Indian Expansionism’s Big Power Dreams
Nearly a year into its rule, the Modi regime is yet to deliver anything substantial on the so called ‘economic growth’ front –– other than several policy decisions that further open up the country to imperialist plunder. Despite the windfall gain made through the steep fall in crude oil prices, the Central government’s finances are still in a bad shape. With their hype on fast tracking the economy punctured, Modi’s spindoctors are now trumpeting his foreign policy. The claim is that he has masterfully catapulted India into a prominent position on the world arena through his international moves. Obama’s visit as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade took this to a frenzy. Forceful, dynamic, strategic –– the flow of adjectives are torrential. On closer observation, they stand in inverse proportion to actual results.
Modi has indeed taken India into an even closer engagement with the US and its allies Japan and Australia, both of whom are pivotal in the US strategic plan to contain China. Closer ties with Vietnam and Fiji are promoted as a counterplay to China’s penetration in South Asia. But where it really matters for Indian expansionism, in South Asia, it is steadily being pressed by the growing weight of China. Though the Indian rulers once again succeeded in blocking China’s entry, it couldn’t prevent this issue from becoming a major topic in the November 2014 SAARC summit. Moreover, support for China’s membership has gained more adherents. Other than Pakistan, now Sri Lanka and the Maldives argued for it, with Nepal tacitly acceding. China holds out the promise of huge investments, which means fat commissions and they see no reason to forsake it. This was ultimately reflected in the wording of the declaration issued by the SAARC summit of November 2014 which instructed its concerned body to “…to engage the SAARC Observers into productive, demand driven and objective project based cooperation in priority areas as identified by the Member States.”
India’s opposition is increasingly getting isolated as petty obstructionism. Meanwhile, Indian expansionist plans for its greater and quicker economic penetration of South Asia through a Trade Pact continued to be blocked by Pakistan. Several other developments also underline the limits of Modi’s initiatives in South Asia. Maldives has for some time now been moving closer to China. The cancellation of a major airport project given to an Indian firm and its replacement by a Chinese infrastructure concern was a landmark of sorts in this trend. It has now been further strengthened by the Maldivian government’s decision to endorse the 21st century Maritime Silk Route (MSR) promoted by Chinese expansionism. The MSR visualises development of a sea route from China’s Fujian province to the Mediterranean Sea via South Asia and East Africa. It complements the land based Silk Route proposed through Central Asia, linking China to Europe. The Maldivian endorsement of the MSR involves the building of a deep sea port on its northernmost Atoll, which will eventually open up space for Chinese naval activity. Ironically, the Maldivian President Abdulla Yammeen too has announced a ‘look East’ shift in foreign policy, a shift to closer ties with China. His reasoning was that economic cooperation with China does not challenge Maldives’ “Islamic” identity unlike ties with “Western colonial powers”.
It is obvious that the real entity he had in mind was India, which had tried to prop up a new power centre in the form of the presidency of Mohamed Nashed, not part of the traditional ruling elite. The Brahmanic Hindutva Sangh Parivar banners of the Modi regime are certainly not going to ease the path of Indian expansionism over there. If Maldives is a new headache for the Indian rulers, Sri Lanka under its former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had become increasingly explicit in servicing of Chinese expansionist interests. The repeated port calls of Chinese submarines in Sri Lanka ignoring Delhi’s opposition was big news in the Indian media, accompanied by reports of how the Modi government made its ‘strong displeasure’ known to Rajapaksa. But there was nothing to show that this mattered to Colombo. The Modi regime will surely be hoping that the new presidency of Maithripala Sirisena will be of help in once again securing its domination. Reports, which are now coming out in the media, indicate that his defection from the Rajapaksa camp and success in stitching up a winning alliance was no sudden development.
It was the product of months long secret consultations among various forces, with the Indian spy agency RAW playing a leading role. The pay off is already seen in the statements made by the new Sri Lankan rulers on ‘correcting the imbalance’ in foreign relations and the express visit made to Delhi by their new foreign minister. But Sri Lanka’s growing relations with China, even at the expense India, was not just some purely Rajapaksa affair. It is rootedt in the interests of the Sri Lankan ruling classes. Despite the change of regime they will continue to try Despite the change of regime they will continue to try to benefit by manoeuvring between Indian and Chinese expansionism.
