Prime Minister down, WikiLeaks has exposed the rotten state of the world's largest democracy for all to see.
Food prices become intolerable for the poor. Protests against corruption paralyse Parliament. Then a series of American diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks exposes a brazenly mendacious and venal ruling class; the head of government adored by foreign business people and journalists loses his moral authority, turning into a lame duck.
This sounds like Tunisia or Egypt, countries long deprived of representative politics and pillaged by the local agents of neoliberal capitalism. But it is India, where in recent days WikiLeaks has highlighted how democratic institutions are no defence against the rapacity and selfishness of globalised elites.
Most of the cables — being published by The Hindu, the country's most respected newspaper in English — offer nothing new to those who haven't drunk the “Rising India” Kool-Aid vended by business people, politicians and their journalist groupies. The evidence of economic liberalisation providing cover for a wholesale plunder of the country's resources has been mounting over recent months. The loss in particular of a staggering $39 billion in the government's sale of the telecom spectrum has alerted many Indians to the corrupt nexuses between corporate and political power.
Even the western financial press, unwaveringly gung-ho about the money to be made in India, is getting restless. Early this year, the Economist asked: “Is Indian capitalism becoming oligarchic?” — a question to which the only correct response is “Hell-ooo”. In the Financial Times, Indian business dynasties have been described as “robber barons”.
The intimate details about politicians revealed by the WikiLeaks still leave you speechless. What can one say about the former Cabinet Minister, a fervent spokesman for low-caste Hindus, who demanded a large bribe from Dow Chemical Company, which is being helped by senior American officials to overcome its association with the gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal that in 1984 killed and maimed tens of thousands of Indians? Indeed, the cables reveal U.S. business and officials to be as embedded in India's politics as they are in Pakistan's. In 2008, the aide to an old courtier of the Nehru-Gandhi family showed a U.S. diplomat two chests containing $25 million in cash — money to bribe members of Parliament into voting for an India-US nuclear deal, itself a prelude to massive U.S. arms sales to India. Publicly opposed to the nuclear deal, the leaders of the Hindu nationalist BJP are at pains to reassure American diplomats of their pro-U.S. credentials, even dissing their murderous Hindu nationalism as opportunistic, a mere “talking point”.
The cables offer many such instances of the ideological deceptions practised by the purveyors of “Rising India”. Virtually all economic growth of recent years, a senior politician admits, is concentrated in the four southern states, two western states (Gujarat and Maharashtra) and “within 100km of Delhi”. But why worry? Another, from the BJP, has nieces and sisters living in the U.S., and “five homes to visit between DC and New York”. As for the entry of retailers like Walmart into India, oh, that “should not seriously hurt the mom and pop stores that form a BJP constituency”.
Not surprisingly, the Americans have developed contempt for such representatives of the world's largest democracy, who seem to validate Gandhi's denunciations of Parliament as a “prostitute”. Hillary Clinton gets right to the point in a cabled inquiry about Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister widely tipped as India's next Prime Minister: “To which industrial or business groups is Mukherjee beholden? Whom will he seek to help through his policies? Why was Mukherjee chosen for the finance portfolio over Montek Singh Ahluwalia?” — the last named is a reliably pro-U.S. technocrat.
But no one stands more diminished by the leaks than the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, one of the former employees of the World Bank and IMF who have helped make India safe for oligarchism. It has long been common knowledge in political circles that Mr. Singh removed his Petroleum Minister in 2006 for the latter's allegedly anti-American advocacy of a gas pipeline to Iran. We now know from the cables that the then U.S. Ambassador congratulated himself for this “undeniable pro-American tilt” of the Indian government. Visiting the White House in 2008, Mr. Singh induced a nationwide cringe when he blurted out to the most disliked American President ever: “The people of India deeply love you.” (Even George Bush looked startled.) This love unblushingly speaks its name in the cables; even the racketeers of Pakistani military and intelligence appear dignified when compared with the Indians stampeding to plant kisses on U.S. behinds. Mr. Singh has presided over an ignominious surrender of national sovereignty and dignity.
There are many more revelations in store; these are tense days for many politicians, business people and journalists. They probably hope the bad news is buried by the cricket World Cup celebrations. They will also try to prove their fealty to the father of the Indian nation — last week politicians vied to threaten a sensitive study of Gandhi by the American writer Joseph Lelyveld with proscription. But there is nothing more un-Gandhian than this supra-national elite's wild cravings for power and wealth, and its indifference to suffering — a pathology of economic globalisation that Egyptians and Tunisians will soon learn elected governments don't cure, and even help conceal. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
(Pankaj Mishra is the author of Temptations of the West)