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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 48, November 20, 2010

Please Don’t Use Mahatma Gandhi’s Name While Promoting Weapons Sales

Wednesday 24 November 2010, by Bharat Dogra

Before embarking on his recent (November) trip to India and other Asian countries, President Obama said at a press conference in Washington: “As I plan for my trip later this week to Asia, the whole focus is on how are we going to open up markets so that American businesses can prosper, and we can sell more goods and create more jobs here in the United States. And a whole bunch of corporate executives are going to be joining us so that I can help them open up those markets and allow them to sell their products.”

This is a very significant statement as the US President frankly said without mincing any words that the predominant objective of his India and Asia tour was to obtain more business for US companies. It is well known that the problems of poverty, hunger and deprivation are many times more serious in India than in the USA. But this clearly seems to be a much lesser priority for the US President. There are very important issues of climate change, WMDs, extreme inequalities and trade distortions that face the world. And when the leaders of the world’s two most important democracies meet then such survival issues should be the top priority. But no, obtaining more business for American companies is the real priority, and the President has no problems about proclaiming this from the housetop.

AND what are these companies?

• Some of these are arms-merchants keen to sell to poor countries arms worth billion of dollars. At the same time that these companies sell expensive weapons to India, the US Government gives them subsidies to supply their weapons free or at a cheaper rate to Pakistan, thereby encouraging an arms race between India and Pakistan (even though the proclaimed objective is to fight terrorism).

• Some of these companies are nuclear power companies. A lot of pressure is being exerted on India to remove or heavily reduce the liabilities of these companies in the event of an accident, thereby greatly increasing the risk to India’s people and other life-forms. It is widely believed that the pressure to prioritise nuclear power will heavily distort and harm India’s energy sector, apart from posing intolerably high hazards.

• Some of these are gas and oil companies with a very high contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

• Some of these are retail giants whose expansion in India can be very harmful for India’s small-scale traders.

• Some of these are food, seed and agrochemical MNCs with plans to control a high share of the food system, particularly the seeds sector. These companies have faced increasing criticism for promoting highly dangerous technologies like GM crops and using unethical methods to silence all opposition and control the seeds trade.

A visit to openly promote all these companies was widely welcomed with the media conveniently highlighting the visiting President’s tributes to Mahatma Gandhi time and again. Gandhi must have been very upset by all this in his heavenly abode!

Apart from the fact that ecologically ruinous technologies, projects and equipments were promoted during this trip, this trip by itself had very high ecological costs. As the Economic Times reported (November 5), President Obama does not believe in travelling light. Long before the Air Force One touched down on Saturday, as many 13 US aircraft and four choppers had already flown in all kinds of equipment and 20-25 swanky cars to facilitate his stay in Mumbai and Delhi.

This was not all. As many as 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, took position in the Arabian Sea off the Mumbai coast as part of security arrangements for the presidential visit.

Running the show were the over 500-strong presidential staff comprising Secret Service, Marines and intelligence personnel, who co-ordinated with the Indian para-military and police forces to make Obama’s visit secure and glitch-free. The equipment brought in by the US agencies included a communication set-up and the nuclear button.

Apart from the air defence for Obama’s visit, business leaders accompanying him flew in aboard their private jets.

Gandhiji would’ve preferred simpler travel!

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