At the most there may be some move away by the Maithripala government from Rajapaksa’s overt tilt to China in order to manoeuvre all the better. China has invested nearly Rs 30,000 crore in that country since 2009 compared to India’s Rs 180 crores. Meanwhile, Pakistan has strengthened ties with Russia which delivered advanced weapons to it disregarding the objections of the Indian ruling classes. The recent summit meeting between Putin and Modi has repeated the usual verbiage on the ‘strategic partnership’ between Russia and India. After the usual condemnations of ‘terrorism’ their joint statement goes on to state, “The leaders expressed hope that all safe havens and sanctuaries for terrorists will be wiped out without delay and terrorism would be completely eradicated from the common region within a decade.” What stands out here is the change in wording compared to last year’s statement.
There the targeting of Pakistan was rather obvious –– “… terrorist acts … may have international linkages extending across and beyond the borders. States that provide aid, abetment and shelter for such terrorist activities are themselves as guilty as the actual perpetrators of terrorism.” Though India still remains a major market for Russian weaponry and both are members of the BRICS, Moscow is evidently readjusting its relations in South Asia in view of the growing dependence of the Indian rulers on Washington. In the short term there won’t be a total reframing –– India has its geopolitical value for Russian imperialism, not the least as a foil to China. But Pakistan’s immediate gain, and the consequent weakening of Indian expansionism’s clout, is obvious.
For all the aggressive hard sell of going from ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’ in its pursuit of Indian expansionist interests the Modi regime still remains more or less where the UPA left off. Modi’s foreign policy is characterised by some (and criticised by others like the CPM-CPI revisionists) as a total break from the one followed till now. Deepening ties with Zionist Israel,practically abandoning the Indian state’s long standing support to the Palestinian cause, is an often cited example. Its silence during last year’s genocide in Gaza surely gave ample evidence. But a meaningful look at India’s foreign policy,including its present specificities and nuances, demands a wide angled take.
The striking shift in stance on Palestine is not a purely Modi or BJP impulse. Diplomatic ties with Israel were inaugurated in the early 1990s by the Congress led by Narasimha Rao. They were maintained and nurtured over subsequent decades by Central governments formed or supported by parties from the whole spectrum of parliamentary forces, all the way from the rightist BJP to the so called leftist CPM. The continuity in the orientation of India’s foreign policy, no matter who rules, is striking. It emerges from the expansionist ambitions of what is essentially a comprador state. Significant shifts in its foreign policy orientation, seen over the six and odd decades of its existence, are well contained within this continuity. Two periods can be distinguished. The first was that of so called non-alignment inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Apparently indicating an independent bearing in foreign affairs it was actually a euphemism for the manoeuvring of the Indian ruling classes in the world arena. Two factors made this possible. The more important of them was the replacement of overt colonialism with indirect rule and domination through neo-colonialism. The other was the growing contention between the imperialist blocs led by the US and Russia, which emerged as a super power after the restoration of capitalism in the 1950s.
The first of these made non alignment a possible option since the legitimacy of neo colonialism depended on allowing room for some amount of independent posturing by oppressed countries. Neo colonialism after all was itself mainly an imperialist response to the tide of national liberation struggles. It was meant to diffuse them by seeming to accede independence. The second factor, imperialist contention, created space for manoeuvring. But possibility and space didn’t automatically translate into ‘nonalignment’. It was born from the need of the new rulers of the excolonies to actualise and utilise the space of formal independence granted by their neocolonial existence. Because, even after transferring power to their trusted agents, the colonial powers tried their best to retain as much direct control as possible in the erstwhile colonies. The US was championing ‘decolonisation’ with the intent of coopting nationalist sentiments and serve its aim of edging back the traditional powers and gaining a dominant position.
But it too favoured tight control. Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Military groupings like the CENTO and SEATO were formed for this.Though the containment of the socialist camp and communist movements in oppressed countries were made out to be the reason, the real aim was to lock-in countries that had now gained formal independence. The ‘non alignment movement’(NAM) could emerge only by resisting this.In the turbulent post 2nd world war period, any opposition to the erstwhile colonial powers and the US quickly acquired a nationalist, progressive political hue. The world situation marked by a rising tide of national liberation struggles aided this. The NAM came to be regarded as the champion of national independence opposed to Western imperialism. But a closer look would show that this was hardly the case. The NAM was not really driven by anti imperialism. It was a continuation of the anti colonialism of compradors, already seen in political movements led by them in the colonial period; for example, the one led by the Indian National Congress. In the long run, NAM style opposition aided imperialist powers since the definition of imperialism was being restricted to colonialism at a time when neocolonialism was already replacing it in the real world.
