America’s influence over Indian politics and its likely consequences

Eager to retake her parliamentary seat in the forthcoming local elections on May 8th 2006, Sonia Gandhi has finally brought her resignation tally to a halt. In the past three weeks, she has resigned as the Chairperson of Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and tendered her resignation as head of Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, Jawahar Bhavan Trust, and, Gandhi and Jallianwala Bagh National Trust. But the most important of all her resignations came on March 23rd, when she quit her parliamentary seat and also stepped down from the post of Chairperson of National Advisory Council.

Once again it was the pro-American BJP that played an instrumental role in her dismissal from Lok Sabha (the lower house in India’s parliament) and the government’s National Advisory Council. The BJP successfully mounted an opposition campaign on the office-of-profit issue following disqualification of Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan from Rajya Sabha. Jaya Bachchan and BJP relentlessly petitioned President A P J Abdul Kalam seeking Gandhi’s disqualification based on Sonia Gandhi illegally seeking profit from her membership of various trusts and organisations, while being a member of parliament.

Sonia Ghandi was left with no choice but to resign from the various political and no-political posts, and then contest a by-poll in Rae Bareli on May 8 as the only way of returning back to Lok Sabha.

This is not the first time that America through the BJP has put pressure on her and her close confidants. When Sonia Ghandi was appointed as India’s Prime Minister in 2004, the BJP made a great hue and cry about Sonia’s foreign roots and only relented when Sonia rescinded the post and handed it over to the pro-American Manmohan Singh.

Even before then America had succeeded in hurting the congress party by encouraging the defection of KC Pant (he served as minister in the governments first of Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi for more than 15 years) who left the party under the stewardship of Sonia Gandhi to join BJP. But after Manmohan Singh’s appointment as Prime Minister and Sonia’s resolve to remain President of the Congress party, America intensified her campaign to discredit Sonia Gandhi and those who are considered loyal to the Gandhi dynasty.

The betrayal of KC Pant, the death of Gandhi loyalist Narasimha Rao, the removal of Natwar Singh over the oil for food scandal has weakened the authority of the Gandhi family over the Congress party. The long awaited reshuffle of the cabinet early this year failed to stem the growing American influence over the congress party.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described by the opposition as the weakest Prime Minister in the history of India felt bold enough to give the External Affairs portfolio to Anand Sharma and unceremoniously dismissed Mani Shankar Aiyar India’s Petroleum Minister and replaced him with the pro-American Murli Deora.

Both the former External affairs Minister Natwar Singh and Mani Shankar were ardent supporters of Nehru’s British inspired vision that India must remain a neutral actor in international politics and together they infuriated American officials over their remarks for supporting Iran and criticising America’s occupation of Iraq.

However, with their removal America succeeded in winning Indian support for censuring Iran over its nuclear programme as well as paving the way for America to bring India’s nuclear weapons and programmes under the watchful eye of the IAEA and Pentagon officials. This deal was made possible by another so called stalwart Gandhi loyalist Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Unknown to the wider congress party, the Indian media and the opposition, Pranab Mukherjee met with US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and signed up to new framework for the Indo-U.S. defence relationship. But prior to the visit he told the Indian media that the trip was "exploratory" in nature. "I am not going with a shopping list. This is a visit by an Indian Defence Minister to the U.S. after a long time.” The new defence pact and the nuclear deal is a huge break through for American policy makers who increasingly view India’s conventional and nuclear weaponry as a means to not only pressurise China into an arms race, but to prepare India for an eventual nuclear conflict with China.

Out of the sixty odd ministerial posts in the Indian government, America has managed to exert her control over four of the most important positions –” including the position of the Prime Minister. The increasing American influence represented by Singh, Mukherjee, Sharma and Deora poses a direct challenge to Sonia Ghandi and the future of the Congress party which is the heart of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Furthermore, the removal of Sonia from the National Advisory Council leaves the door open for America to influence Congress’s domestic agenda as set out in the National Common Minimum Programme.

With Manmohan Singh growing in stature and confidence, and BJP resorting to its Hindu roots to rebuild itself, America is becoming increasingly confident of nurturing the emerging political landscape into a political system where both the government and the opposition will be loyal to American interests.

One of the casualties of this newfound confidence in US–”Indian relations is America’s relationship with Pakistan. The Bush administration believes it can apply more pressure on Musharraf to fulfil her strategic interests in the region.

Musharraf’s tactics to mobilise the masses into an uncontrollable rage over the cartoon issue and his visit China did little to stymie Bush’s demands for Pakistan to do more to reign in the rogue elements of the Pakistani army, destroy the resurgent Taliban, seal the border with Afghanistan and to make greater concession to India over Kashmir.

Nevertheless, America’s favouritism of India at the expense of Pakistan (widely predicted) will further alienate those who hitherto have supported Musharraf in the anticipation of equitable relations with the US, but all along suspected American motives. If America continues her onward march towards India, Musharraf’s constituency will see itself having more in common with Islamists then the American backed Musharraf as the sole protector of Pakistani interests. In the end, America may end up gaining India only to find it has contend with an Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan.