Tsunami, US & India

Pratyush Chandra

[This article analyses the ‘confident’ moves of the Indian state during the Tsunami crisis. It seeks to demonstrate that India’s increasing integration with the imperialist camp is not driven by any “ideological” illusion but rather is a manifestation of the definite material needs of the Indian capital, which are essentially expansionist.]

1. ‘Tsunami’ Coalition – Context & Implications

In India, the ruling Congress Party has finally buried the remains of the Nehruvian foreign policy. In 1992, Narasimha Rao destroyed one of the major pillars of the so-called “nonalignment” that guided India’s international relations during the Cold War, when he established full ties with Israel. Before this, Chandrashekhar’s desire to allow the refuelling of the American warplanes in 1991 had already announced the way things were going to shape up. The Vajpayee government stretched this to the extent of a complete abandonment of the principle of nonalignment. Manmohan Singh has now completed the process, by abandoning the formal Indian stand for strengthening the UNO as the global coalition to resolve international disputes and provide humanitarian aids. Becoming a part of the US-led 4-nation coalition (which includes its most stable allies in the region, Japan and Australia) for tsunami relief efforts, the “pragmatic” India has shown the world, other western powers and its former comrades in the NAM (non-aligned movement) that it sides with the US. It has aligned with the US’ unilateral strategy to impose its own designs on the world community, by announcing its moves and then using the UN as a rubber stamp.

The coalition came as the American response to the initial criticism from its European competitors for late rising to the occasion for providing relief to tsunami victims. Only Australia, Japan and India were invited, excluding not only the European nations, but also the time-tested militarist allies of the US in the region. India’s initial ‘displeasure’ over deploying of the 1500 US Marines in Sri Lanka was shut up in the sheen and prospects of being close to the US. The latter, knowing that it cannot compete economically with other Western powers, nevertheless is aware of its only strength – its military might and the capacity to go anywhere and bully anybody. Even the European Union foreign policy head Javier Solana’s spokesperson had to admit that the United States’ military muscle allows it a higher visibility in the current crisis around the Indian Ocean.

The US is effectively using the occasion to extend its militarist tentacles in Southeast Asia and Indian Ocean. It is returning to its Vietnam War bases like Utapao Royal Thai Naval Air Force Base on the Bay of Thailand, in the name of setting up a “command centre” for the tsunami emergency relief effort. It has revamped all its ties in the region. Sri Lanka’s ruling elites have found new muscle support allowing the US Marines to venture its terrain. Most importantly, it is the occasion for the US to strengthen and test its relation with India, as its most stable support in the region. In the name of humanitarian aid it has established sweeping ties with the regimes in the region and refurbished its strategic machinery within a few days after the tragedy.

But what does the Indian refusal to “humanitarian aid” for its own victims signify? Is it not ideological, “anti-imperialist” stand? Not at all. If it had happened 20 years ago one could submit to such illusions. This refusal along with its readiness to provide aid to other victim countries involves something more than this simplistic rhetoric. Definitely, India seeks to demonstrate to the world that it is self-dependent and a power in itself with which western powers must reckon to pursue any strategic designs in the Indian Ocean. Its “ambitions” must be understood as culmination of the particular configuration of material interests composing the character of the state in India, its assessment of its own capacity to hegemonise the region.

2. US Interests in India

The US knows how to pamper such “ambition”, and aptly responded. Bush lauded India’s “very strong leadership” thanking it “for taking a lead in this issue”. Regarding the coalition he said, “one of the first things that we did was to put together a core group of nations, nations that are capable of organising relief efforts around the region, and the Indian Government has been especially strong, as a part of this core group”.

The European powers, not in the Anglo-American coalition, understand the American design, but cannot do anything about it. France thinking it an opportunity came in defence of India, when it was criticised around the globe for refusing the aid. The French Defence Minister Michelle Aillot Marie said, “Those who criticised the Indian government’s decision not to accept the aid don’t really understand or know the country’s technological, financial and economic strength and its capability to deal with such crises.” However, it is clear in this competition, for the present at least, the US military prowess allows it to go so far, where others still fumble to tread.

It was arguably the greatest “mainstream” economist of the 20th Century, John M. Keynes, who once said “Pyramid-building, earthquakes, even wars may serve to increase wealth.” The present century was already going through endless wars, when the tragedy of tsunami occurred. It would be a matter of immense research and controversies to assess the exact “positive” economic value of these disasters. But Powell has already made it clear that the US aid for tsunami victims will be beneficial for its strategic designs and “war against terror”. He said in the tone typical of the Yankee politicians, “I think it does give to the Muslim world and the rest of the world an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action”.

