For Them Indian Mangoes
Date: Thursday, March 09 @ 06:40:02 UTC
Topic: World News

Anatomy of an Agreement

By Vijay Prashad,

Bela's Story.

In Jangpura, a small neighborhood in Delhi, my friends Bela Malik and Tommy Mathew planned to welcome Laura Bush. As with all State visits, between the negotiations and the meetings, the hosts arrange for the dignitaries to tour safe "soft" sites that become front-page photo opportunities. As if to send a signal to their Evangelical base, on March 2 Laura Bush planned to visit a small NGO run by the Missionaries of Charity. Bela, Tommy and other friends stitched a couple of bed sheets together and made a banner that read: "Laura Bush, how about a photo-op with the orphaned, maimed, dead children of Iraq?" It was a loud question, written in a quiet way, and hung from a modest balcony. A few hours before Laura Bush's cavalcade was to go down the road, US secret service flooded the neighborhood. In their wake came the Area Station House officer who entered Bela and Tommy's apartment, confiscated the banner, refused to allow Tommy entry into his own flat, and posted a police officer on the balcony. A thousand of Delhi's finest overran Jangpura.

Laura Bush never got to the Missionaries of Charity. Something else came up.

In an email message, Bela wrote, "I came closest to feeling what being under an imperialist system was and feeling first-hand the might of an armed invasion. It wasn't that in a real sense, but for a few hours, it was that. 'Security' is a funny term in the way it is used."


That same day, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush signed an agreement to cap Bush's trip to India. The streets had not welcomed the President. Massive protests around the country, most of them led by the Left parties and their allies, made it impossible to ignore Iraq, Kyoto, Katrina, and all the other atrocities of the Bush dispensation. Bush could not speak to the Parliament, and his only public meeting turned out not be public at all. The revulsion against him was quite general.

Here are my annotations of the Singh-Bush agreement, inked despite this general distrust of the new global order:

(1) For economic prosperity and trade.

The best part of this is that US merchants can now import Indian mangoes. I, for one, am thrilled. There is no comparison between Mexican mangoes and those from India. On this I am quite chauvinistic. Although as mangoes enter the international arena in a massive way, will the market begin to narrow the many varieties of mangoes (from Alphonso to Chausa and on)?

Liberalization of trade plays a major role in the agreement, although this is "reform" that benefits US-based corporations, not Indian-based manufacturers (nor the US or Indian working classes). While it calls for the entry into India of hitherto blocked retail giants like Walmart (through talk about increase of foreign direct investment), it does not say anything about the cotton subsidies in the US that hinder Indian textiles. The agreement asks for the completion of the Doha Round of the WTO, but it does not publicly acknowledge that the round has been stalled by the G-21 (led by India, Egypt and others) on the specific question of cotton subsidies.

(2) For energy security and a clean environment.

Can they imagine that those who read this agreement won't laugh at them? The Bush regime and the US Congress have contempt for international treaties, and they are especially scornful of Kyoto. Whereas Kyoto puts mandatory limits on the release of greenhouse gases, the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (launched by the Association of South East Asian Nations in 2006) will allow states to set their own goals. It is a straightforward attempt to undermine Kyoto, and it is led by the US, Australia and Japan (John McCain called the Partnership "nothing more than a public relations ploy," but actually it is more than that: it is designed to create illusions about climate change and to break the gains that culminated in Kyoto). India has now accepted the Partnership.

The most heavily reported part of the agreement is on nuclear issues. If Congress approves the deal, the US will now supply India with nuclear materials, and India will be able to develop its civilian nuclear power sector. For a country with an energy shortfall, this could be seen as a major gain. However, it is not, precisely because the logic for nuclear power is not driven by India's energy situation but by the Bush administration's geo-political ambitions. The current Indian government had joined a process to create a "peace pipeline" to bring natural gas from Iran, across Pakistan, into India, as well as to create energy deals with western China. An Asian gas grid was in the offing. The Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar reflected in a speech last year, "The energy-short countries of Asia are located cheek-by-jowl in the immediate vicinity of their energy-abundant Asian cousins. Yet, if you compare a pipeline map of Europe with a pipeline map of Asia, Asia today looks almost naked." In mid-March 2005, Secretary of State Rice went to New Delhi and offered a switch: if India joined in the policy to isolate Iran (a central neo-con concern), the US would do what it could to substitute the Asian grid with nuclear power plants. US Ambassador David Mulford warned Aiyar that if India did not back off from the Iran deal, it could face sanctions. Rice spoke more softly, and acknowledged, "We believe broad energy dialogue should be launched with India because the needs are there." What was in the best interests of India, and of Asia, was gradually forgotten, whereas it because self-evident for the elites to say that the US could solve India's energy needs. The antipathy against Iran and China, and the desire for US primacy in the world's relations, governed this "energy" deal. So much for that. Manmohan Singh removed Aiyar from his post in the lead-up to Bush's visit: it was a concession to Bush, and a sign that India was ready to do anything to please the Superpower.

