Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai and two deputy PMs―Jagjivan Ram and Y.B. Chavan ― were alleged to be CIA operatives active during the 1971 war.
Author-journalist Seymour Hersh, in his 1983 book, “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House”, alleged that Desai had passed on sensitive information about Indian foreign policy and domestic politics to the CIA for $20,000 a year during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Hersh had six sources who were high officials in the US Government, and each had identified Desai as a CIA agent. Once he became the PM, he reduced the budget of RAW, India’s intelligence agency, by 30% and closed down most of its operations. He also unwittingly revealed the details of the RAW network in Pakistan to the Pakistan Martial Law Administrator, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. This divulgence of Information proved disastrous for RAW’s operation and its agents. The agents were relentlessly searched and killed. Gen Zia’s government obliterated all of RAW’s network in Pakistan.
Narendra Modi’s cosy relationship with the USA is no secret. The frequent US-India talks are often shrouded in mystery with issues like Pakistan and terrorism being used cleverly to divert people’s attention. Modi’s disastrous economic policy, demonetisation, is said to be an outcome of cooperation agreements between the US government’s development agency USAID and the Indian ministry of finance. One of these agreements has the declared goal to push back the use of cash in favour of digital payments in India and globally.
The challenge that India faces is to ensure that the Chinese do not ever pose a threat to its economic and defence interests or that of its allies in Central, South and South-East Asia. To do this, India does not need the US. However the last couple of years, a trend has emerged which supports the hypothesis that India is being used by the US to block the Chinese economic corridor project “One Belt One Road”(OBOR) and the expansion of Chinese military influence in the South China Sea.
After Modi took over in 2014, he had no clear policy for South-East Asia, and he probably had no idea on how to deal with the OBOR policy. During the 2014 ASIAN summit, he revealed the “Act East” policy to reinvigorate New Delhi’s relationship with South- East Asia. Around the same time, his government initiated “Project Mausam” to counter the China Maritime Silk Road (now part of OBOR) initiative. Modi did not speak of OBOR during his meetings with Chinese President Xi in India and China. In fact, India did not object to OBOR in 2015 apart from objecting to the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor.
However, the change in India’s policy came with the appointment of S. Jaishankar as the Foreign Secretary. This man is known as the architect of Modi’s foreign policy. He was the ambassador of China till 2013 and then the ambassador of US till 2015. Modi’s decision of appointing Jaishankar by removing his predecessor Sujatha Singh was as surprising as his decision to give Jaisharkar a post-retirement extension of one year (till Jan 2018). Since his appointment, he has been the driving force behind India’s foreign policy. In the First Raisiana speech in March 2016, the Indian External Affairs Ministry for the first time objected to OBOR.
In January 2017 at Modi’s Inaugural Address at Second Raisina Dialogues, he said “Connectivity in itself cannot override or undermine the sovereignty of other nations… Only by respecting the sovereignty of countries involved can regional connectivity corridors fulfil their promise and avoid differences and discord…Nothing could foster that more than an open-minded consultation on the future of connectivity…We believe that respecting freedom of navigation and adhering to international norms is essential for peace and economic growth in the larger and inter-linked marine geography of the Indo-Pacific.”
In October 2017, during US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Visit to India, he suggested that the US and India partner to build road connectivity in the sub-continent and port connectivity in the Indo-Pacific, as a sort of alternative to the Chinese One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. Countering OBOR was the first main agenda of the trip.
However, the key point of Tillerson engagement was that the two biggest democracies in the world should join hands in providing a rule-based and transparent funding alternative to the OBOR in the region. US SoS’s second agenda was to increase cooperation between the two countries in the Indo-Pacific region so as to uphold rule-based rights of navigation and overflight in the area. Tillerson said, “As part of the free and open Indo-Pacific, we have elevated our engagement with India.”
In January 2018, at the Delhi Declaration of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, the countries involved agreed to:
The similarity in the choice of words (marked in bold) is no coincidence. The open, transparent and rule-based regional architecture is obviously not the brainchild of Modi, but it is the agenda of the USA. Why else is India dragging its feet on the Maldives crises, which has given China the opportunity to step in and resolve the issue? Why is Modi silent on Trump’s policies which are against India’s interest such as H1-B visas?
Since 2014, Modi has been criticized for not participating in the OBOR initiative, which has the potential of making Asia the epicentre of economic and industrial growth. He has put India in a position where we are perceived to be having an inferiority complex with China.
On the other hand, the USA has realized that they cannot use the threat of Communism as a way to stop the growing Chinese economic, political and military influence in Asia. The only strategy the US has left to put some pressure on China without antagonizing her is to outsource the job to India.
In other words, the USA would prefer a cold war between India and China rather than having India and China align and emerge as an alternative to the Western powers and they have found a perfect agent in the form of Narendra Modi. There are many reasons why Modi would be willing to play along. His party shares the same right-wing capitalist ideology as that of the USA. His corporate friends reap the benefits of the Modi-USA links in the form of defence contracts, mining leases etc. which will most probably be passed on to fund BJP (remember electoral bonds?).
The problem is that by towing the line of the US, Modi has put India’s long-term strategic, economic and defence interests at stake.
Just like in the case of Morarji, we will never know exactly how India’s foreign policy is being influenced by the USA. However, we will soon see the negative impact it will have on our economy and foreign relations especially with the South East Asian countries. This time, the damage will be far greater than the loss of some RAW agents.