What Indians can learn from the death of liberalism in US

From 40,000 Americans marching against white supremacists to influential CEOs quitting the President's council, there is much to be understood.

 |  4-minute read |   23-09-2017
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It’s a historical fact that American philosopher David Henry Thoreau’s famous essay, Civil Disobedience (1849), had a huge influence on Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of satyagraha. It’s also an open secret that US President Franklin D Roosevelt did press the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to hasten the process of granting independence to India.

After India’s humiliating debacle against the Chinese invasion in 1962, the US, under President John F Kennedy, offered to supply much required military equipment, though with some strings attached. And the US consignments of wheat under PL480 (dark and hard to digest) saved millions of lives in India in 1967.

Stand

American stand on the Kashmir issue, which was unwisely taken to the UN by Jawaharlal Nehru, co-opting Pakistan in CENTO and SEATO, bitter experience regarding American supplies for the Tarapur nuclear plant, and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger's blind support to Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh war left deep scars of suspicion and distrust for the US.

However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of economic liberalisation in India opened unprecedented vistas of constructive engagement with the US. These interactions expanded in the following years in spite of the sanctions imposed on India after the 1998 nuclear tests. President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000 and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to the US in September 2000 laid the solid foundation of a warm relationship between the two democracies claiming to be “natural partners”.

The 2008 civil nuclear deal was a milestone; both President George W Bush and PM Manmohan Singh put their prestige at stake and made it happen. Narendra Modi, current PM, brought further warmth into the relationship with his meetings with, first, Barack Obama and, then, Donald Trump.

Annual bilateral trade of over $110 billion (Rs 7,12,000 crore), around 70 missions covering almost every conceivable area of cooperation, over 300 joint military exercises (the recent Malabar naval exercise in which Japan also participated has made China jittery) constitute irrefutable evidence of the metamorphosis which the India-US relations have undergone in the last 25 years, “overcoming hesitation of history.”

Barring in G-7 and OECD countries, the US is generally perceived negatively: international policeman; sermonising other countries about the virtues of democracy and human rights but supporting totalitarian regimes; invading foreign countries on false pretexts as in Iraq; engineering regime change as in Chile and Libya.

While this perception is not totally wrong, it is unfair. Being the biggest centre of innovations, it has offered technological marvels which have transformed the ways in which billions of people across the world connect, interact, operate and live. The Internet, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Skype, to name just a few, have changed the world.

They have all originated in the US and immensely benefited people cutting across national boundaries and differences of race, religion, language and political ideologies. Thanks to American innovations, the world had become a global village. The US should also be credited for space, climate, agriculture and even medical breakthroughs.

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Rights

While slavery flourished in America for 200 years and the Black community got voting rights only in the 1960s after a valiant civil rights movement by Dr Martin Luther King, Obama became the first African-American to serve two terms as the President. For decades, the US has embraced immigrants of different races, religions, and nationalities and let them make their dreams come true. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara ordered escalation of bombing in Vietnam but lakhs of Americans protested in streets against the American action.

Though Nixon blindly supported Pakistan’s genocide in today’s Bangladesh, a huge number of Americans thought their government was wrong. Similarly, thousands of Americans rose in protest against the invasion of Iraq; Obama, then a senator, was one of them. With all the failings, American society has, by and large, espoused liberal, plural, secular, multicultural, multiracial, multilingual, and multi-ethnic ideals.

Lessons

After Trump’s triumph in the presidential race last year, many analysts are predicting the end of liberalism and pluralism in the US. But the swift judgments of its High Courts stopping Trump’s ban on immigrants of certain Muslim countries and deportation of thousands of immigrants on short visas, the march of over 40,000 Americans in Boston against white supremacists, and several CEOs of Fortune 500 companies resigning from the President’s Economic Advisory Council prove that liberalism and pluralism are still alive and kicking in the US.

Shouldn’t the Indian society at large, and liberals in particular, take a leaf out of America? Do Indians march in streets protesting against the vigilantism of self-proclaimed gau rakshaks or the vandalism of Shiv Sainiks in Mumbai on Valentine’s Day? Have CEOs of India Inc ever thought of resigning from the government’s advisory bodies in protest against the then government’s decisions? Wasn’t the recent protest, "Not in My Name", at Jantar Mantar, at best, just a tiny ripple in the ocean of 1.3 billion Indians?

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

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Writer

Surendra Kumar Surendra Kumar @ambksurendra

The writer is a retired diplomat and expert on strategic affairs.

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