Domestically, the country is witnessing a unique situation, when all the key members of the Union Cabinet regularly seek guidance from an individual who has zero constitutional authority to manage the affairs of the nation. Whether it is Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister Arecaparambil Antony, HRD Minister Arjun Singh or Law Minister Hansraj Bharadwaj, requests from the PMO can be?and almost always are?ignored, while even the merest hint from 10 Janpath is taken as a command.
As for the coalition partners, with very rare exceptions, the same goes for them. If Dayanidhi Maran or Lalu Yadav has a problem, they do not waste everybody'stime taking it to the de jure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but to the de facto Prime Minister of India, Sonia Maino Gandhi. The lady from an impoverished Orbassano family who is still visibly uncomfortable with the ways of her adopted home has indeed come a long way after winning Rajiv Gandhi'sheart in the vicinity of Cambridge some four decades back. Now that she has taken control, the hapless Manmohan Singh is steering the country along the same path recently followed by Afghanistan and Iraq, that of becoming a satellite of the US and other NATO powers.
Three public incidents reveal the sorry state of affairs. The first being the illegal and humiliating seizure of an Indian vessel in waters commonly used by international shipping, by a UK naval crew. The intention of London by the repeated examinations of vessels carrying the Indian flag that are plying close to the coast of Iran is to send a message to Manmohan Singh to work harder at cutting off all links between Iran and India, even though these are of immense benefit to both countries, and do not negatively impact the security of any other power. There has not been even the hint of a protest from the Sonia-led government to this act of international high-handedness, whereas were Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi to be in office, the reaction to the humiliation shown to the Indian tricolour by the former colonial master of the subcontinent would have elicited a stern rebuff. As it happened, perhaps because there is no Sonia Gandhi in Tehran, the Iranian navy apprehended a British naval vessel, although the stricken Indian ship was forced to halt its journey and have its crew suffer the trauma of forcible occupation by an alien military.
In Sonia Gandhi'sIndia, there can be no question of protest at any abuse of Indians abroad, unless they be of a harmless variety, such as a silly ?reality TV? show, where a few women traded barbs at one another. In Sonialand, while Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody are important enough to merit Cabinet-level attention and comment, Indian shipping exposed to occupation and seizure on the high seas is not. Of course, had the vessel been Italian, there would immediately have been a howl of protest by Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, as both of whom know from where their high offices come from.
A second external symptom of India'srelapsed status is the recent arrest of two Indian businesspersons (Sudarshan and Gopal) in the US, on charges that make nonsense of the numerous statements of the Bush team that it seeks a strategic partnership with India. Were that to have been the case, such brutal intimidation of Indian nationals would not definitely have taken place, for the intention behind such an action is to prevent any significant technical exchange between entities in the two countries, a necessary condition for a genuine partnership. Those who are arguing that the Singh-Bush July 18, 2005 statement shows that Washington has accepted New Delhi as a strategic power have once again been shown to be credulous. The reality is that with the coming to power of Sonia Gandhi, both the US and the EU are looking to convert India into a satellite status. The crude intimidation of the Indian scientific establishment signalled by the arrests of the two Indian nationals makes it clear that there is to be no meaningful technological exchange, only a one-way street in which Indian nationals rely entirely on NATO for weapons and techniques, while they fight NATO'swars under NATO command and die in their thousands.
Any Indian national who dares to oppose this new entanglement of India will face the wrath of those two trusted Ministres, Chidambaram and Suresh Pachauri, who these days deploy the income-tax department, the CBI and other agencies in their grip in order to intimidate critics. It must be admitted that Chidambaram, even though he may have reduced the rate of growth by three per cent because of his policy of higher interest rates and punitive assaults on businesspersons, has been very successful in ensuring that criticism of Sonia Gandhi is virtually absent from public discourse. So who cares if he is the worst Union Finance Minister since Morarji Desai? Sonia Gandhi'scontempt for Indians is clear from the supine silence of the Manmohan Singh government at the arrest of two citizens on charges that are absurd and contradictory.
A third indication that the advent of Sonia Gandhi to the New Delhi gaddi has resulted in the taking for granted of this country as witnesed in the miserably low level of representation by both the US and the EU to the just-concluded SAARC summit in New Delhi. Despite the UPA'spretensions of India being accepted in the same league as countries such as Japan, neither the US nor the EU bothered to send any official of significance to the meeting. While both Japan as well as China?the two largest economies in Asia?did host India the courtesy of sending their Foreign Ministers to a meeting attended by the Heads of Governments of the SAARC states, neither the US nor the EU bothered to send even their second echelon to New Delhi, despatching officials who are ranked at the fourth or fifth tier in both significance and protocol. Was there even a frown from the Manmohan Singh government at this snub? Not at all, the very presence of even junior officials from the US and the EU was taken as a cause for celebration by the Sonia-led UPA.
Of course, over 17 years of SAARC, India'sfootprint in the region has diminished considerably. In Sri Lanka, faraway Oslo has become a more focussed player than New Delhi. Small wonder that as yet Colombo has treated dismissively India'srequest that genuine federalism be introduced into the Sri Lankan constitution in order to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil population. Until this is done, no amount of meddling by countries outside the region will help. In the case of Pakistan, while even staunch backers such as London are being forced to acknowledge that it is part of the problem and not the solution, the Indian government is throwing a lifeline to Musharraf by taking at face value his utterances on fighting terrorism, and seeking to add the Siachen glacier to Sir Creek to the list of locations to be handed over to Pakistan. As for Bangladesh, that country has the ?distinction? of treating its minorities abominably, following the example of Pakistan. Apart from the maltreatment of minorities, Bangladesh is hosting tens of thousands of extremists that are targetting India. These days, even Bhutan seems to be looking the other way at such ?guests?, including those from India'snortheast. The problem with India is that each year of Maino raj is bringing India closer to disaster.
This columnist was alone in the 1990s in writing about India'srise. Those now talking of an emerging India used to pooh-pooh these words in cocktail parties at Embassy Row. He is similarly isolated today, when warning of the vulnerability that has erupted on India'sflank as a result of the policies followed by Sonia Maino Gandhi'sgovernment domestically and externally, policies that have increased the sway of insurgents of all hues while reducing the influence of India in world affairs.