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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 33, August 7, 2010

Is Politics being Redefined between States and Peoples?

Monday 9 August 2010, by Rakesh Gupta

The US-Russian spy swap in Vienna a few days ago, the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, observed, represents pragmatism and some long- term interests in Russian foreign policy towards the US. This nearly coincided with the Indian arrest of a Russian diplomat who overstayed in the country. The Chinese prevailed upon the world to not condemn North Korea over its sinking of the South Korean ship and are pursuing their longstanding policy of developing nuclear relations with Pakistan. This happened almost very close to the Chinese picking up a new Lama and the Indian Foreign Secretary going to Dharamshala where she was huddled with the Dalai Lama for about an hour. India seems to be balancing between the US-Russia, Russia-China and China-US axes. Israel’s Netanyahu and Obama have managed a tight-rope walk on the Gaza Flotilla episode that symbolises, apart from the US-sponsored Turkish shift in policy towards neutrality, an effect to balance Iran. The latter in turn wants to balance the Israeli nuclear status, while there are accusations against the Iraqi state for practising international state investment for terror and Pakistan agreeing on the Pakistan-Iran pipeline. The Iran-Turkey-Israel-Pakistan symbiotic relations of conflict spell danger of war, perhaps. They all have the nuclear edge with the larger nuclear weapon states in the background. Meanwhile people in the Gaza are helplessly looking as elsewhere at this Israeli muscle-flexing.

These atmospherics with some rhetoric have to deal with the issues of helping the stock exchanges that are beginning to recruit more people in the US’ convertibility rates, for example, the relation of the Chinese yuan to the US dollar where no agreement has yet come about, decline in investments in manufacturing and industry in the Western and Chinese economy and cooperation among each of the economies to help out the current crisis in economy and ecology. In respective countries banks are making statements with regard to their losses and comparative gains though still minuscule from Washington to Beijing as well as Moscow. The other players have their own problems—the Japanese leadership is meshed in corruption-election politics, the French leadership in the Conservative Party fund scandals and the British coalition in withdrawing the state from its social welfare commitment further when everywhere the summer temperatures are not only fluctuating but rising. The Sarkozy leadership is as much speaking to the people through the national TV as Obama was heard speaking recently against BP with regard to the oil spill in the Gulf.

IN all this melee of contacts over issues of immediate, at best intermediate two to three year importance, a serious military build-up is taking place and politics accordingly is getting redefined. Everyone is talking to everyone at supra or sub-state level of civil societies about each other’s countries. It appears borders are becoming less significant. The Chinese depend on the Pakistanis to fight terror in its region. The US again depends on Pakistanis as well in Afghanistan. Intelligence-sharing is well under way not only among different states but also among different agencies across borders, even if Zardari may say in Beijing that it will not hand over the Mumbai terror convicts. Some part of his government is with the US and some others with the Taliban in West Punjab. Thankfully the caste stigma does not run its juggernaut in other countries as much as In India. Otherwise khap talks or issues could further involve brutality in the region beyond words.

Could this be true of the governments’ Ministries? All this is implied in cooperation in this globalised world. When this happens people do get confused—including Ministers. Some make statements either for or against this or that foreign power and then retrace their remarks as casual and off-the-record. It appears the left hand does not know what the right hand does. This is quite different from what Benazir Bhutto used to say about the nuclear issues being out of her purview. The bureaucracies seem to be getting balkanised. The US Justice Department tells us about the bribes to Indian bureaucracy involved in the communications sector. In China the competition among airlines is also leading to bribery resulting in suicides by directors of airlines, knife killings, and deadly attacks with sulphuric acid on judges known to be corrupt. Italy recently launched a campaign against the Chinese being involved in money laundering in Milan and the money going to China.

The states are involved in all this. Do they have a hidden agenda? People in Caucasia, Sichuan in China, in African states, Latin America, Moldova, in Russia, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Naxals in Central Indian forests are revolting against their governments and desire change. Poverty, ideology, religion and ethnicity become a heavy mix in varying degrees. Are the states equipped to deal with them? Since they do not seem to, foreign countries swim in troubled waters. How else would one understand the Clinton trip to the Caucasus while Medvedev negotiated with the US to move forward in bilateral economic relations and strategic offensive arms reduction treaty? Practically every country has a programme of military modernisation. That seems to be the rationale of all atmospherics and diplomatic curry and flutter.

The flutter in world politics is about leaderships trying to manage their world in a situation where their control over the people is increasingly slipping. If people sporadically, spontaneously and in an unorganised fashion revolt, it is after they have had their doses of homicides, suicides, contract and random killings, prostitution of their dignity and way of life. In this context states may benefit from them. But if people revolt in organised and sustained manner the states may not be able to play their great games. Currently the civil society shows no such dire spectre of people’s revolt that may haunt states. They have to currently choose between an Anglo-Saxon economic predation and its softer West European version that the Germans represent seeking more government control on private capital.

The author is a Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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