By B.G. Verghese
Preoccupation with trivia over the forthcoming Indian elections, where tamasha has largely replaced serious and meaningful electoral debate, has deflected media attention from unfolding developments in Crimea. The Crimean peninsulawas always culturally and demographically Russian and home to its strategic Black Sea Fleet. But it became part of Ukraine in 1991 on the basis of the then administrative boundaries when the Soviet Union broke up.
Latterly, with that country facing an economic crisis and the West encouraging Ukraine to join the European Union, the pro-Russian President of the Ukraine, Yunukovych, was overthrown by a Western-aided movement for regime change. Alarmed by this attempt further to unbalance Russia strategically and economically by extending NATOs tentacles deep into Russia’s Eurasian heartland, Putin struck. Crimea was militarily occupied and a referendum conducted that voted for reunion with Russia. The West has threatened sanctions and a new cold war looms on the horizon.
The West may huff and puff but its own policies in erstwhile Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan have been self-serving. Russia is seeking to build a Eurasian Economic Union to rebuild its strategic and economic clout as a counterpoise to the European Union. The West sees this as restoring the Soviet Union in another guise and is out to prevent any such consummation. India understands Russia’s interest in Crimea and has pleaded for diplomatic rather than more muscular responses. This country has strong reason to want to have Russia as a strategic counterweight against US unilateralism, often dressed up as upholding democracy and righteousness.
This American tendency to press its own interests in the guise of some higher principle of freedom and fair competition is evident in its recent onslaught on Indian pharma competitors. US firms would like to make marginally incremental changes in molecules earlier developed bythem to claim new patents and thereby keep out competition, especially from developing counties like India that have been able to make similar formulations at a fraction of the monopoly price of the original vendor to the enormous benefit of poor patients in the Third World and among less affluent sections of society elsewhere. India is acting within the WTO parameters for TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) and is not in violation of international norms.
The same unilateralism is to be seen in the Anglo-US led effort to discipline Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on March 28 through a resolution calling for the establishment of what the British Foreign Secretary calls an “international mechanism” to address past violations of international law “and secure meaningful progress on a political settlement, accountability, human rights and reconciliation”.
On the same day that the British Foreign Secretary wrote this article in the Hindu (March 17), the same newspaper carried an article by John Vidal from the Guardian. Vidal reported the setting up of a committee by HMG to see whether it is feasible to resettle 1000 (to 5000)Chagos Islanders who were expelled from the archipelago some half-century ago to lease the largest island, Diego Garcia, to the US as a strategic air, naval and submarine base from where the Americans have fought major illegal wars in an effort to bomb and bludgeon Indo-China, Iraq, Afghanistan and others to submission. The deceit and deception underpinning these wars make a disgraceful story.
The forced and crude expulsion of the Chagos Islanders was an illegal act of cultural genocide and found to be so but continues to be defended on the most callous, absurd and dishonest grounds. To prevent the right of return of the Chagossians, the Islands were declared a precious ecological and marine reserve in 2010 that would sink were the native population to return even as 5000 US military personnel live there and B-52 bombers thunder down runways. If returning Chagossians fish in the archipelago’s clear waters this could endanger the species, but the US military is licenced to catch 50 tonnes of fish for sport! The utter hypocrisy and humbug of its all! And these are the people preaching virtue to Sri Lanka and others. This is not to defend any wrongdoing by Sri Lanka or anybody else, but to argue for elementary standards of decency and integrity in international relations and in defending something as precious as human rights.
Meanwhile at home, the nomination of candidates for the elections, across parties, has degenerated into the rounding up of criminals, thugs and dubious party hoppers on all sides. Small cabals are in charge of ticket distribution and old loyalties have ceased to matter. The BJP has treated Advani and Jaswant Singh badly through opaque selection procedures. It was strange to see NarendraModi’s nomination from Varanasi delayed until the last and then to find him nominated from a second seat in Vadodara. Contesting from two seats may be legal but is a questionable practice. What is the man seeking? Insurance? And should he win from both seats, he must sacrifice one. Advani too wanted to abandon his Gandhinagar seat in favour of Bhopal. What is he afraid of? Neither Modi nor Advani, like Mulayam,is interested in representing a constituency but wish only to ensure his own victory. These are hollow men. The Congress eyeing the Ordinance route to announce anational women’s university to be set up in Rae Bareli, Sonia Gandhi’s constituency and to be named after Indira Gandhi,marks another new low in small time politics. Why now?
Finally, much was sought to be made of the leaked First Part of the Henderson-Brooks Report on the 1962 fiasco. This is by now old hat though the Defence Ministry is pretending to defend some great strategic secret by keeping the rest of it under wraps! There is nothing to hide other than the shame of supreme political folly. When will we ever learn?