World's Largest Democracy India; India and US from one democracy to another
Bombay — The Soviet Union has Pepsi-Cola. China has Coca-Cola. Japan has yielded to McDonald's and Britain has taken to Baskin-Robbins. Even Yugoslavia is ready for Pizza Huts.
India has none of these American concoctions. It did have Coca-Cola until quite recently, but the soft-drink company withdrew because it refused to hand over its secret formula to the Indian authorities.
Modern Indians wear jeans instead of saris or dhotis, but they come from Hong Kong, not the USA. There are hamburgers, but they are spicy in the Indian fashion, while milkshakes often come sprinkled with coconut.
Hollywood, the mass purveyor of the so-called American lifestyle, makes its appearance, but it is by no means as pervasive as it is in the rest of the world. Movie guides in big cities like Bombay and New Delhi usually show about 12 Indian movies to every three American movies. This is because, for all its glamour, Hollywood's film output is well below that of Indian producers, who are the world's most prolific moviemakers.
All in all the visitor has to look hard to find the American connection. It is not because India is anti-American. It is because India is determined to maintain its own identity and to be self-sufficient.
India, in fact, is so self-sufficient that it makes everything from toothpaste to tanks, from matches to MIG-21s.
Instead of accepting outside goods and influences, India tends to export its own -- particularly to the Middle East, where Indian doctors, engineers, computer specialists, teachers, fan manufacturers, and boilermakers are a conspicuous presence.
"We have become very Indian," says a Bombay manufacturer who exports dyes and chemicals. Like many Indians, he insisted that India is influenced by neither the United States nor the Soviet Union.
There is one area, however, where India needs American expertise and recognizes its dependence: sophisticated US technology. Indians regard American electronic equipment, for instance, as ahead of the international field.
On the defense side, the Indians, because of their 1971 Friendship Treaty with Moscow, are heavily dependent on the Soviet Union. But what they are given and how it is given does not always sit well with the Indians.
At dusk one evening this reporter was drawn by the sound of organ music waiting out of the windows of St. Thomas (Episcopalian) Cathedral in the heart of Bombay. The church, built in 1718, is the oldest English building in Bombay. Seated at the organ was an Indian Navy commander passing time in the city before being assigned to his new ship at Goa.
After practicing the organ, he spoke of his Navy experience and commented: "Nearly everything the Russians sent us is marked 'secret.' They wouldn't tell us anything, so we would send the stuff back to our research boys. They would check the circuits all the way back until they found out what was going on.
"As a result," he said, "we can now do things better than the Russians. They were surprised, for instance, when they found out that we now get twice the range on our missile radar scanners than they got."
The remark is significant not only for Indians' estimate of Russian material, but for their own worth.
The insistence of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, to lay a solid scientific foundation for the new nation by building numerous research laboratories, is apparently paying off.Today India has the largest skilled-manpower pool in the world after the United States and the Soviet Union.
This degree of sophistication only increases Indians' respect for American technology. But the road to friendship and understanding between two nations which might be natural world partners -- the world's largest democracy and the world's most powerful democracy -- is strewn with misunderstanding and anguish.
Like jilted lovers, each feels the other partner is to blame for the sorry state of their relationship. The extent to which they will be able to make up will largely depend on how well they can accommodate each other on crucial geopolitical issues such as Afghanistan, without compromising each other's strategic interests.
Extensive discussions with diplomats, government officials, political scientists, journalists, students, and the proverbial man in the street indicate that if the firm cement of the US-Indian relationship came unstuck it did so on the government-to-government level, not on a person-to-person basis.
"The Americans are generous, warmhearted, and kind," was one comment heard.
Another more frank comment, this one from a government official: "As people we much prefer the Americans to the British. Of course we have a problem with the British, who were our colonial rulers. On the other hand, we have more respect for British diplomacy than American diplomacy, and it is easier to talk to an Englishman. They don't use all that slang that an American talks."
Girilal Jain, editor of the prestigious Times of India in Bombay and one of India's most articulate political commentators, said of his own people:
"They want American prosperity. We want to succeed in the world."
Asked in an interview in his office on Mahatma Gandhi Road to comment on the status of Indian-US relations, he replied: "There is no deep innate hostility even toward the American government. There may be sharp divisions over certain issues, but these don't spill over into personal relations or into an unwillingness to trade."
