by Praful Bidwai, Nav Hind Times, Thursday, June 29, 2006
LIKE ‘the party with a difference’ (the Bharatiya Janata Party), which ruled it for six years, India too seems to be evolving into a ‘country with a difference’. Even as the image of the United States takes a severe beating the world over including in states closed allied to it, it remains bright in India. According to the Washington-based Pew Research Centre, which polled 17,000 people in 15 countries, as many as 56 per cent of Indians have a ‘favourable opinion’ of the US. Worse, 56 per cent also approve of President George W Bush, whose ratings have fallen in his own country to 31 per cent.
Although the proportion of Indians who rate the US favourably this year is significantly lower than last year’s 71 per cent, it is among the highest scores in the world, matched only by Britain — derisively referred to as “America’s Poodle” and exceeded only by Japan (63 per cent) and Nigeria (62 per cent). The score stands in contrast to the sharp fall registered in America’s rating since 1999 in France (down from 62 to 39 per cent), Germany (78 to 37 per cent) and Spain (50 to 23 per cent). Even in Britain, approval of its closest ally has slumped from 83 per cent to 56 per cent.
Over the past year, approval of the US has plummeted in every single European country barring Britain: in Germany (from 41 to 37 per cent), France (43 to 39), Russia (52 to 43) and Spain (an even sharper 41 to 23 per cent). Even more dismal is the fall in Turkey, a NATO member (23 to 12 per cent), ally Jordan (21 to 15 per cent), and Indonesia (38 to 30 per cent). In Pakistan, it has risen marginally from an abysmal 23 per cent to a poor 27 per cent (or less than half that of India’s).
India is clearly the world’s ‘odd-man-out’. Even worse, Indian support for the US-led ‘global war on terrorism’ (GWOT) stands at a record 65 per cent — the world’s highest and 13 percentage points greater than last year. India and Russia are the only two countries in which the GWOT draws majority support. But, says the Pew Centre: in most other countries, support for the GWOT “is either flat or has declined.” In Japan, only 26 per cent favour the GWOT, down from 61 per cent in 2002. Only 39 per cent of Indonesians back it, compared with 50 per cent a year ago. And in Spain, the site of a devastating terrorist attack two years ago, four times as many people oppose the GWOT as support it.
According to the survey, “the Iraq war continues to exact a toll on America’s overall image and on support for the struggle against terrorism. Majorities in 10 of 14 foreign countries surveyed say that the war in Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place.” In Britain, 60 per cent say so, while only 30 per cent feel “it has made the world safer.”
The Iraq occupation is so unpopular that a global majority sees it as a “greater danger to world peace” than Iran with its nuclear programme. Says the Pew Centre: “Despite growing concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the US presence in Iraq is cited at least as often as Iran – and in many countries much more often — as a danger to world peace.” Forty-one percent of Britons say the Iraq occupation represents a greater danger than the Tehran regime. In Russia, Spain, France, and China the relative proportions are 45:20, 56:38, 36:31 and 31:22. It is only in the US and Germany that the proportions are inverse — 31:46 and 40:51. The rest of the world takes an even dimmer view of the occupation. Over 50 per cent in Turkey, Jordan and Egypt see it as more dangerous. The threats attributed to the occupation exceed those from Iran by 4 times in Indonesian and 7 times in Pakistan.
India too has a two-to-one proportion of such danger ratings but those who regard the Iraq occupation as its source are just 15 per cent — the lowest in the world, and less than half the rating in the US (31 per cent), only a third of the average in Germany, Russia or Spain. A majority of Indians also believe that the world has become safer after Saddam Husseins toppling. A huge 59 per cent believe US efforts to establish democracy in Iraq will succeed — a desperate hope not even shared by most Americans!
Yet, the poll results cannot be interpreted to damn all Indians as people unable to make a discerning judgment about war and peace. This is because the Pew poll represents a narrow urban sample in just five of our 18 major languages. The interviews were by all accounts conducted amongst the 10 per cent people who have landline telephones. It is thus an elite opinion poll as far as India goes. It may also reflect an upbeat mood following Mr Bush’s visit to India.
Even so, this elite pro-US sentiment is shocking. Not long ago, the same elite was an ardent supporter of Non-Alignment and opposed American hegemony in matters political, military, economic and cultural. It justified India’s nuclear weapons as a means of countering overwhelming US influence. The same policy-makers and-shapers have now become abjectly pro-America. Indeed, their admiration for ‘the American people’ (67 per cent) exceeds even their support for the US in general.
What has gone wrong? It would be simplistic to attribute the obsessive Americophilia of India’s middle classes to the Indo-US nuclear deal or to ‘strategic partnership’. That deal was only signed last July. Three other factors seem weightier: the burgeoning of a consumerist and hedonistic middle class under neoliberal policies which have deepened steadily since 2000; the moral-political disorientation of this elite; and the hangover of Hindutva’s Islamophobia in which the ‘war on terrorism’ is seen as directed largely against Muslims. These produce a dangerous amalgam of callousness towards the cruelty of war and occupation, amnesia about the false excuses about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and the generally baneful global influence of the US. They also betray a craving to collude with ‘the winning side’ to share the spoils.
Let’s face facts. The US occupation has created a far worse situation than that under Saddam, whose regime was unpopular and brutal enough. Despite a semblance of democracy — under a Constitution dictated by the occupation powers, daily life is far harsher and the economic situation more dismal. Insecurity rules Iraq. There is systematic loot of the country’s huge resources by multinational corporations and contractors. Saddam had his death and torture squads. But it is hard to say that the tortures of Abu Ghraib, the ravaging of Fallujah, or the massacre in Haditha are any better. Most people in the West and in the Middle East know about the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison abuse. But only 23 per cent of Indians do.
Haditha should disgust us all as the worst massacre by the US since My Lai. The atrocious ways of US troops have forced even Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to accuse the US of entrenched prejudice. Grave misconduct on a daily basis, he said, “has become common among many of the multinational forces — No respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It’s unacceptable.”
Some examples of atrocities by US troops, published in Time and Newsweek, are numbing. The occupation troops emerge as unhinged, mentally unstable, high on drugs, and prone to perverse behaviour. For instance, says ex-soldier Cliff Hicks: US troops “were taking steroids, Valium, hooked on painkillers, drinking. The US is not a benign power in Iraq. Nor anywhere else. It is out to establish an empire by military force, coercion, trickery, and bought consent. Its leaders and ideologue barely hide their intentions. Colluding with them is the worst thing that
a country’s elite can do — unless it has lost its political direction and moral compass. Ultimately, the Indian public will have to pay the price for this.