TCS Daily

Two Indias?

By Sauvik Chakraverti - March 15, 2006 12:00 AM

When in India, President Bush cited a range of initiatives for U.S.-India cooperation and touched on ideals the two nations should seek to work towards. Of course, the President has his own foreign policy goals to pursue and the ideas he described were noble. But he could have been talking about a different country. If we look at Indian foreign policy, its nuclear industry and the weak link between freedom and democracy, we can see how far India must go to match such lofty rhetoric.

Nuclear energy is a state monopoly in India and helping this sector strengthens the Government's hand in power generation. Indians are plagued by power cuts as a result of state intervention in this industry. Further, "safeguards" have little meaning in India where there are no tort laws. If there were a nuclear accident, no Indian would receive compensation. The Bhopal industrial disaster, for example, occurred in the mid-80s. Until now, precious few have received anything. Indians routinely die from building disasters, adulterated food and medicine and the like — but rarely receive any relief from the law of torts.

The President also spoke of cooperation on defense. Once again, this is a fine idea in theory. The President spoke widely of multi-role combat aircraft, helicopter gunships and other high-tech initiatives. The truth is that India's defense establishment is hopelessly corrupt. They continue wars where no wars are necessary. Rajiv Gandhi was charged with receiving kickbacks when Swedish Bofors guns were purchased for the Indian army. Recently, India's Defense Minister was implicated in a shameful scandal, when it was discovered that kickbacks were paid for purchases of U.S. coffins for soldiers killed in the Kargil war.

As far as the senselessness of India's security establishment is concerned, the 25-year-old war with Pakistan on the frozen wastes of the Siachen glacier is a good example. I was close to Siachen once: it was -40 degrees Celcius in the sun! If we auctioned off the entire area, no one would offer a penny for it. But India has been spending over 300 million rupees every day for over 25 years in this senseless war. When the war began, we were informed that the 'strategic' goal was to command the heights dominating the proposed Karakoram highway. (William Dalrymple's In Xanadu recounts his travel from Pakistan to China by bus over the Karakoram highway 10 years ago.) India would do better to build its own highway in the region than fight this war, but it may be that the defense establishment is merely interested in budgets, rather than any serious security concerns.

After all, over a million Indians are killed every year on the unsafe streets of India and millions more are seriously injured. Thus, the 'security' concerns of the Indian citizen are very different from those of the Indian state.

President Bush's speech in New Delhi spoke of the link between 'democracy' and 'freedom'. Again, these are laudable ideas. Yet, despite India being a democratic nation, the Economic Freedom of the World Index rates India close to the bottom and the U.S. close to the top. The title of Deepak Lal's book on India, A Repressed Economy, says it all. Indians were freer under feudal lords and even the colonial Brits than they are today. Feudal lords routinely fell in love with dancing girls; but dancing girls have been outlawed by legislative fiat today. Democracy and freedom doesn't always go hand in hand, and nowhere is this truer than in contemporary India.

Free trade between the people of India and the people of America is desperately important for average Indians. Indians would benefit from buying used cars, buses and trucks. Indeed, Indians would even buy insurance write-offs, which could be cheaply repaired in India. Americans would benefit from better prices for their old cars, and lower insurance costs as well. Taking the point further, Indians would also buy used refrigerators and television sets. Cheap American wine would also be a big hit, and yield public health benefits, for Indians are killing themselves with the hard liquor they are forced to drink today. There are a host of trading gains to be made, for the benefit of both ordinary Indians as well as ordinary Americans, which citizens on both sides are being denied. Instead, the corrupt and repressive socialist-communist Indian establishment — and its powerful bureaucratic elite — remain as strong as ever.


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