Thus, even while there were occasions of sharp contradiction and even conflict (the Goan war) with specific imperialist powers, ties of dependence to Western imperialism and service to it could be well contained in the non aligned stance of the Indian state. India, Egypt and Yugoslavia were prominent initiators of the NAM. Among them, India had ties with multiple Western imperialist powers and a fairly sizeable economy they were keen on exploiting. Egypt enjoyed strategic geopolitical importance. Yugoslavia had political value in the contention with the socialist camp. The US backed Yugoslavia against the socialist Soviet Union. In Egypt it stepped in against British and French imperialist aggression when Nasser, the then president of that country, nationalised the Suez Canal. India, under Nehru, allowed it to stage spying sorties over China. Within the Western imperialist camp the NAM thus gave rise to opposing responses. Most saw it as a tool of the socialist camp. Yet there were others too who perceived in it a useful countervail against developments in the AfroAsian Bandung conference of 1955 where neocolonial countries joined up with socialist countries and revolutionary China gained prominence. This dimension of the NAM was gradually unravelled with the emergence of a new imperialist bloc, through the rise of Soviet social imperialism. When the relation between the two blocs went from collusion to contention in the early 1970s, the NAM bloomed as an institutional framework eminently suited to neo colonialism. Growing contention between the two blocs, led by the US and the Soviet Union, posed the pressing need before the comprador states to ally with one or the other.
They could do this and still retain some manoeuvrability by being part of the NAM. On their part, the super powers could utilise its venues through their proxies and employ the ‘independence’ rhetoric to accuse each other of domination while continuing to pursue their imperialist agendas and poach on the other’s camp. The social imperialist bloc initially enjoyed a bit of an advantage since it was unencumbered by any colonial past. But increasing instances of its aggressive moves, such as the occupation of Afghanistan, soon whittled this down. By the end of the 1970s, military pacts like CENTO and SEATO with an explicit colonial pedigree were winded up while the NAM remained and grew. But now its conferences increasingly, and openly, became another venue of super power contention.
The uniquely neocolonial characteristic of the nonalignment policy was best demonstrated by Indian expansionism itself when it signed the Soviet social imperialist proposed Defence Treaty of 1972 even while it remained a staunch proponent of the NAM. Despite threats of the US, it could attack and dismember Pakistan by manoeuvring and utilising the national liberation cause of Bangladesh. It seized and forcibly incorporated Sikkim. It gained nuclear weapon capacity. All of these moves strengthened and consolidated Indian expansionism’s domination in South Asia. But none of this was given by its strength as an independent power. They became possible within the larger framework of super power contention, under social imperialist protection guaranteed by the Treaty of 1972.
Once nonalignment is located within the broader international frame of imperialist relations, the logic of the shift in foreign policy initiated by the Indian National Congress’s Narasimha Rao government in the early 1990s becomes apparent. This was necessitated by the new international situation. The collapse of social imperialism in the early 1990s and the recasting of neocolonial legitimacy under the aggressive push of globalisation had made nonalignment redundant. Indian expansionist interests could no longer rely on social imperialism. It needed to toady to US imperialism. In hindsight, the grounds for this had already been laid down by Indira Gandhi in the beginning of the 1980s.
Growing political and economic problems weakening Soviet social imperialism had begun to limit its capacity. The Indian ruling classes had to turn to the IMF. Since then, dependence on the US bloc kept on deepening. Though all the appropriate nonaligned gestures and rituals were followed, the tilt to the US in international relations became more and more explicit. Under Rajiv Gandhi, Indian military facilities were offered to refuel US war planes bombing Iraq. It fell to Narasimha Rao to give the crucial push. Quite significantly, this was accompanied by the turn to globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation, abandoning earlier economic policies that gave preference to the public sector and a greater role for the government.
