With friends like these … WikiLeaks underlines fragile US-India ties
For all the talk of India’s increasingly strong partnership with the United States, what the latest WikiLeaks documents published in The Hindu show are far slower, foot-dragging ties with a suspicious Delhi in one corner and a frustrated Washington in the other struggling to find common ground and trust.
The really worrying thing is that these reports come with a time lag of at least a year, before corruption scandals and policy stagnation effectively paralysed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government. Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s gushing words for an “emerged” India last year, one wonders if now the level of U.S. complaints have reached a crescendo.
The WikiLeaks reports published have so far sparked one political bombshell – the cash for votes scandal as the ruling Congress party pushed through a 2008 confidence vote. But other reports on Monday highlight more mundane, but deep-seated irritants.
One senior U.S. diplomat talked of “Brezhnev-era controls”. Former U.S. ambassador David Mulford noted how much easier it was to do business under the former BJP-led coalition and complained of problems that were “multiplying and festering.”
“We note that under the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee it was easier to meet Indian officials and get business done, even in the paranoid Ministry of Home Affairs, but the Congress government has reverted to type, indulging in the sorts of Brezhnev-era controls on its people of which Indira Gandhi would have approved. The Nehru dynasty needs to become more like the Tata dynasty,” Mulford is quoted by WikiLeaks as saying in one secret cable.
The one man who seems to come off well from the reports is Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, whom U.S. diplomats saw as the go-to man in the administration, with his power second only to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Family scion Rahul Gandhi is dismissed as a lacklustre leader.
Foreign policy is also shown to be another irritant in ties. Another U.S. diplomat – this time related to India’s decision to invite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Delhi – said India was asserting its foreign policy independence to win over voters, especially among its Muslim vote base.
History is repeating itself. On Sunday, the government said it “regretted” airstrikes against the Libyan government.
For Washington, India is one niggly partner.