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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 45, October 30, 2010

Wanted Substance, Not Rhetoric

Editorial

Saturday 30 October 2010, by SC

As the third phase of polling for the Bihar Assembly elections ends today, it is still not certain if Nitish Kumar would return to power at the head of the JD(U)-BJP combine though there appears to be unanimity on the opinion that he and his alliance have a distinct advantage over his adversaries, and former CM Laloo Prasad in particular.

Meanwhile as the country and the Union Government get ready for the Obama visit in the first half of next month, the Union Home Secretary and US Ambassador to India have aired sharply divergent views on Washington’s warning to New Delhi about the plans of the Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, David Headley, before the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai two years ago. Home Secretary G.K. Pillai at first conveyed his sense of “disappoint-ment” over India not having received any specific information on the Mumbai terror attacks. This provoked the US envoy, Timothy Roemer, to assert that Washington had provided New Delhi “regular and consistent” information prior to the Mumbai happenings in November 2008; “let’s address the Headley issue headlong,” he announced and added that cooperation against terror before and after 26/11 was “saving lives daily”. To this, a straightfaced Pillai made the factual position abundantly clear: “... the name of David Headley was not shared with us either pre-26/11 or after 26/11 when he subsequently came to India also.” This was the first official disclosure from the Indian side that regardless of the US authorities’ affirmations to the contrary, Washington knew about Headley’s activities much before it actually informed New Delhi about him.

This is a serious matter and cannot be taken lightly. Coming as it does just before the Obama visit intended to reinforce the ongoing strategic partnership between the two countries in several vital areas, including the fight against terror, it once again shows that Washington’s motivations are not in conformity with New Delhi’s basic national interests and minus the rhetoric Indo-US relations have not yet attained the level of friendship it was expected to in the post-Cold War era. Why? Because the trust deficit between the two countries continues to dog the ties; despite our PM’s desperate efforts to remove that deficit to the best of his ability, the US’ persisting suspicion of India due to a variety of factors (like the Washington-Islamabad bonds of solidarity in spite of all their differences) has come in the way of building genuinely close Indo-US relations, the words ‘strategic partnership’ having turned hollow after losing whatever value they had when those were first used.

It is now to be seen what kind of real change for the better President Obama is able to bring about in the bilateral environment during his visit to and talks in the Capital. What is required is substance, not rhetoric. This is where the contrast with Indo-Russian relations gets magnified—singularly shorn of rhetoric in the present-day world Indo-Russian cooperation in various fields is vested with so much meaningful content primarily because even after the fall of the mighty USSR Russia continues to enrich its multifaceted relationship with India with the element of trust that has all along characterised the unique understanding between Moscow and New Delhi. Isn’t there something for Washington to learn from this?

October 28 S.C.

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