To secure their comprador and expansionist interests the Indian ruling classes had to abandon the policies and structures built up under Nehru, both in the domestic and international realms. Such recasting however posed the threat of tearing off their guise of independence. This was further amplified by the turn in political discourse brought about by imperialist globalisation. For the several decades following the transfer of power in 1947, exposure of imperialism and its control, the role of the IMF and World Bank as neocolonial institutions and similar issues had been restricted to Maoist forces. It had almost disappeared even from the propaganda of the parliamentary left like the CPM and CPI.
This would change with the global shift to globalisation and the fall of the social imperialist bloc leading to the near total domination of the US. Imperialist dependence and its institutional control became live topics even in parliamentary discourse, with ramifications going well beyond it. Being forced to increasingly expose their subservience to imperialism, each act of the ruling classes was simultaneously acknowledging the correctness of Maoist analysis on the sham nature of India’s independence. The attempt to distract public opinion through an aggressive promotion of Brahmanic Hinduism and its chauvinism was useful to the extent of deepening communal polarisation. But it too failed in the matter of salvaging the independence banners of the ruling classes.
In fact, the opportunities obtained by the Sangh Parivar to rule, whether the 13 day spell in 1996 or the full term of the 2nd NDA government, only showed it up as even more subservient to US interests. Since all the parliamentary parties were either in Central or State governments, and all were pushing the imperialist agenda of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation, none within the ruling class spectrum could step in as saviour. Independence, self reliance and the whole package of terminology earlier employed to cover up the reality of a semi colonial, semifeudal existence had to be redefined. The global recasting of neocolonial legitimacy came in handy. In the second half of the last century marked by liberation struggles and the shift to neocolonialism, Third world country rulers were remarked for their so called independence. In these times of globalisation it is ‘growth’, measured in GDP, that counts. GDP growth is now the mark of a country’s standing.
Self reliance, even of a spurious variety funded by foreign aid, is no longer touted as an achievement. Bigger and bigger volumes of foreign capital are no longer seen as detrimental, as a sign of increasing imperialist control. On the contrary, success in economic policy is measured by being able to attract greater shares of foreign capital. This was a way out for the Indian ruling classes who were faced with a challenge to their legitimacy thrown up by the turn of international developments. To this they have added a ‘local flavour’ –— the projection of Indian expansionism as an aspiring ‘superpower’. Growing bigger GDPwise with all that it entailed more foreign capital, even closer dependence to the US was legitimised as inevitable and necessary steps along the road to superpower status. In the early 1990s, when this was being initiated, there could hardly be any talk of status. The Indian rulers were barely pulling on by hocking the country’s gold reserves.
But the liberalisation induced GDP growth that clearly emerged in the 2000s, with its visible index given by a flood of modern consumer goods and their imitations (the ‘invisible’ part was a stupendous widening of income disparities), soon created space for this. Speculations on the Indian economy surpassing the US by the middle of this century and the entry allowed to its rulers in some imperialist clubs were woven into the hyperbole of India emerging as a superpower. Indian foreign policy was recast to suit the new situation. Toadying to the US now became its mainstay. This was legitimised as necessary for the projection of India’s self avowed status and to counter China.
These were the drivers of Narasimha Rao’s ‘Look East’ policy which sought to build strategic ties with countries in South East Asia. It was also a correction from the pro-Russian ‘nonalignment’ period which had limited its engagement with these countries, since they were mainly tied to the US camp. We had earlier noted that Indian foreign policy is determined by the expansionist ambitions of what is essentially a comprador state. This gives it its continuity. The United Front governments that followed Narasimha Rao proved this without fail. His ‘Look East’ policy was continued and now embellished with what came to be known as the ‘Gujral Doctrine’. Named after the late IK Gujral, foreign minister and then prime minister, it addressed relations with countries in the immediate vicinity, those in South Asia (Pakistan excluded). The first of this set of five principles declares that “…with the neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, India does not ask for reciprocity but gives all that it can in good faith and trust.”
