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March 28, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Communicating with Clinton country

The way President Clinton's recent visit to India was looked upon by our Communists and Congressmen of various hues and times has been tragi-comic.

If the Leftists were inimical to the major milestone in Indo-US relations, the Congressmen were indifferent. The latter wore frustrated jealousy on their faces all through the memorable journey while the Commies spoke of imperialism all through, as though they had to prove that their intellect had really got stuck in the sand of the ostrich.

Several other "secular" sections of our unbridled democracy joined in as spoilsports. All of them, with anti-BJP obsession being the common virus infecting them, deliberately and diabolically overlooked the fact that Vajpayee and Co had, through Pokhran II, the Lahore bus journey and Kargil diplomacy, brought the mighty USA around to agree to disagree as equals, as thick friends in the making.

There were two individuals as well who sought to pour cold water on the general ambience of warmth and goodwill that Clinton's mission was so earnestly trying to accomplish by accepting the Vajpayee government's visionary invitation to him. One of them was Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party. By threatening to boycott President Clinton's address to all our members of Parliament unless Vajpayee delivered his speech in Hindi, that crude and vain politician acted like a senile Brahmin refusing to attend a wedding reception with other members of his family unless he was guaranteed that the groom was clad in adhoti and the bride wore a ghunghat.

What does one do with such perverse politicians with perverse notions of patriotism?

The second worthy who did his best to sour the celebrations of an incipient Indo-US relationship never attempted before was a 79-year-old man, by name: K R Narayanan, by occupation: The President of India. With his honoured guest sitting across the banquet table, Narayanan debunked Clinton's assessment of the South Asian situation as "alarmist" and deplored the concept of the burgeoning global village being run by one "village headman".

Look at the gall of this old leftist Congressman. It is old Indian culture to respect a guest and accepted modern etiquette not to humiliate the visitor to your home; but here was Narayanan violating precisely those norms of behaviour in public when he could well have conveyed his views in private.

Narayanan's banquet speech was such a stark contrast to the way Clinton couched his differences with India in his speech in the Central Hall of Parliament. Is that art of communication one reason why Clinton, and not a Narayanan, is president of the United States of America?

While the Communists praised Narayanan's remarks, the immediate reaction of the refined was one of annoyance. One net surfer, Gopinatha Pai, wrote from Chicago that Narayanan's speech was unwarranted, intended to malign our prime minister and his government even as it affected Indians abroad.

Another Internet user was shocked by the fact that while Clinton met the father of Rupin Katyal (the newly married man who was butchered by the hijackers of IC-814), Narayanan had not bothered to meet the families of the Hindus and Sikhs killed by the same kind of terrorists. So angry was the man that he sent out an e-mail praising Clinton and pleading that Narayanan be profusely abused. It was an unbecoming over-reaction undoubtedly, but an excellent example of what public image can do to a politician pursuing a queer agenda through unthinking communication.

What was ludicrous in this Clinton yatra was the Communist refrain that India was surrendering its sovereignty to the United States and its multinationals through the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, while the USA itself would give us nothing concrete in return. These Commies of our land forgot that the Chinese Communists themselves are going on bent knees to enter the WTO, that modern Russia of Lenin's land is often knocking at the doors of the IMF and the World Bank.

Our Commies forgot that the US was now ready to lay the foundations of a bigger investment, business and trade relationship with India without twisting our arm into signing on the dotted line of all those non-proliferation documents. They forgot that the ant sitting atop an elephant cannot think in terms of taking the elephant for a ride; they forgot that the national need to quickly remove deprivation can have only self-respect and not fake ego as a fellow traveller.

They forgot, finally, that word is out that the likes of Somnath Chatterjee in the Lok Sabha and Jyoti Basu in Kolkatta are merely docile dogs wagging their tail at the command of the CPI-M Politburo. And these dogs are those that remain as still as drugged puppies when China tells the US to tell us to sign the CTBT.

Now look at the meanness of the Congress. Whereas the BJP's Vajpayee had showered encomiums on Indira Gandhi for Pokhran I as well as for winning the war against Pakistan that created Bangladesh in 1971, the Italian successor of the Congress dynasty has had no praise whatsoever for the Vajpayee coalition in reviving a new chapter with Clinton country without yielding an inch on Kashmir or anything else. No praise for Vajpayee even for publicly daring Clinton to talk tough to Islamabad and what's more, for getting a commitment to that effect.

What do you make of the oldest political party that lacks the magnanimity to even acknowledge the adversary's achievement of epochal nuclear tests, of an ineluctable bus ride in search of peace, of a Himalayan triumph at Kargil and of securing the bonanza of bonhomie from that very superpower which had condemned us to a hole less than two years ago?

Lastly, look at the views of one representative section of our "secular" media that is genetically allergic to the BJP. Malini Parthasarathy, executive editor of The Hindu, wrote the following in an edit page article published on March 20:

'If indeed the relationship with the US is to be envisaged as a long-term equation of considerable value, it is essential that distinction be made between the interests of the people of India and the BJP's self-serving approximation of the national interest. The BJP's worldview eschews a realistic acceptance of the necessity of engaging Pakistan, prefers to rely on inauthentic and highly coloured portrayals of China as menacing India's security and consequently requires a strategic dependence on the United States be an arbiter in its favour, in the region…It is crucial that the Opposition parties, particularly the Congress and the Left parties take it upon themselves …to make clear that the BJP does not speak for the Indian people when it proceeds to define the scope and potential for co-operation between India and the US in its own strategic idiom.'

With the allegedly responsible media itself creating political divides with utter hogwash of the above kind, what is one to make of the so-called fourth estate of democracy? Does freedom of the press mean freedom to castigate without a shred of evidence in support?

Despite all such boorishness, cussedness and callousness that characterised a part of the Clinton visit, there is one lesson which all politicians and the rest of us Indians would, hopefully, have learnt from it. They must have learnt what magic and power are embedded in the art-cum-science of communication.

If we Indians, hopelessly illogical, inaccurate and inarticulate most of the times, haven't learnt that lesson from Clinton, we are unlikely to find a better tutor in the near future. Ergo, we will remain grossly wanting in establishing empathy with the world at large, forever estranged from the profitable art of engagement.

Arvind Lavakare

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