By Vishal V Kale:
“An internal e-mail sent by the American School to its teachers here, asking them to be economical with the truth about their visa status, is “a serious issue relating to visa and tax matters,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said on Thursday. “We are examining them carefully,” he said.” – Published in The Hindu, January 17, 2014
If the above is true (which I personally dont doubt), its time for tit-for-tat, simple as that. They proceeded legally in a one-off visa fraud case; we should proceed legally in what seems to be a carefully planned, institutionalised visa fraud, which is a far more serious offence and has many damaging repercussions any which way you look at it. They arrested one of us – let us pay it back in kind. Fully. Sure, let them go – we want to be friends, we want to be partners. But let them also realise that India won’t be taken for granted, so beware! And this is not a fanciful revenge notion, my objective in stating this is not the gratification of the baser sense of revenge, neither is it born out of a desire to save face – although that is admittedly part of it. This submission I am making, this request of mine to the Government Of India, is based in the way of the world. If you want people to respect you, you have to be a little tough, and a little calculating. If you do not want to be treated as a doormat, then you have to stand up and fight for what is rightfully yours; even if it means a sacrifice over the short term.
The USA raised a highly questionable case against a senior Indian diplomat, a person representing the nation. Any which way you look at it, that case raises several deep questions. And the way this petty matter was handled – regardless of guilty or not – also raises further troubling questions for India. Now we have unearthed what decidedly seems to be, as The Hindu article above claims, evidence of an institutionalised fraud, running to decades, and defrauding India of what might be crores in tax revenue (as per firstpost). In addition, this is a standard practice adopted by the USA. Not only that, it raises extremely worrisome questions about how the USA is taking India and Indian laws for granted.
This is a general trend in US dealings with the world. Notice how they apparently flouted tax and legal norms while spiriting away the maid’s family. Notice how they paid scant regard to Indian cases against them. Notice how they walked into Pakistan with total impunity on innumerable occasions. Notice how they saved Davies. Notice their behaviour across the world. In my opinion, it is now time for the world to tell the Americans that they cant get away with it all the time and every time. Let them know that the world has changed – and, as some international observers have stated, it is only India that has the image and clout to pull it off.
But the above is also not the reason – at least, not the core reason – for my assertion that we should firmly tell the US where it stands in the modern world with respect to India. India is not the policeman of the world, we do not have either the wherewithal or the intent to be one. The core reason for my assertion is that a soft-spoken person will always be taken for granted, and treated as a doormat. If we have to stand up and be counted as a modern, progressive nation with the intent and the potential (if not the ability) to become a true regional power, then we have to make ourselves heard, and our intent clearly communicated across the world.
This will enable our diplomatic corps and enhance their effectivity, it will act as a force multiplier in our international engagements as well as ensure that any step contemplated by other nations vis-a-vis India will only be taken after a careful analysis of the pros and cons involved. It will send a powerful signal of a confident India, an India that is prepared to take the fight to others to make itself heard, an India that is aware of the risks involved, and is yet confident of itself to undertake tough calls against errant partners. And if handled well, this will also send a signal that the new India is an India that can be uncompromising, tough and yet considerate towards partners who want to work with it, rather than at cross-purposes.
Further, the need of our “izzat”, which is a way of life to us cannot be ignored, not even at the price of trade relations. Much is being said about the 90-Billion-Dollar trade, but we need to draw a line beyond which we will not go. To be blunt – would you accept an offer from a super-rich man to be his companion (no pun or hidden meaning there) for 5 million dollars a month? Obviously not. Would you, as a highly qualified professional, agree to sweep latrines if someone paid you a package of 25 Lac Rupees per annum? No! The same rule applies to trade. Whatever the trade cost, our self-respect is not for sale, we are not sale, our nation is not for sale, our image is not for sale, our morals are not for sale.
There is one basic rule of trade – it has to be bilateral in nature. There has to be benefit to both sides. Trade has to ensure good handling even on cultural issues in order that a long-term relation can be built. Try and purchase anything from your neighbourhood supermarket, run up huge expenses, and every time you visit – make it a point to swear at the shop, at its environment, and make yourself disagreeable. There will come a time when the store will refuse your business. That is a simple fact of life. Unless each trade relation takes care of the other sides’ culture, views, attitudes and personality, a long term relationship is never built. Such an approach builds mistrust and raises serious risks of personnel taking the other side for granted – leading to the genuine servicing parameters, trade exchanges as well as quality being compromised. Since the other side just cows down, it builds a tendency to ignore flaws, lessening the delivered quality.
If, on the other hand, the trade partner or customer is finicky yet decent – there is a tendency to be careful in handling him/her, while ensuring quality and speed of dispatch. The net result is a very healthy relationship. This is a fact of life, and this is what needs to be driven home to the USA – that India is not for sale. We are buying things from you, but we are paying for it. You aren’t giving it for free, unlike to Pakistan. If you want the relationship to continue, stop taking us for granted. Don’t think that you can treat us as doormats, and continue to hope for trade.
This US School stuff is an opportunity to tell the USA that you get off at this point. Re-calibrate your treatment of India, or its goodbye to our relationship. This is not so risky; if our own house is in order, trade will come to us. We need to focus not on being doormats to the world, but to ensuring that what we offer is at par, or better than anyone else. If we manage to do that, trade will come to us, whether or not anyone likes it. The USA is a living proof of that; they treat everyone like dirt, yet have healthy trade relations. We have things to offer, if USA doesn’t, someone else will take it. We just have to concentrate on our offerings, and our international dealings. It means stress over the short term – true. But do remember the reality that we are the top defence spender, accounting for 10% of the world trade. We can afford to call the shots. When you have got it, flaunt it. The USA is cutting defence spending, their industry is under pressure. This creates an opening for us – let us use it to the hilt. The carrot-and-stick approach!
Critically, not having the same strength as the USA is not a reason for losing our self-respect; as we have seen, that only leads to business loss in definably clear terms. Self confidence and self respect are vital components of business and international diplomacy both. High time India stood up to be counted, and told the USA – this is where you get off. The ball is now in the Government Of India’s court, it is time to play hardball with USA and hold them to task. It is time to tell them to shape up vis-a-vis India, or you stand to lose.
Come on, GOI. Stand up for India – as I am sure you will! Kudos to the GOI, the opposition, and the internal stakeholders for uniting as one on this!