It would be instructive to note the resounding echo of these words in Modi’s grandiloquent promises of Indian munificence at his Delhi Durbar where all the Heads of State of South Asia were called in to witness his coronation and later repeated at the Kathmandu SAARC Summit. It is even more educative that almost all ruling class political commentators avoided any recollection of such past promises in their haste to establish Modi’s stance as a totally new beginning. They have reason for that. The essential logic of Gujral’s Doctrine, explained by none other than its author himself in his autobiography, was that “… since we had to face two hostile neighbours in the north and the west, we had to be at ‘total peace’ with all other immediate neighbours in order to contain Pakistan’s and China’s influence in the region.” (italics added)
The expansionist thrust of good neighbourliness couldn’t have been put more starkly — the reasoning is not even that of preventing any direct threat to India. It is that of securing what is arrogantly considered their backyard by the Indian ruling classes, by blocking others. Quite understandably, among India’s neighbours, there were no takers for Gujral’s ‘good faith and trust.’ Indian expansionism’s growing appetite makes it ever more ambitious. Pranab Mukherjee in his earlier avatar as foreign minister had modestly outlined this as one of “expanding circles”, starting with South Asia and then moving on to the immediate regions. Other ruling class strategists have termed it as “concentric circles”.
The assumption is that securing domination in South Asia and becoming a significant force in surrounding regions will secure a place for them, along with the big imperialist powers, at the global level. Over the years this thinking was given military and economic muscle. The Indian joint command post at Andaman and Nicobar has been built up into a formidable outpost with 15 ships, two naval, four air force and naval air bases and an army brigade. India operates an air base in Tajikistan. Along the northern border, two new army divisions have been deployed and moves are on to raise a mountain strike corp specifically directed against China. The Indian state is a major player in training and supplying the Afghan puppet army built up by the US and its allies. It has established an extensive network of government and quasi-government offices throughout Afghanistan that multiply the operational capacities of its covert agencies.
India is also a major supplier of weaponry to Vietnam and Myanmar. Through state owned and private corporations it has built up a widespread network in Africa, often competing with Chinese expansionism. It is also actively promoting its presence in South America. There is thus a whole array of strategical and tactical moves with domination over South Asia at the core. The move to the East is an attempt at outflanking China as a counter to its thrusts into South Asia, as well as a step taken to secure this ‘core interest’ by projecting itself in the surrounding region. This working out of Indian foreign policy has its specific internal expansionist logic. It wouldn’t do to ignore this or its continuity from Nehru to Modi and put it merely as a matter of ‘India getting trapped in US plans’ or ‘BJP abandoning India’s independent foreign policy’ as done by the CPM-CPI leaders.
Yet, it must also be understood that it has become possible precisely due to the realignment that has taken place in the geopolitics of both these regions, South and South East Asia. This realignment emerged with the collapse of social imperialism and the growth of China’s economic and military power. Over the past two decades it has driven up the strategic value of these regions for US imperialism and, consequently, the utility of boosting Indian expansionism. Shaped and promoted over these years, US strategy is now formalised in Obama’s ‘Pivot to the Asia-Pacific’ also described as ‘Rebalance to Asia’.
It demands Indian expansionism to move in step. While the policy of Looking East and moves to actualise it has been standard fare of Indian foreign policy for the past few decades, it couldn’t quite get there due to various political compulsions faced by successive governments. Now that the BJP has a clear majority making coalition politics inconsequential and Modi has the backing of almost all sections of the ruling classes, Indian expansionism is going all out to make up for the lost time. Yet, even the slogan popularised by Modi to signify his energetic push, the claim to be ‘Acting East’ rather than merely ‘Looking East’, is miserably devoid of all originality. He merely parrots Hillary Clinton. While functioning as Obama’s Secretary of State during his first term a few years back she had instructed the Indian rulers “not just to look East but engage East and act East as well.”.
There could be nothing more demonstrative than this of how the Modi peg fits the US groove. Or, for that matter, of how the Brahmanic fascist RSS’s ‘Hindu Rashtravad’ (Hindu nationalism) slavishly serves imperialism. The Strategic Vision Statement released during Obama’s visit repeats what was said in 2014. Here, the geographical definition of Indo-US ‘strategic vision’ – from Africa to East Asia – is of particular interest. It corresponds to the ‘expanding circles’ strategy of Indian expansionism and marks the position US imperialism has alloted to it. The immediate thrust of their moves is made explicit by pointedly referring to the South China Sea disputes of China and other littoral countries and insisting on “ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight”.
