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Friday, January 26, 2007

Think Again: India

The following came from the article on Foreign Policy website. The author, Barbara Crossette, reported for the New York Times on the killing of Sikhs in New Delhi in 1984 and was later the Times chief correspondent for South Asia 1988-1991 and bureau chief at the United Nations 1994-2001. This article speaks out something about India's situation.

“India and the United States are natural allies”

Not so fast. It was not until the collapse of its champion and friend, the Soviet Union, that Delhi saw reasons to improve ties dramatically with the United States. Recent mutual overtures to warm U.S.-Indian ties are still works in progress on both sides. Though the world’s most populous democracy seems to be increasingly in sync with free-market American thinking, India’s interests often conflict with those of the United States.

Consider India’s relationship with Iran. The energy-hungry subcontinent looks at Iran in the same way that the United States views Saudi Arabia. Iran and India reached a “strategic partnership” in 2003, cementing the “historical ties” between the two nations. India is now chafing at Western demands that it stop backing Iran’s right to develop its nuclear capacities. Despite a new American deal to share advanced nuclear technology with India, Delhi is likely to resist opening its own nuclear facilities to serious international inspection and remains steadfast in its refusal to sign major international arms-control agreements. The father of its clandestine nuclear bomb, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, is now the country’s president.

“India is a responsible world power”

Not yet. India has a history of interference in the politics of its weaker South Asian neighbors. A rebellion in Pakistan split the country in two in 1971 with a lot of help from Delhi, whose army effectively created Bangladesh. Over a million people died in the bloody ethnic cleansing campaigns that followed. In the 1980s, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebels started a vicious civil war from safe bases in India’s Tamil Nadu state, with generous assistance from Indian intelligence agencies. Sikkim, a little Tibetan Buddhist kingdom, disappeared altogether after a Machiavellian manipulation of its ethnic Nepali population by former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who spent the better part of the 1970s and 1980s troublemaking in the region. Only recently, under former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have these activities been curtailed.

India has nevertheless projected a positive image in the world, largely because the country is far more successful than the United States at public diplomacy. India’s outstanding diplomatic corps and government officials are more focused on winning all-or-nothing support for India in the international arena than they are on confronting India’s shortcomings.

Impressive economic growth and a nuclear arsenal have made India a world power, and may earn it a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. The question remains, however, whether India’s voice and vote would do any more than echo the mantras of the Nonaligned Movement and the Group of 77. Last year, for instance, India supported Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s bid for a Security Council seat. India contributed 0.4 percent of the United Nations budget in 2006, less than Israel, about the same as Poland, only slightly more than Ireland, and one fifth of the dues paid by China. India, unlike the United States, does field many international peacekeepers. The Indian armed forces are superbly well trained, urbane, and effective. Within India, however, U.N. activity is always under close scrutiny. The U.N.’s international monitoring mission for Kashmir, one of the first to be established more than half a century ago, is forced to work almost entirely on the Pakistani side of the border.

“India will surpass China”

Perhaps, But at What?. India, which currently has a population of 1.1 billion people, will be the world’s most populous nation sometime in the next few decades. But that may be the only arena in which it overtakes China.

Both countries have large urban-rural gaps and other income and living standard disparities, but China is now well ahead of India on a number of key indicators. China ranks at number 81 of 177 countries on the latest United Nations Human Development Index (in the neighborhood of Armenia or Peru), while India is 126 (below Namibia and just ahead of Cambodia). In China, a person’s chance of dying before the age of 40 is just under 7 percent. In India it’s over 16 percent, higher than in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Eighty percent of Indians live on $2 a day or less, compared with about 46 percent of the Chinese. Almost half the children under 5 in India are malnourished, compared with 8 percent in China.

India’s democratic system prevents it from taking draconian measures, such as China’s one-child policy, to keep population growth in check. India’s population is growing at 1.38 percent a year, a figure that may look low until it is multiplied by more than 1 billion. India adds more than 15 million people a year to its population, nearly twice the population of Austria. Indian leaders are aware that a “youth bulge,” which demographers expect to level off by 2025, can be conducive to economic growth. But countries in this position need to, “broaden the opportunities for young people to develop their human capital and use it productively,” in the words of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2007. That’s the route to prosperity followed by Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea—and now China. The adult literacy rate in China is above 90 percent. In India, it’s 61 percent. About one quarter of primary-school-age Indian children are not in school. In China, the figure is practically zero.

“India is becoming a high-tech, middle-class nation”

Prove it. India’s vaunted middle class is still a distinct minority. In reality, the gap between rich and poor remains enormous. An Oxfam report in 2006 predicted that even if India met all the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015, which is almost impossible, 500 million Indians would still have no access to basic sanitation. The World Bank has concluded that India may have many highly skilled professionals, scientists, and engineers, “but they represent only a fraction of the population.” The information technology sector in India, which accounts for just 4 percent of GDP, employs only 1 million people, and most come from predictable, higher-caste, private-school-educated, English-speaking families. Although some parts of the country are becoming world centers of research and development in technology, just 32 out of every 1,000 Indians have access to the Internet. That’s 3.2 percent of the population.

“India is a model of tolerance”

No. Human rights abuses and corruption of political power are far more prevalent in India than in other democracies. Indians can use the courts for redress, but the justice system is incredibly backlogged, and large numbers of abuses go unpunished. Worse yet, the Hindu caste system is hopelessly discriminatory. Poor people can be killed for offenses as petty as trespassing in a high-caste Brahmin temple or drawing water from an upper-caste well.

The treatment of most Indian women can be just as bad. Women are much more likely to be illiterate, earn one-third as much as men across the board, and die in the thousands annually as the victims of abusive spouses or in-laws. The same goes for religious minorities. In 1984, mobs in New Delhi, reacting to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, slaughtered around 3,000 Sikh men and boys. Witnesses identified Congress Party politicians directing some of the killings, yet none among them were ever convicted. In a more recent incident, 2,000 Muslims were killed in the state of Gujarat in 2002. As in the case of the Sikh massacres, where the army ultimately had to restore order, corrupt police forces in Gujarat stood aside and let the carnage go on.

This is to say nothing of Kashmir, whose people consider themselves ethnically and historically separate from India. Most Muslim Kashmiris have become united in their contempt for Indian rule. Over the last two decades, tens of thousands of people on all sides have died in Kashmir; thousands more have been arrested or “disappeared.” Human rights groups have decried abuses on both sides. But extrajudicial killings by the Indian military are common and well documented. It is a stinging indictment of democratic India.

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