President Obama’s visit to India was an exercise in cynicism.
To serve U.S. corporate and strategic interests, he ignored the problematic record of his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The roots of Modi and his party, the BJP, lie in an organization called the RSS.
“The RSS was founded in direct imitation of European fascist movements, and like its 1930s fascist models, it still makes much of daily parading in khaki drill and the giving of militaristic salutes,” wrote British journalist William Dalrymple in the New Statesman last summer. “The RSS sees this as an attempt to create a corps of dedicated paramilitary zealots who, so the theory goes, will form the basis of a revival of a golden age of national strength and racial purity. The BJP was founded as the political wing of the RSS, and most senior BJP figures have an RSS background.”
This includes Modi, who has proudly stated: “I got the inspiration to live for the nation from the RSS. … I owe it all to the RSS.”
Nathuram Godse, another member of the organization, is remembered in history because of the person he assassinated: Mohandas (Mahatma) Karamchand Gandhi. Godse accused Gandhi of being indulgent toward Muslims and Pakistan.
Obama’s excursion to India would have been commendable if he had gone there with noble intentions.
But with the exception of negotiating some nonbinding climate change rules, the President’s trip did little to advance peace, human rights, or the interests of ordinary people in either country.
On the eve of his visit, Amnesty International urged him to call on Dow Chemical to take full responsibility for the biggest industrial disaster in the history of mankind: the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal that killed tens of thousands of Indians.
“The failure of President Obama to speak up will embolden U.S.-based companies to ignore accountability for their involvement in human rights abuses,” the human rights group stated. “The President should not forget the people of Bhopal, who still suffer from the effects of the disaster. President Obama should also explain why a U.S.-based company, the Dow Chemical Company (which owns Union Carbide Corporation now), is ignoring repeated summons by an Indian Court to explain why its wholly owned subsidiary has failed to appear in India to face serious criminal charges against it in relation to the disaster.”
If only Obama was bold enough.
Instead, Obama braved Modi’s company and Delhi's horrible pollution and winter rains at India’s Republic Day ceremonies, much of which consisted of a parade of military weaponry. Obama was the first-ever U.S. President to attend the occasion.
Not coincidentally, “the U.S. recently replaced Russia as India’s biggest supplier of arms, with exports totaling nearly $2 billion in 2013,” Time magazine reported.
The visit paid off dividends on this front. The United States and India “agreed to a ten-year framework for defense ties and struck deals on cooperation that included joint production of drone aircraft and equipment for Lockheed Martin Corp's C-130 military transport plane,” Reuters reports.
The Obama-Modi meeting also did much to firm up a U.S.-India alliance to counter China.
“India is a key part of the faltering Pivot East agenda of the U.S. government,” Trinity College Professor Vijay Prashad, author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, tells The Progressive. “This is a strategy that links well with the Modi's governments view—to link up with Japan and Australia in a kind of encirclement of China.”
Not surprisingly, the U.S.-India joint declaration at the end of Obama’s visit makes a number of references to China.
“The statement noted the alignment of ‘India’s “Act East Policy” and the United States’ rebalance to Asia,’ and the potential ‘opportunities for India, the United States, and other Asia-Pacific countries to work closely to strengthen regional ties’ as result,” writes Ankit Panda in The Diplomat. “Combined with the symbolism of Obama presiding over India’s Republic Day military parade, this sends a particularly strong message to Beijing.”
Another issue on which Obama nudged India is nuclear energy. President Bush signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with previous Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but a major stumbling block had been India’s unwillingness to cap liability for U.S. firms in the event of a disaster. An understanding between the two sides seems to bode well for U.S. corporations (and ill for the Indian people).
“After Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Barack Obama issued a joint statement on Sunday, giving the broad outline of the discussions and agreement reached between the two countries, India’s foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh, said: ‘The nuclear deal is done. We have reached an understanding on liability,’ ” reports Down to Earth, an Indian environmental publication. “After the sealing of agreement by the leaders, private firms will now negotiate the modalities, say officials.”
Westinghouse and GE welcomed the statement, never a good sign.
Perhaps results such as this made Obama feel it worth hobnobbing with a leader who was banned for almost a decade from the United States for acquiescing while in charge of the state of Gujarat in an anti-Muslim pogrom that killed thousands. His record so far has not been reassuring.
“While the present administration under Mr. Narendra Modi was elected to office based on a stated agenda of development and good governance, events of the last six months have alarmed everyone concerned with preserving religious freedom and protecting human rights in India,” Indian American Muslim Council President Umar Malick wrote in a letter to Obama last week.
The council cited disturbing trends during Modi’s tenure. These include a number of attacks against churches in the country’s capital, large-scale campaigns to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism, a partial official derecognition of Christmas, and incendiary comments by ruling party officials.
The organization asked Obama to bring up such issues with Modi. There is no public indication that he did. Perhaps, Obama was too busy gloating over U.S. corporate and strategic gains.