China’s strategic moves, its Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road, are met with a point to point counter vision — ‘regional economic integration’ linking South, Southeast, and Central Asia and the US’s New Silk Road and IndiaPacific Economic Corridor. India’s role is also outlined in relation to the existing imperialist alliance forged by the US with Japan. The broad plan of the US envisages building up close political and military cooperation, if not an alliance, of Japan, Australia and India under US tutelage. Several structures are already in place, built up with active participation of previous Indian governments. They include regular joint naval exercises involving forces from these countries and bilateral, multilateral consultations.
Pushed on by the US, Modi now wants to make these ties tighter, particularly in the field of defence. Opening up India to a bigger and deeper penetration of Japanese monopoly capital is a high priority. In view of rising tensions between Japan and China, the Indian compradors calculate that a major chunk of Japanese investment can be turned to India. As such, climbing wages in China increasingly make it less attractive to imperialist transnational corporations. This is an important factor underlying Modi’s ‘Make in India’ project. He is quite blatant in promising a skilled, low cost labour force, with the emphasis on the latter. Moves initiated during the previous UPA government to eliminate whatever legal protection workers have against their exploiters are being pursued at the Central level.
All the RSS manned BJP State governments are already in an overdrive to implement this. The Rajasthan government has already done this. What we see here is the nexus between Modi’s ‘Act East’ foreign policy and his economic policies. They share common origins, in the class character of the ruling classes. Almost all of Modi’s foreign visits and hosting of foreign leaders fall within the broad alliance parameters set by the US. The elevation of Indo-Japanese relations to the level of sale and collaboration in manufacture of a four engine amphibious aircraft, the Shin Maywa US2, is significant. Closer integration of India into the US led strategic tie up in the Asia Pacific is of course amplified.
Apart from that, by initiating the first ever foreign sale of Japanese armaments and its collaboration in weapon development in another country after the 2nd World War, it signifies a major step forward in the militarisation of Japanese imperialism. Restrictions on military build up by Tokyo was enforced through the Japanese Constitution after the 2nd World War. That Constitution was prepared under US aegis. However, since the past few decades, reversing this restriction has been a top item in the US agenda for the Asia Pacific. The US would want Japan (and Australia) to take up a far bigger share of military tasks. The Japanese ruling class is not averse to this. As it is, under the innocuous banner of a Self Defence Force, it has already built up formidable land, sea and air power. The industrial capacities of the country allow it to boost this up quite rapidly, even attaining nuclear weapon capabilities. What stands as a formidable hurdle to any such move is the strong opposition of the Japanese people to militarisation.
The Japanese ruling class consciously utilises its growing contradictions with China to whip up jingoism and thus create public opinion that can weaken and undermine this opposition. Modi has willingly made India a chip in this dirty game. We have seen that domination over South Asia lies at the core of Indian expansionism’s foreign policy. Within this, Pakistan, or rather, putting it down, has remained its prime agenda since 1947. Its nuclear weapon capacity makes it a force the Indian rulers simply cannot ignore. Moreover, it enjoys a unique and long standing relation with China that goes all the way back to its foundation in 1947. So too is the USPak relation. No matter how much the US is keen on pampering Indian expansionist interests it will not let go of Pakistan. It has great geopolitical importance in its scheme.
The intensification of the resistance in Afghanistan that is inevitably going to follow the US camp’s withdrawal adds to this. Therefore, the US authorities will publicly scold Pakistani rulers, insist on its taking steps against this or that organisation declared to be ‘terrorist’, but support and supplies will continue. The Indian ruling classes have continuously tried to reverse this. Other than being comforted with some more harsh words directed against Pakistani rulers they have not made any notable headway. That remains, despite Modi’s much touted ‘personal chemistry’ with Obama. His spin doctors have paraded the naming of several organisations held to be ‘terrorist’ (such as the Lashkare Tayyiba and Jaishe Mohammad) in the Joint Statement issued during Obama’s visit as a major advance in this regard. But this was mere window dressing; these organisations have been named for long by the UN and the US in their ban lists.
All along, with bans and lists in place, the CIA has also been utilising the services of their cadre for its operations. This was exposed in the Hayden case. Despite all the covert and overt cooperation between the two countries, the Indian agencies have not been given access to interrogate him. US relations with Pakistan thus remain a major irritant for the Indian ruling classes. It is even more so for the Brahminic fascist RSS. For this organisation that controls the Modi government, hatred of Muslims, and by extension Pakistan bashing, is the central pin, the very organising principle, of its communal chauvinism, of its projected ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The RSS has a longstanding orientation of ingratiating the US and getting India integrated in its orbit. For many decades, during the ‘nonaligned’ or pro-Russian imperialist period, this was out of sync with the overall orientation of the Indian ruling classes.