At the same time, Mr. Jain is a sharp critic of US foreign policy. His editorials are acerbic and unyielding in their criticism of the American view that India is pro-Soviet and anti-US.
"The whole Western appreciation of our policy is thoroughly mistaken. We are not pro-Soviet. We are too big and we have too much self-respect to be pro-Soviet. We are pro-ourselves."
(His comment is an echo of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's own foreign policy credo: "We are not pro-Russian or pro-American. We are pro-India.")
Mr. Jain takes issue with the common assumption that India shifted to the Soviet Union as a result of the so-called tilt of the Nixon administration to its antagonist and neighbor, Pakistan, back in 1971.
The US, he charges, was pro-Pakistan long before the policymaking days of Mr. Nixon and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is particularly disliked here. Mr. Kissinger's latest answer to the Afghanistan crisis -- the stationing of an American air base on Pakistani soil -- has done nothing to erase Indians' objection to him.
"Even after the Chinese attacked us in 1962, you refused to give us arms. At the Rann of Kutch, American arms were used by Pakistan against us in defiance of your understanding [with them]. You took no action against them then, though it was a violation of that understanding.
"You refused to discuss, seriously, the rearming of ourselves in 1964 and 1965. It was only then that we turned to the Soviet Union.
"We are not a small country that can be taken under American wings. When we sought Soviet help, we were not pro-Soviet. The Treaty of Friendship of 1971 with the Soviets was signed only after a long debate in India.What finally clinched it was Kissinger's visit to Peking. We had to protect our rear."
(India has always feared China more than Pakistan. It has fought three wars against Pakistan and won; but it lost its 1962 border war with China, which looms as a threatening giant to the northeast. The prospect of a China-US-Pakistan alliance fills India with considerable anxiety and has tended to drive it toward the Soviet Union for protection.)
"Immediately after the Treaty of Friendship [with Moscow] was signed," he pointed out, there was no great celebration throughout India.
"A Soviet diplomat came to me one day and said, 'You attach no importance to this treaty. Why not?' I said, 'It's a Soviet-Soviet treaty, not an Indo-Soviet treaty.' He wanted to put an article in [my] paper in 1972 about it, which I of course turned down."
Mr. Jain's comments are not exceptional. They represent the broad mass of public opinion in India, which otherwise feels warmly toward the US but cannot abide its foreign policy. It is a foreign policy, they say, that is directed toward helping Pakistan and ipso facto against India.
Indian public opinion is as sharply opposed to American arms for Pakistan as it is to the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan. Says an Indian attached to an international agency in New Delhi: "The crunch is between the two superpowers -- the United States and the Soviet Union -- and we are fools enough to allow ourselves to be their battleground."
Resentment at US foreign policy has not affected US cultural contacts, the American tourist flow, or even Indian-US trade. Despite India's close economic ties with the Soviet Union, the United States is easily India's largest trading partner. There is a specific drive under way to expand exports to countries outside the Soviet bloc.
"The only thing," Mr. Jain says, "is that we don't abuse the Russians in cold war terms. It makes no sense to us. Russian aggression does raise problems for us. But we cannot afford to strike postures.
"We don't want a cold war to develop around our frontier, which is exactly what US policy will produce. We cannot favor US-China-Pakistan collaboration, which will go against us. We cannot favor expansion of Soviet military presence in Afghanistan."
To Mr. Jain, there are two methods of getting that presence reduced and withdrawn. The first is ensuring that no insurgents are exported from Pakistan to fight the Afghan regime.The second is maintaining an Indian measure of influence in Moscow.
"We have to be on speaking terms with the Russians, not only because we might need military hardware for ourselves, but because we will want to reduce their presence there.
"We cannot be for the Karmal regime in Afghanistan, because we are a Hindu country with a very large Muslim minority.
"With Chinese arms pouring into Pakistan and Americans more than anxious to pour arms into Pakistan, our preoccupation becomes our own security, not the possession of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union."
The regrettable fact to many Indians in the current geopolitical situation is not only that Indian and American foreign policies do not exactly synchronize, but that there is a misunderstanding on both sides as to why India and the US adopt the postures that they do.