The induction of India in this design signifies a clear extension of the American front throughout the Indian Ocean. The growing economic and consequent political might of China is a concern for the US and the erstwhile “Asian Miracle” states, who are invariably its allies. China plays a crucial role in the global rivalry for hegemony between the US and EU. The US cannot depend on Chinese road to capitalism, which has its own peculiarities and strength, as it cannot depend on Russia or any other East European states, humbled and weakened as they are now. China has been “unbalancing” the hegemony of dollar in the region and world. Indian clientele therefore acts as a definite respite, as no other economy has the potentiality in making up to the Chinese with regard to size, strength, resources and stability. Further, it is the only credible state, which can oversee or even intervene in the political, military and economic activities in the Indian Ocean. The submission of India, being a growing economy (though with its own uneven pace and specificities) and with a stable political system, unlike other American allies in the region, provides an immense potentiality for the strategic interests of the US. What could be a more auspicious opportunity for such alignment than the relief efforts for tsunami victims? It is the time when only a few can smell deception, and those who do are so humbled by the disaster that they lack guts to point fingers.

3. Reasoning Indian Interests – Mere Big Brotherly or Imperialist?

On the other hand, the growing expansionist motivation of the Indian capital drives the Indian state to muster its own strategic plans. There are evident political economic reasons underlying these designs, but characteristically these are generally ignored even by the radical “anti-imperialist” forces in favour of arguments based on the simplistic rhetoric like “big brotherhood”, etc. Perhaps this is due to the overwhelming persistence of the ossified conceptualisation of the strict division between core and periphery, where both are homogenously and geographically defined. However, below are cited some relevant facts, which demonstrate that there are sufficient reasons for the Indian State to give aggressive support to the hegemonic material interests of the Indian capital, which are perfectly attuned to the dynamism of global capitalist accumulation.

Firstly, India’s tiny, yet growing oil interests, forces it to be with the US’ “war on terrorism” (although, toned down because of the domestic pressures), play love-hate relationship with Pakistan, have rightist love affair with Israel, nourish its little-known interest in Sudanese and other African and Arab conflicts. Although most of the Indian manoeuvrings in the international oil market is through the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Oil India Ltd (OIL) etc., there is considerable private motivation directing them. The upcoming “oil baronage” of Reliance Industries taking over the state’s Indian Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (IPCL) and divestment in other public sector undertakings in core sector including ONGC are increasingly solidifying the oil interest in the country. Until the Indian “private” capital is confident enough in the world of petro-oligopolies, the State’s mantle can provide the essential leverage required to make up to these oil giants. In fact, states in the OPEC countries are virtually the “organized body” of the “oil” capitalists and business negotiations are executed state-to-state. As an example of recent achievements in this regard is the ONGC being “in the race for picking up Canadian firm EnCana’s stake in a cluster of oil fields in Ecuador. The state-owned company is also in talks with Russia for picking up stake in the assets of oil major Yukos.” (Business Line, “ONGC eyeing EnCana’s stake in Ecuadorian fields — In race for Yukos assets” (11/01/2005)) Further, Business Line (08/01/2005) informs “ONGC Ltd is negotiating a 12-year loan to raise $600 million for financing a Sudan refinery expansion project for its subsidiary ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL)”. Sudan is already hosting the largest Indian investment abroad in the oil sector. This sufficiently explains India’s defence dealing with the Sudanese regime when Sudan’s defence minister visited India in December 2003 preceded by its oil minister’s visit. Besides Sudan, ONGC has operating assets in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Sakhalin Islands. On Sep 3 2004, ONGC Videsh Ltd announced that it reached agreement with Vanco Energy Company, USA to acquire 30% participating interest in an exploratory block, Offshore Ivory Coast.

But more importantly, throughout the 90s and afterwards, India has sought to make South Asia its own political economic regional base by playing crucial role in the political conflicts of other countries in the region, like Nepal and Sri Lanka, whose economies are heavily dependent on the Indian capital. In Nepal, seven countries account “for over four fifths of cumulative FDI. India alone accounted for one third, followed by the United States and then China.” India being the biggest investor in Nepal since 1996, owns 35% of the enterprises with FDI and 35.8% share in the total FDI. (UNCTAD 2003 Investment Policy Review: Nepal) Taking into consideration the enormity of the Indian “imperialist” stakes in Nepal’s economy, India’s growing interest in Nepali politics and the dependence of Nepali political elites (the king, the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML) are not at all unanticipated. Similarly, “India has recently become an important investor as a result of the India–Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement. This agreement has huge potential for generating FDI focused on the Indian market. Indeed, India was the largest investor in Sri Lanka in 2002.” (UNCTAD 2003 Investment Policy Review: Sri Lanka) In both cases, low tariffs on import-export in post-liberalisation trade agreements have given the Indian investors the ability to re-export to India goods they could manufacture cheaply in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Even investors from other countries have expressed interest in investing in Sri Lanka and Nepal to export to the Indian market. This gives India further advantage since these investors in Sri Lanka, Nepal and other countries in the subcontinent force their own respective political representatives to seek ties with India to have access to its market.

All these facts, at least, evidence that India has much on stake now to be simply non-aligned to the “hooks and crooks” of global imperialism, and the Indian capitalist class with their political representatives are definitely aware of this. India is defining its own “war on terrorism” and is not wary of having “pro-active” militarist build up for “pre-empting” attacks. It is not at all uncomfortable now with the idea of having “national security interests” across the border, and is ready to cross it if it must. All these add up to graduate India as a strong ideological, economic and military partner of the emerging “Global Right” under the leadership of the US. Tsunami relief efforts are only strengthening this partnership.


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