The reorientation in Indian foreign policy brought about by world developments reversed this. It allowed the narrowing down of differences among different sections of the ruling classes. A shift to a pro-US stance emerged as the consensus.Yet, it is only now, with the Modi government, that the RSS is getting an unhampered opportunity to push its agenda. But, the terms are set by the US which has its own concerns. As we saw, this includes its support to the Pakistani state just as much as it pampers and bolsters Indian expansionism. If the RSS agenda of integrating India in the US orbit as a means to boost its expansionist plans is to advance, the Modi government must bow to the imperatives of US interests. The restraints this imposes on the RSS’s core anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan, Brahmanic communal drivers will surely introduce many wobbles in Modi’s foreign and home policies. A preview was seen in the reactions to Obama’s parting speech. Conveniently forgetting the huge promotion of Islamophobia by the US and the murderous persecution of coloured people under his rule, he took it upon himself to lecture to the audience on India’s constitutional guarantee of the right to propagate any religion.
Evidently, he was brandishing the ‘human rights’ lathi often used by the US to threaten other states and secure its interests. The rash of Brahmanic Hindu fascists attacks on religious minorities, including forcible reconversion, seen over the past few months after Modi came to power gives the US many opportunities to do this. Obama’s comments were an arrogant interference in India’s internal affairs and it should have been protested. If the Congress or some other party were in power the whole pack of Sangh Parivarists would be opportunistically howling for blood. But nothing of that sort was seen. Instead, its official organ, the ‘Organiser’, delivered a classic example of the Sangh Parivar’s slavish comprador logic: “US understanding of India’s religious ethos is definitely not in line with the way we as Indians think of multireligious society, but the way it thinks will form a centrepiece for those that are looking to invest in India on a long term basis.”
The message was clear — in the so-called Hindu nation they strive to establish, all ‘Rashtravadis’ (nationalists) had better learn to cosy up to ‘the way those looking to invest think‘; otherwise the dollars will not come. Well before this writing came out, the BJP’s top leadership was already acting out its instructions by using every opportunity to declare their support to secularism. Yet not all are agreed. Some other top members of the Sangh Parivar have come out against Obama’s comments, though not as stridently as they would have if they were not in power.
This contradiction is also being utilised in the tugs within the Sangh Parivar and among various sections in the broader Brahmanic Hindu fascist camp. Brahmanism will stoop to any lows to curry favours with those it sees as superior. It is capable of opportunist convolutions and stretching out to contain such contradictions. Even then, some of these hitches could still turn out to be game upsetting ones. Another factor to be considered is that of Sino-US relations and its swings. To get into this we must first assess the BRICS, where India and China are partners. These countries, along with Brazil and South Africa, are still part of the Third world. Yet, they have sizeable big and relatively diversified economies that takes them far ahead of other oppressed nations.
The BRICS expresses a confluence of the common interest of these countries to bargain with the imperialist powers, particularly US imperialism, and of Russian imperialism in boosting its capacity to contend with other imperialists. Following the collapse of Soviet social imperialism the US became the all powerful sole superpower. It tried to use this situation to establish what has been described as a ‘unipolar world’. This was especially seen in its actions after the attacks on the World Trade Centre, in its ‘war on terrorism’. Rather than building up a coalition under its leadership as was the earlier practice, the war on Iraq was prepared and declared on its own. It was arrogantly stated that it would not wait for others, even its allies.
The near total dominance of the US forced the other imperialist powers to tag along, despite their differences and concern at being bypassed in taking such decisions. These acts of the US exposed the UN as an ineffective body. This again was a matter of concern for them and the reactionary rulers who had often found it a useful tool. Therefore, the other imperialist powers as well as major Third World countries like China and India were opposed to US ‘unipolar’ designs. Developments in the world itself gave them opportunities to realise this. No matter what the US rulers thought, the world was in fact always ‘multi-polar’ since contention between imperialist countries and contradiction between oppressed peoples and imperialism is a permanent feature of this system.
