government, and those who support the government, which is that the Indo-US relationship is the best thing since sliced bread.
And then you have those who are critical from the left, who feel that in entering into an alliance with the United States, India is limiting its strategic options in Asia, and is also acting in a way that goes against its professed desire to see the world as a multi-polar one. In other words, what we are doing is essentially strengthening the strategic weight of the United States in this part of the world.
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, foreign editor, The Hindustan Times: There have been repeated surveys that have shown that Indians are now among the most pro-American people in the world, and I think at the common level there’s a very strong sense that in many ways of belief that America and India are riding in the same direction. To which some degree the political leadership is catching up.
The only question on the nuclear deal is that while I think there’s a lot of people who accept that George Bush believes that this has to go through, there’s some questions about whether he’s actually going to be able to get it through. He has to get it through the US Congress and then he has to get it through the international community, at least the members of the nuclear suppliers too, and how far he can actually push that given that he probably has effectively as a President only about one-and-a-half years left and probably crucial is he probably visits here in January, we’re really only talking about seven months in which he has to get a lot of this through. Can he do it, and that is the real question I think that most people are asking.
Grace Phan: India and the United States, a new relationship but what problems lie ahead. We’ll come back to our panel after the break.
Grace Phan: Welcome back, tonight we’re discussing the new relationship between India and the United States. With me from New Delhi are Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, the foreign editor of ‘The Hindustan Times’, and Siddharth Varadarajan, the deputy editor of ‘The Hindu’ newspaper. Pramit briefly how would you describe the new Indo-US relationship?
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, foreign editor, The Hindustan Times: Essentially America has concluded that the economic and military and political rise of India, which is happening anyway on its own, is first not only not against American interests but is in fact helpful to America on a number of fronts. India anyway has great power ambitions and prefers to have a situation where America is not attempt to obstruct that.
The present Indo-US relationship therefore is moving on a number of fronts without necessarily coming anywhere close to what alliance in the Cold War sense. It’s just a commonality of very broad strategic interests, and I think the two sides are learning to like each other in a way that they never did before.
Grace Phan: And Siddharth how do you view the new relationship between the US and India?
Siddharth Varadarajan, deputy editor, The Hindu: Well I think Pramit is right insofar as the U.S. recognises the inevitability of India’s rise to regional and global prominence, but I think what the United States is trying to do is to fashion — or to shape — the strategic outlook and choices that India is making at the present time and will make in the years to come, so that the dominant position of the United States in Asia remains. And that it does not get challenged either by the Indians themselves or by the Indians acting in concert with other Asian countries in such a way that an Asian security framework or an Asian security or strategic environment is created which either excludes the United States or assigns a marginal or peripheral role to it.
So I think the danger is in over-interpreting, over-analysing the extent of shared interests. Yes there are shared interests and I think where these interests generally do converge the US and India must work together. But I think India must be careful of not entering into a situation where its strategic choices in some fundamental sense get limited.
Grace Phan: Pramit I’d also like to get your comments on an article written in the ‘Asian Age’. The article quotes Bharat Karnad, a defence analyst at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi who argues that “India’s unthreatening posture symbolises its submission to the United States”. It goes on, “a deep-rooted mother vein of servility mixed with complacency prevail in New Delhi”. And he bemoaned “the easy option of riding another state’s coat-tails and projected that India will continue to be what it has always been, which is a big-little country bobbing along like a cork in the water, all buoyancy and drift and no substance”. Pramit that is strong criticism, is it totally misguided?
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri: Well I think Professor Karnad’s arguments, I mean he derives from the belief that India’s security should be one of sort of ultra-sovereignty, we should be dependent on absolutely nobody else, we should move on our own and do so without assistance or an attempt to do anything with anybody else. The problem with that of course is that India doesn’t have the resources to do that. So the question of us being able to do all of this on our own is really pointless. Professor Karnad for example argues we should have a nuclear deterrent of as many, as much as a thousand warheads. This is simply absurd.
Grace Phan: Siddharth your reaction?
