Biden’s shibboleths on democracy or world peace or the environment are just that — vacuous shibboleths.
IN the end we have to fight our own battles, be it for democracy or justice or human rights, and with the singular resolve to win them. There isn’t another way. Ponder the profound advice from the 16th-century polyglot poet Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana. “Rahiman nij man ki vyatha, man hi raakho hoey/ Suni athilaihein log sab/ Baant ne lehai koey”. Keep your pain to yourself. There’s no great yearning out there to bail you out.
The Cold War has been over for some time. The sheen of democracy the West used to camouflage the destructive greed of capitalism lies shunned. On the other side too, gone is the durable plank that shored up bold quests as the right to self-determination, to resist imperialism and so on. There is no reliable anchor of support for the Cold War-era campaigns any more. See what’s happening in Gaza, and also closer home, in Kashmir. If Imran Khan is trampling on press freedoms in Pakistan, it is Pakistanis who have to fight it. And they have been doing it usually successfully since the Gen Ayub era. As the Indian media is under assault from a state aligned with Hindutva the battle has to be joined by Indians and scarcely anybody else.
“Indian journalists are better behaved than their American counterparts,” mocked Joe Biden in his Oval Office with Narendra Modi. It was such an unhelpful observation despite its stinging accuracy. Had the Pegasus outrage been carried out by China or Russia on their citizens instead of targeting Indian journalists at the likely behest of the Indian government, Biden’s smirk would have acquired a truer contortion.
Therefore, Biden’s shibboleths on democracy or world peace or the environment are just that — vacuous shibboleths. He assured the UN he was not planning to start a new Cold War with China. That was moments after setting up an aggressive Anglo-Saxon alliance, the AUKUS, one which serious analysts fear may be primed for a catastrophic war with Beijing. The nuclear submarines Biden promised Australia in the bargain might take another 19 years to surface, but he has left enough room in the interregnum for an error of judgement or even a rush of blood to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world.
Biden gave Narendra Modi gentle advice on multicultural democracy. But the president is incapacitated by his politics to repair the damage done to India’s liberal constitution by the country’s most viciously right-wing prime minister to date. If he needs Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to upend Russian vaccine diplomacy, Biden needs Modi equally as part of America’s growing militarist designs in Asia.
Consider the anomalous nature of Biden and Boris Johnson beating the drum against climate change. Of course, the human species faces annihilation if global warming is not stalled and reversed quickly enough. Who’s going to do it? What could either of them tell Bolsonaro when he met them at the UN? The man is cleaning out the Amazon forests. What will Biden advise Australia and India on their coal cooperation despite protests from environmentalists on both sides? Right in the middle of the Covid-19 mayhem, Mr Modi liberalised India’s coal policy. UN Secretary General António Guterres responded with a tart message. Opening coal was not the way to fight the virus. Of the two tycoons riding high in India currently, one sells oil, the other coal. Take them both to the Glasgow climate meet for a reckoner on the real obstacles ahead.
South Asian countries, led by India, are stymied by their sub-Saharan human development indices. Inordinately huge quantities of resources that go into militarist enterprises need to be ploughed into public health and scientific education. It’s doable. Sudheendra Kulkarni had once helped Atal Bihari Vajpayee put his thoughts together for easing tensions with Pakistan. He has been pleading for India and Pakistan to come together with China and other neighbours of Kabul to join hands to bail out the troubled landlocked country. That’s hardly what Mr Biden would want India to do. Rather the opposite, it would seem.
Remember how Delhi had offered bases for the Bush administration’s Afghan assault 20 years ago. One recalls Times of India’s Washington correspondent citing senior minister Jaswant Singh to that effect — but the offer was turned down as Gen Musharraf managed to get coerced and threatened into becoming imperialism’s Sherpa of the moment. Indian reports now say the US has been in talks with New Delhi for using airfields in India as “staging areas” for carrying out aerial surveillance and launching attacks on terrorists in and around Afghanistan. How does a man or missile travel to Afghanistan from India? It’s via a third country en route. Does that make life simpler for South Asia or more saddled with dark omens and uncertainties?
President Joe Biden’s administration is “deeply engaged” with New Delhi, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. He was responding to a Republican query if the Biden administration had reached out to New Delhi for using “over-the-horizon” capabilities from “staging areas” in northwest India for neutralising potential threats to the US in and around Afghanistan.
There’s good news to share too. It took a courageous US general to go behind Donald Trump’s back to warn the Chinese that things might not be in anyone’s control should the outgoing president decide to start shooting at Beijing. There was this bizarre fear at the very top of the military command. The general found the courage to assure the Chinese that he would warn them should a plan be initiated. So, forget the US and other Job’s comforters. Rely on Luiz Inácio Lula to deal with Bolsanaro, Mamata Banerjee to rally the Indian opposition. The Germans have just tweaked their politics towards the left of the centre, a lesson for others, a message for Biden.