February 22, 2020
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18-Karat Light

The Left is never right. So we dismiss our comrades. But they do raise questions well worth asking.

18-Karat Light
T. Narayan
18-Karat Light
Subordinate Ally: The Nuclear Deal And India-US Strategic Relations
By Prakash Karat
LeftWord Books Pages: 120; Rs: 95
It is very easy to castigate the Left for various degrees of hypocrisy and inconsistency on foreign policy; they certainly have more than a fair share of inconsistencies to account for. It has sadly also become very easy to use that track record to deflect serious debate on the merits of the Indo-US nuclear deal. The BJP’s opposition to the deal is often premised on strange logic. On the one hand, they probably would have settled for something lesser. On the other hand, they want an even closer and subservient relationship to the United States but not the deal. As for the Left’s opposition to the deal, the case for scepticism appears simple. This is the party that has opposed India’s nuclear programme, India’s greater integration into the global economy and has made national interest subservient to ideology or, as some allege, to foreign powers. Critics of the deal are told: "You don’t really want to be seen aiding the Left, do you?" Or even worse: India is presented as if the choice it has is between (wink, wink) China and the United States. Once the choice is presented that way, the decision becomes a no-brainer.

But it would be a big mistake to let these political canards and insinuations about the Left’s past conduct deflect attention from the validity of some of their core concerns. Prakash Karat’s clear, brief and accessible collection of articles raises some important questions about the context of the nuclear deal. The book has three core themes. The first is that the nuclear deal must be seen in the context of the logic of global capitalism; it is an attempt to draw India into a certain model of development. The second is that, as a practical matter, India’s foreign policy is becoming subservient to the US. We are beginning to look at the world through American eyes, defining the axis of global conflict as America does, signing on to every harebrained scheme Washington cooks up, from Missile Defence to a Concert of Democracies, designed to polarise politics against China and Russia. And third, though somewhat mutedly: does India itself have any clarity over what it wants with its nuclear programme? Do we have any well-thought-out energy strategy within which this programme fits, or are we just mesmerised by the mantra of nuclear energy to think too carefully about it? Can the government even defend its analysis of the costing and regulatory issues nuclear energy would entail? Do we even have an analysis in good faith of indigenous alternatives? And, more subtly, are we really sure about what kind of global nuclear order we want? It is one thing to rail against a discriminatory global order from the outside, quite another to ask: How will our positions affect the global nuclear order? Can we both legitimise the currency of nuclear weapons and in the same breath deny others the same rights? In other words, are we in the process of becoming the very kind of great power we used to complain about?

In Karat’s rendition, the three concerns go together: capitalism, being pro-US, and becoming a state that believes in its own exceptionalism. Some might argue that these themes are distinct. It should be possible to argue for greater integration into the global economy, for even closer economic ties with the United States, without quite buying into its designs for the world. The connection between global capitalism and India’s strategic choices is not quite as clear as Karat makes them out to be. But then Marxists believe in the idea of the world being a totality, whereas others see the world as more disjointed. However, even if you disagree with Karat over the relationship between capitalism and strategy, his central theme—that India not only risks being a subordinate ally, but is well on its way to becoming one—merits serious attention. Once again, this concern is often met with a kind of emotional blackmail in public discourse. Do you not trust the Prime Minister? Can a country like India really become subordinate? But Karat amasses enough evidence to suggest that we are ingratiating ourselves with America at the expense of national interest. Yes, we occasionally say we do not approve of things like the American intervention in Iraq. But critics of the Left often forget that we might have had troops in Iraq had it not been for the Left. The mystery is not why the Left opposes American power; the mystery is why so few others do so as well.

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