Editorial in “People’s Democracy”

THE outcome of the Modi visit to the United States has made one thing clear – India has become more cemented to the United States in a strategic and military relationship.

Whatever the rhetoric “of the partnership between two democracies” and shared values, the compulsions for a deeper and comprehensive relationship is motivated by the need of the United States to enlist India as a firm partner in its ongoing endeavours to economically and militarily contain China.

This US approach to India was spelt out in 2002 in a study commissioned by the Pentagon, which viewed India as a countervailing force to China.  The feting of Narendra Modi on a state visit in Washington, a state banquet and the opportunity to address the joint session of the Congress for a second time, comes at a juncture when the Biden administration is realising that all the efforts of the past few years to check and isolate China have not yielded the desired results.

The preparations for the visit, which included a trip to India by the US national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, and the final joint statement issued by the two sides show that the central thrust is to make India a key player in the “Indo-Pacific” region – a term crafted with a view to draw India into a central role in the Indian Ocean region.

The Quad has been given prominence in the joint statement and is mentioned in the very first paragraph. The cooperation in defence production and the talk of high technology being shared is dovetailed into making of the Quad into a security alliance.

The first major initiative by the United States to draw India into a strategic alliance was the offer of a civilian nuclear agreement in 2005. Civilian nuclear technology was a sop to India, which contained a quid pro quo – a Defence Framework Agreement.  This agreement was signed in June 2005 as a prelude to the nuclear deal. The strong opposition mounted by the Left hampered the implementation of the various logistics and interoperability agreements contained in the Defence Framework Agreement.  Hence it was only during the past few years of the Modi government that the so-called four foundational agreements were signed to ensure logistics support and interoperability between the two armed forces.

The joint statement records the progress made in the military relationship – joint exercises, creation of a hub for maintenance and repair of US navy ships in Indian shipyards, posting of liaison officers at each other’s military organisations and steps for interoperability of the two armed forces.  All these have reached a level where a US strategic expert has called it a “sort of alliance”, i.e., the Indo-US military relationship has all the features of an alliance, except for a clause like Article 5 in NATO treaty where an attack on one country is treated as an attack on the other.

Much has been made about the promise of cooperation in high technology.  The joint statement says that “technology will play the defining role in deepening our partnership”.  There is a litany of areas from space technology to quantum research, critical minerals and artificial intelligence where proposals for joint research and collaboration are listed out. But a close reading of the statement shows that there is no actual transfer of technology.  At best, there is a declaration of intent.

In the sphere of defence production cooperation, much is being made of the MoU signed between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to co-produce the F-414 jet engines, for the Light Combat Aircraft Mk 2. But the claim that this will lead to greater transfer of US jet engine technology is misleading.  The assembly of the jet engine at the HAL will involve very limited transfer of technology with the bulk of vital technologies being withheld.

The United States’ aim is two-fold – first to wean off India from Russian supplies of defence equipment and to become the major supplier of weaponry to India.  The defence industrial cooperation is also designed to enhance interoperability and equip the Indian military for its role in the Quad and the Indian Ocean region. That is why the United States pressed India to buy the MQ-9B Guardian armed drones for nearly $3 billion.  These predator drones, though more expensive and slow moving than new generation drones, are what the US would like India to use for surveillance and intellligence gathering under the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Indian Ocean region.

As for the vaunted investment by Micron Technology, a private US company for setting up a semiconductor unit in Gujarat, this is actually an Indian sop to US corporates.  Micron is to spend $825 million to set-up an assembly and test facility for semiconductors; but it is not for fabricating semiconductors. The total cost of this enterprise at $2.75 billion is being subsidised by the union government upto 50 per cent, which will amount to Rs 11,000 crores.  The Gujarat government is to provide another 20 per cent of the cost. This is public funding for the profit making of a US company.

While talking of deepening bilateral economic and trade ties, the United States has not agreed to India’s request to be recognised as a Trade Agreements Act designated country and for restoration of India’s status under the US Generalised System of Preferences programme.

There has been much discussion whether President Biden raised the issue of attacks on democracy and denial of rights of religious minorities in India. 75 legislators of Congress had urged Biden to discuss with Modi the need to protect human rights and democratic values in India. Some liberal circles expected the Biden administration to be more assertive on democracy and human rights.  But it is illusory to expect any US government to stand by its professed commitment to democracy and shared values.  In fact, the United States has always preferred to deal with military dictators and authoritarian rulers who are rightwing anti-Communists.   As far as the Biden administration is concerned, just like previous US governments, it is the geopolitical interests of US imperialism that matters.

For Narendra Modi, the US visit and outcome is something of value to enhance his domestic image. The RSS has always been pro-imperialist and the Indian ruling classes led by the big bourgeoisie are rooting for a strategic alliance with the United States. It is this outlook which dominates the corporate media for whom even a subaltern status as a US ally is a glorious achievement.

The net outcome of the Modi visit is a further erosion of India’s strategic autonomy and a self-inflicted fettering of its independent foreign policy.  Already the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, which was scheduled to be held physically in July in New Delhi has been converted into a virtual meeting.

The pro-US stance adopted by the Modi government has curbed and stunted the great opportunity India is presented with of playing a creative and independent role in an increasingly multipolar world.
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