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Where goeth the NSG?

Where goeth the NSG?
Power behoves interrogation by its wielders: Power to do what? The USA is a Superpower – in fact, the only one in the world. This has been acknowledged by none other than Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia only last week. China is also aware of that, even though it owns $1.3 trillion worth of U.S. government securities, thus underwriting the economy. It is still far behind the USA in terms of its national income or military prowess. Yet, the same USA is hobbled in terms of applying that almost absolute power because it cannot see beyond its own “national interest.”

So when Prime Minister Narendra Modi went visiting Washington, the people back home wanted to see the takeaways from the visit. It seems now that all New Delhi sought from the US is a vote of confidence for its nuclear programme. India also wishes to get into the club of 45-odd nations that have formed a conglomerate call the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG).

Is that all? Don’t we, in any case, enjoy the NSG waiver when we struck the 123 civilian nuclear deal with George W Bush? Do we need to be a “Global Strategic and Defence Partner” of the USA, by which we can sometimes sing “Who shot Sheriff?”

Yes, the challenge the US – indeed the West faces – is globe-girdling as much as its combined power is? On top of that, this threat is also in their front yard. Does India need to take on the Islamists for the sake of being a US partner all across the world, thus not just alienating 250 million of our own citizens but depleting national consensus against terrorism? 

One recalls that in 2001, when Bush II launched his aggressive designs on Iraq, then Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani even stated that India could contribute to the coalition – one not forged in New York, the United Nations – but by Washington, a unilateral enforcer who was so full of injured hubris that the query made was “Are you against us or with us?”

Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, understood the dynamic better than most of his colleagues. He made a show of taking the Advani proposal to Parliament and nixed it there. 

Returning to his inheritor who is avowedly non-Nehruite, Modi could ask himself: how much do we need the pollination of the Superpower in our own goal of achieving our own exceptionalist vision?
Or has the time come once again to go back to the BRICS line-up, the Non-alignment 2.0 (as opposed to alignment with the US national interest), the “strategic autonomy” regime or the G-20. This is where together with China and Russia we can consider building a global consensus against the common scourge of people’s alienation from political power; gross inequality in financial terms; and for sustainable co-development.

Do we need to set our agendas from the front pages of The New York Times or Washington Post or CNN? Or do we search for a Seymour Hersh, who has the stupendous courage to take on the full Establishment of the USA and write a story about the killing of Osama Bin Laden (without judicial trial!)? He wrote a narrative that makes the official fable look like a full “Potemkin Village” – a Stalinist chimaera.

China wants a quid pro quo from India for agreeing to its membership application for the NSG club that it itself joined in the mid-1990s. Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and her Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar seem to have found that common ground with Beijing. That is far more interesting a development and more important than a few nuclear energy multinationals lobbying for India’s entry into the NSG because they need the business.  

Was India’s stature enhanced when the US Senate failed to take up Senator John McCain’s India-specific amendment to the new law? This law surprisingly found bipartisan consensus in the most fractious Congress in US history, all because it was about good old “moolah”.

So does money make the world go round? No. Ideas do. And the place for ideation is no longer the preserve of the USA, France or Britain. In all these nations, the people are rising up. The ones in India who are watching avidly the Euro 2016 football are not aware that the Paris streets are almost totally clogged by millions of striking trade union protesters – from the coal industry, from railways, from communication industry.

These people are standing tall to reject the new labour laws that have been promulgated by the “socialist” President, Francois Hollande, whose list of celebrity girlfriends make more interesting read than his speeches. One recalls the policeman in Paris standing on a ceremonial police line who refused to shake the President’s hand, while people on his right and on his left failed to show a composite resolve of distaste for the quality of leadership.

So let us all ask ourselves: do we need to search for friends between an obnoxious Donald Trump or an empire builder like Hillary Clinton? Or do we need to ask our own conscience every once in a while: power to do what? We should remember “real idealism” of a Nehru was also tinged with “idealistic realism” by which the Dalai Lama found a home. 

(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are strictly personal.)
Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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