(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 20, 2012
HILLARY CLINTON’S TALKS WITH BENGAL CM
Brazen Interference in
IN the recent past, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has come to hog the national media limelight for all the wrong reasons. Her regime, which obviously is synonymous with her persona, betrayed a strong authoritarian streak to pounce on anything which resembled even the slightest trace of opposition – not to speak of actual criticism. Her reactions to cartoons and allegations of rape of women under her dispensation were poignant statements on this obnoxious tendency.
However, this time she has once again come to the centre stage on a more serious note. And the context has far reaching implications which will affect not just Bengal – but the international regional environment as well. It is not surprising that given its record, the US has been actively intervening in the domestic political process here in India and it would have been more than happy with the electoral outcome in last year’s assembly elections in West Bengal. It may be recalled that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US Ambassador to India during 1973-75, in his autobiographical account A Dangerous Place was candid enough to confess that the US administration did finance dislodging the first communist government in Kerala. And, they were equally mindful in keeping the Left out of office in 1972 elections in West Bengal.
Therefore, it was clear that in the run-up to last year’s elections, there was a more than healthy interest in seeing the back of the Left. The protestations of the West Bengal’s chief minister on the question of opening up of multi-brand retail sector to FDI were not commensurate with the political course that marked the run-up to the election where the US Consulate in Kolkata evinced keen interest in teaming up with various disparate groups that joined the crusade for defeating the Left.
But now with these new developments, the confusion appears to be clearing out. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State on her way back from Beijing to Washington DC made two stopovers before reaching New Delhi; the first one in Dhaka and then in Kolkata. This high profile visit of Clinton was prefaced by what discerning observers would tend to treat as a curtain raiser. One of the first foreign visitors to greet the new CM of Bengal in her office in Writer’s Building was Robert Blake – the US Assistant Secretary of State. But, perhaps that was not loud enough of a statement on the endorsement of the new incumbent of Writers Building. The Times magazine declared Banerjee as one of the hundred top personalities of the planet who were influencing contemporary world. This has now been followed up by Clinton’s high profile visit.
But there are reasons to believe that this is not a mere expression of the empire’s endorsement of the new political reality in Kolkata; it is something more fundamental – and intricately connected with the US geo-strategy in South Asia.
There are reasons to believe that the Afpak strategy of president Obama is not progressing as well as the empire would like. In the words of the Secretary of State herself in the joint press conference in New Delhi with external affairs minister S M Krishna – although in undertones – that the US expectations on the extent of support that the Pakistan would render remains undelivered. She asserted this point with her pointed reference to Hafiz Saeed and referred to the reward for information on him.
But the US is clearly not content with the manner in which the strategic partnership with India is playing out. This is not because there is any dearth of cooperation on the part of the Manmohan Singh government. Notwithstanding the brave face that Indian officialdom is putting up on the need for buying oil from Iran, the sharply dwindling figures of actual imports from 21.8 million tonnes in 2008-09, before the US had slapped sanctions, to 14 million tonnes is a case in point. And, Hillary Clinton lauded this development – “we commend India for steps its refineries are taking to reduce imports from Iran.” And, she also reminded that the screws will be tightened further. “Our energy coordinator, ambassador Carlos Pascual, will be here with an expert team next week to continue these consultations” (a euphemism for educating the Indian oil and gas officials to further reduce purchase of Iranian oil).
NEW SILK ROAD
But, clearly, this is not enough. With the less than satisfactory progress of US geo-strategy on India’s North West, the empire’s attention has now switched over to the East and the South East of India. The US Consulate in Kolkata after Clinton’s visit to the city pointedly referred to the need for developing Kolkata to “become an important hub in the new Silk Road Strategy to connect the countries of East, South and Central Asia.”
The facts are straight. Huge business opportunities, particularly relating to control over energy resources have opened up in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The vast economic zone in Bay of Bengal, where the long standing maritime border dispute between the two countries has been resolved, is now ready for exploitation. Kolkata is the undisputed bridge head for the new US geo-strategy in the region and gateway that connects the huge Indian market with the new space where containing the Chinese is a major objective for the empire. In fact, the US global upstream major, Conoco Philips has already started exploring these oil reserves in the Bay of Bengal.
And, what could be more fortuitous for Uncle Sam to have the Left out of Writer’s Building? Therefore, US priorities were stated quite candidly. The Obama administration can hardly bother that diplomacy demands that a domestic policy question should be left to the political forces in the country to decide. Clinton, much to the discomfiture of Banerjee, pointedly stated that the two leaders discussed the issue of FDI in multi brand retail. And, of course, South Block looked the other way over this diplomatic encroachment.
Similarly, Teesta water sharing issue, which again is purely a bilateral issue between India and Bangladesh, was also discussed. And, here, South Block’s indulgence was even more brazen. S M Krishna in the joint press conference candidly admitted to have shared the contents of his discussion with the Bangladeshi foreign minister with Clinton, clearly hinting that India is warming up to the idea of a third party mediation on a bilateral issue.
That the US’ wooing of Mamata Banerjee has not ended with Clinton’s departure to US is clear that on the earliest opportunity, she commended the West Bengal CM’s role in dislodging the Left, in a New York event before a primarily American audience. That there are complementarities of political benefit is underlined in this sequence of events.
The embrace of strategic partnership has softened up India. So much so, that Clinton claimed: “The United States and India are two great democracies with common values and increasingly convergent interests” not evoking any reaction from New Delhi. This is despite the death of one million Iraqis and what is happening today in Libya. Dr Manmohan Singh is blissfully nonchalant over the implications of such sweeping assertions.
This has obviously brazened the empire. ‘Educating’ Indians has been a favourite vocation of the US bigwigs. The infamous Enron deal and the role of Rebecca Marks highlighted that obnoxious trait. It seems Hillary Clinton enjoyed a similar experience vis-à-vis the mercurial chief minister of West Bengal.
And, given Banerjee’s reaction, she has also rather enjoyed this limelight despite the discomfiture on FDI in retail. For a couple of days, the FBI took over the security of Writer’s Building with Kolkata police standing guard. The historic seat of the West Bengal government, which once reverberated with the gunshots of young freedom fighters protesting British colonialists, stood testimony to the new winds of change. Meanwhile, the West Bengal chief minister will continue to bask in the reflected glory of the US empire. And those who had unwittingly hoped to discover a fighter against neo-liberalism in the persona of the TMC supremo will curse themselves for having been betrayed.