Siddharth Varadarajan: I don’t share Professor Karnad’s maximalist approach to national security. What Professor Karnad exemplifies is also the view of the erstwhile ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is now in the opposition, which sees this as something which is going to limit the ability for India to rise as a big, strong, aggressive country along the lines of what the US is today. The second strand, of course, is the official strand, which is that there’s nothing wrong in going along entering into this sort of alliance or partnership with the US.
And the third strand is the view that I’m trying to argue, for which there’s also a considerable section of opinion which has deep reservations about this emerging alliance, not from the point of view of India’s own ambitions to emerge as a great unilateralist power, but simply in terms of what this is going to mean to the Asian strategic and security environment.
You see constantly this choice available for India on the one hand to develop an Asian personality, and on the other to play the American game in Asia. And I think people like me who are critical feel that this choice of playing the role which America will define for you in Asia is something which goes against the long-term national interests of India, and of course of Asia as well.
Grace Phan: Pramit let’s just move to the nuclear agreement. The United States decided to integrate India into the international nuclear trader regime, why?
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri: Well I think there are two key points to this. One is that the Bush administration after the discovery of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the ’91 Gulf War with the rise of al Qaeda and of course Iran and North Korea’s nuclear program has concluded that the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, while it has its uses is also not particularly effective in a lot of areas.
Second, perhaps more importantly is that it sees India’s economic rise as crucial to ensuring that there should we say a hedge against the rise of China within Asia. And part of that rise requires that India’s economy grow at rates of at least seven to eight per cent higher. And this means energy and part of that energy definitely has to come from civilian nuclear.
Therefore combine these two policies together and I think it was inevitable that Bush had to go through the direction that he eventually went, which is that we have to bend the international system to allow India into it.
Siddharth Varadarajan: Well, even the most optimistic person cannot expect civilian nuclear power to play an enhanced role in providing India’s energy security for the next 20-25 years. And what happens to the Indian economy later on in the century will be crucially fashioned by its ability to garner sufficient sources of energy in the short to medium-term.
And I think this is where the United States has, in offering nuclear technology, tried to influence or to wean India away from its other approaches, such as, for example, the plan to build a pipeline from Iran via Pakistan for the supply of natural gas, which could conceivably be the initiator of a larger energy framework, which could actually link or provide India access, if you have a pipeline network involving Iran, provide India access to the energy resources of the Caspian region.
There is even some discussion of extending a pipeline from Iran, Pakistan and India onwards into northern Burma and then into southern China. So you have all this discussion of a new Asian energy charter, or a new Asian energy framework, and I think the civilian nuclear cooperation, or the promise of civilian nuclear cooperation by the US is something which is aimed at weening India away from entering, or going too far in that direction.
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri: I disagree with Siddharth with the view that the Americans are taking any particular pressure on us. If the Americans don’t want this pipeline, the country to put pressure on is Pakistan, a country that’s completely beholden to America on a number of fronts. And if America says no Pakistan will essentially backup, and then the pipeline is dead.
Grace Phan: Siddharth what does this agreement mean to the relationship between the US and China and China and India?
Siddharth Varadarajan: I think this is really the million dollar question, if you talk to Indian officials, they are not unaware of the fact that in US policy discussions China looms very large and is perhaps one of the principle factors driving the relationship between Washington and New Delhi.
The Indians feel that they will be able to balance this US pressure on the one hand, and the very significant improvements that have taken place in Sino-Indian relations as well. There is a sense that the Indian officials have of playing these two relations against each other, but I must say that in strategic and military terms the US-India relationship is far more significant.
But I think in the next five or six years given the rate at which Indo-Chinese trade is growing it wouldn’t surprise me if China emerges as India’s largest trading partner, and what kind of dynamic that would then have on the triangular strategic relationship remains to be seen.
Grace Phan: Gentlemen I thank you, I’ve been speaking with our panel, from New Delhi Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, the foreign editor of ‘The Hindustan Times’. Also from New Delhi is Siddharth Varadarajan, the deputy editor of ‘The Hindu’.
Next persuading Malaysia’s conservative Muslims that distributing condoms and clean needles is the way to go in the fight against the rapid spread of HIV AIDS. That’s coming up after the break. […]
Until next week I’m Grace Phan in Singapore, goodnight.
Transcripts on this website are provided by an external transcription service.
Printable Transcript » © ABC 2005