The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

Mock Outrage

The Opposition staged walkouts — twice in three days — over the Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh, and the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) or the so-called “Blue Lantern” program, for high technology defense purchases with the United States.  Too often this “walkout” culture is misinterpreted as a reflection of a vibrant democratic process in India. The irony is this that it is anything but.  The farcical walkouts staged by the Opposition undermine their own role in the democratic due process of the country.

Challenging a government on decisions it takes requires actual work. And really, when have our babus ever been fans of work?  Why waste time gathering information, formulating a view and challenging  those opposed to it, when you can just shout someone down in Parliament and summarily extricate yourself from the proceedings in mock outrage?

EUMAs are required as part of satisfying the “eligibility” requirements of the United States’ Arms Export Control Act. At least one source from the Defense Cooperation Security Agency (DSCA) confirms that India has previously signed similar EUMAs with the United States as part of the sale of the C-130J “Super Hercules” transport aircraft and USS Trenton (INS Jalashwa).  However those were transaction specific EUMAs, which both India and the US hope to do away with via a general master products and services agreement (which is essentially what this latest “agreement” is), as defense trade between the countries increases.

But the UPA and the Obama Administration have delivered mixed messages on the scope of the EUMA — is it restricted to defense related high technology purchases only, or does it include all high technology  transfers, which would scope in the Indo-US deal?  If it is the latter, as Brahma Challaney suggests, Manmohan Singh has some explaining to do with his representation to the Rajya Sabha that the Indo-US nuke deal was governed only by the 123 Agreement, the Separation Plan and the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

The brouhaha around the much denounced “physical inspections” clause per se is unfounded.  First, while the US retains the right to physically inspect equipment, India gets to decide on where and when this inspection can occur. Second, regardless of the scope of high technology transfers, India is under no obligation to purchase anything from the US if it doesn’t want to, if push comes to shove, not even nuclear fuel or ENR technology. Third, since when has a piece of paper come to mean anything in the world today?  In a worst case scenario, what are the US’s options if India refuses to allow physical inspectors or reneges on earlier promises? Censure? Embargo? Been there, done that. Move on.

The implications of an agreement to physical inspections is less of a concern.  What is concerning however is the complete absence of a democratic exercise that examines and challenges the government on important strategic ventures it enters into (or plans to enter into) during its tenure.  A level of involved discourse of the ’60s and ’70s has given way to rowdyism.  Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad Yadav took the cake as they marched out the LS in protest; lest it be forgotten, it was only last week that the latter had to be corrected that the issue he was addressing the House with unswerving confidence was in fact “Global Warming”, and not “Global Farming”.

Where are the checks and balances?  What if it turns out that the UPA has misrepresented a large extent of the obligations with regard to high technology transfers, including the nuclear deal that it has entered into on behalf of the nation? The only qualification necessary to storm out in fits of rage is to be equipped with a pair of legs.  Who holds the government’s feet to the fire, if not the Opposition?

Filed under: 123 Agreement, America, India, Nuclear Energy, Obama, Politics in India, Technology, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Damn the plebs…

LK Advani has been calling for live television debates since the schedule for the 15th Lok Sabha elections was announced.  The people of India have a right to know where the Congress, the BJP and other national parties stand on the complex issues that face the nation.  But the silence from the Congress has been deafening.  The maneuvering, amusing.  First, we were told that there would be no debate between Manmohan Singh and Advani because unlike the US, ours isn’t a two-party system.

Then we were told by Manmohan Singh that he isn’t much of a speaker, and lets his actions speak for him.  In other words, he’s a decider: like his good buddy, George W Bush. But Bush’s record in the White House makes him look like FDR after the Great Depression, when compared to Mahmohan’s record over the past five years.  And now this vitriolic harangue from Sanjaya Baru, the PM’s former “media manager”.  A cushy job, I’m sure, as it entailed doing nothing, just like the post of Home Minister.

Never before was a prime minister denied the right of reply in a debate on a motion of thanks to the President. Never before has a prime minister been prevented from defending his record in office in a debate on a motion of confidence. Manmohan Singh was at the receiving end of such grossly unfair treatment from an Opposition that turned every parliamentary debate into a duel. And now they want a television debate? Hah!

Wonderful.  In other words, you tried to knock me off the pedestal when I was vulnerable. Now, it’s payback.  To hell with the voters.  Damn the plebs. Where is this disillusioned rhetoric going to take India?  The kind of debate favored in our country is one where accusations are countered with counter-accusations. In the end, it’s the man on the street that loses.  This will continue only as long as you and I give currency to such garbage talk.

Voting begins in India tomorrow.  So please go out and participate in the largest democratic exercise in the world.  But pledge to yourself that the act of casting your vote won’t be the end of your engagement with governance in the nation; that it will be the first of many such engagements between a complex, if chaotic, democratic system and you, the middle class, English speaking, Internet surfing, pub hopping, reality TV watching Indian voter.

Filed under: 2009 Indian General Elections, India, Politics in India, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,