The multi-polar reality of the imperialist system was soon brought out forcefully through the stiff armed resistance the US had to face in Iraq and Afghanistan. Getting caught up in these wars of aggression started weaking the US. Other imperialist powers, especially Russia, utilised this situation to regain positions and push back the US. A number of new international organisations came up as an expression of the new condition. They include strategic groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The deadlock in WTO trade and services pacts has added space, leading to the formation of trade organisations like Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Having been forced to back off from its unilateral aggressiveness the US too has joined this business of building up new multilateral institutions.
The BRICS has to be situated within this world context. It of course has its own particularity. For the Indian ruling classes, BRICS serves to retain and create more room for manoeuvring and gaining from inter-imperialist contentions to the extent possible. In this sense it is similar to the NAM. The NAM was an expression of the emergence and evolution of international relations following the break up of the old colonial order in the post 2nd World War period and its replacement by neocolonial ties with oppressed nations. Under imperialist globalisation these ties, and the international system of states, have further evolved, providing room for an institution like the BRICS. On the one hand it is overwhelmingly Third world, Russia being the exception.
On the other, its Third world concerns are distinctly different from those of other oppressed countries. For instance, in forums like the WTO, the BRICS have shown that they are perfectly willing to subscribe to harmful imperialist policies where it suits them too in their exploitation of other Third world countries. The BRICS is thus not simply the coincidental materialisation of an acronym coined by somebody. It is a product of contemporary international relations.
All of its Third world participants have a common stake in securing and expanding the position and space they have arrived at. Yet, among them, China is in a different league. It has a decisive, determining position, if anything because of its economic clout. In the present world, without China, such an institution cannot persist. For the Indian ruling classes, that is something unpalatable but unavoidable too. The BRICS thus becomes another space for its contention with China. Here Modi and his team think that they can play a clever game — use the US connection to contain China and use BRICS to get better deals from the US. Therefore, foreign minister Bushman Swart flew off to Beijing as soon as the Obama visit was over.
The Indian ruling classes are adept at this game. They played it with some benefit during the period of contention between the US and the erstwhile Soviet camps. But what are its prospects in the present world? The US rulers have for several years promised to do all they can to see India into the UN Security Council. They regularly acknowledge it as an important player at the global level. This puffs up Indian expansionism. Membership in the extended G8 grouping, the G20, was celebrated by the Indian ruling classes as an acknowledgement of their ‘arrival’. There is some truth in this. However, as we just saw, though India is in a different position in comparison to most other Third world countries, it is nowhere near China, economically and militarily.
This gives that country a political weight far beyond that of the Indian state. It places it in a category superior to that of India in US foreign relations. The US is keen on bolstering Indian expansionism precisely because it needs it to keep China in check. For the US, the main determinant in the Asia-Pacific is its relations with China, not India. Therefore, the parameters of its relations with India are determined by this overarching concern. In effect, this means that the Indian state is secondary in the US ordering of priorities. Evidently that offends the Indian rulers with their quite inflated view of where they have ‘arrived’ in world relations. But there is nothing they can do about it. Though India has great strategic geopolitical value for US imperialism, it is not of the same degree as it was for Soviet social imperialism in the past.
Then India was a crucial element for social imperialism in contending with the US camp and threatening socialist China. Today India is only a supplementary element, strategic but not the key factor, in the US game plan for the Asia Pacific, where it has several time tested allies and lackeys. So what does this imply for Modi’s foreign policy? The Modi government is in an overdrive to satisfy the political, military and economic demands of the US in the expectation of being granted the status of a world power, of getting total support for Indian expansionist interests (particularly in South Asia and at the expense of Pakistan). His home and foreign policies serve this aim. Some gestures may be expected from the US, but it will be far less than what is being dreamt off.
Moreover, rather than creating more manoeuvring room for the Indian ruling classes, they are being drawn into tighter and tighter dependent relations with the US. This has horrendous consequences for the country. Already, the poverty of the people is being utilised to entice our youth to slave in military camps of US occupation troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and build their defence infrastructure. Such undeclared service in US military moves will soon become open participation, making our people cannon fodder for imperialist aggression. Modi had changed drug licensing policies to suit MNCs before he went off to meet Obama last year. Now he has bowed down to the demands of US nuclear plant manufacturers to absolve them of all liability in case of accidents in any power plant built with their technology. More can be expected as the poisonous buds of Modi’s policies bloom.