(3) For innovation and knowledge economy.

India is the new home to Business Process Outsourcing. That did not enter the public discussions, although Bush made some caustic remarks about out-sourcing. What did get mentioned is the US corporate demand for "a vibrant intellectual property rights regime." Big Pharma finds India very valuable as a research center (they've outsourced discovery processes to Bangalore and elsewhere), but it is uneasy about the production of drugs by Indian firms who pay no rent to the "owners" of patents (even if these have expired, or if they have been independently discovered). The fracas over AIDS drugs, and the US government's reticence to buy Tamiflu from Indian manufacturers are good illustrations of this: far more important to maintain the property rights regime than to save lives (this is the one international agreement that the US government loves to defend). India recently conceded to Big Pharma: even as Roche (the Swiss firm that holds the patent to Tamiflu) cannot produce enough does, the Indian government and this "regime" will not allow Cipla (an Indian firm) to go ahead and produce the vaccines.

(4) For Global Safety and Security.

"Terrorism is a global scourge," says the agreement. "Terrorism," however is not a subject, but a tactic used by political actors. One can't go after "terrorism." A state has to identify those who use terrorist tactics, analyze their grievances, and then make a strategic decision on how to undercut them, destroy them or what not. This section of the agreement is pure smoke and mirrors: it says nothing about the genuine security needs of the populations, while simply stoking fears of senseless violence. This statement is a lead-up to a long discussion on Indo-US military coordination. Any discussion of this has to recognize that the Indian government does not have a well-articulated strategy document: why should India make an alliance with the US? What are the main concepts for Indian foreign policy, apart from nostalgia for non-alignment, and "realism" for proximity to the core of a unipolar world? The US, meanwhile, has a well-articulated strategy. The dominant class in the US (that miniscule population that benefits from the rent economy, and that has grandfathered wealth turned into finance capital) seeks to exercise power over the world, and to treat this power as "security." The security of the masses is irrelevant (as demonstrated in Jangpura on March 2). But the US knows that while it has the massive military power to obliterate any country, it does not have the troop strength to garrison the world. Therefore it requires pliant military forces such as Singapore's navy and Poland's army to do its legwork. Multilateralism is valuable rhetoric if it means other people's troops. It is dangerous when it means other people's interests.

(5) Deepening Democracy and meeting international challenges.

Every agreement has a few "soft" points that are thrown in to mollify liberals. Here we have something on AIDS, something on Avian Flu, something on the Tsunami. Nothing is of consequence, but the basic liberal points of fellowship and cooperation are made. One area of interest, and concern, is broached, however. The agreement talks about India's role in the International Centre for Democratic Transition. The Center is based in Budapest, Hungary, and began as an offshoot of the Communities of Democracy project of the US State Department (itself a child of the Reagan era National Endowment for Democracy). The CoD project helped mask Pax Americana as Pax Democratica: James Robert Huntley, one of the visionaries of the project, argued that "mature democracies" don't have imperial aims, since their own interest is collective (democracy and open markets). The post-Cold War variant of this was in the US driven Western Hemisphere Communities of Democracy (led by Clinton in 1993). Far from being mature or about collective interests, the platform was used to bash Cuba, and to promote the FTAA. Latin America has rejected this spurious idea of "democracy." India, under the Manmohan Singh government, has been roped into it.

The Foreign Policy of Jobless Growth.

The US has pioneered jobless growth, with the rent economy creating a uber-class who earn fabulous rents from their patents on what is manufactured in countries like China. Their barely taxed super-profits provide growth to the US economy, although the jobs created within the country are neither in the manufacturing sector nor do they pay well. Increasingly income inequality is a function of the rent economy, and so is the close to $1 trillion deficit of the US economy. India is walking toward that road. A small class of people who earn large amounts of money live in a sea of impoverished and frustrated people. In this context, the "security" of the population is less significant than the maintenance of the "power" of the minority. All concepts of foreign policy, in this context, stem from this fundamental fact. The US has not duped India: what has occurred is that the needs of the dominant class have come to overshadow the broad coalition of classes that made Indian foreign policy speak in its name. The new Indo-US agreement (and the forthcoming Indo-Australian one) is a planetary version of the gated communities.

Thank god for the mangoes.

Vijay Prashad teaches at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. His latest book is Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare (Boston: South End Press). He can be reached at:

Reprinted with permission from the author. Originally published at:

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