India: The other India protests against Bush visit

Bush seeks to boost business deals and allies in the region

It was spectacular from the point of view of huge numbers of people participating spontaneously in the anti-Bush protests. As the popular environmental activist and writer Arundathi Roy commented before the arrival of Bush, he was “just not welcome”!

It was not just the major cities such as Kolkata and New Delhi which drew huge crowds. In other cities and smaller towns thousands enthusiastically protested against his visit. Placards against Bush and American imperialism had all sorts of slogans ranging from abuse and political satire to vulgarity -such is the hatred that Bush and his administration have amassed for themselves in the world.

From Kashmir to the southern tip of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and in every nook and corner of the country the “Killer Bush Go Back” slogans reverberated in the air with anger. “Bush Haivan Vaapas Jao” (Devil Bush, Go Back) was the favourite slogan which rent the horizon of the entire north Indian belt for three days during Bush’s visit.

In the run up to the anti-Bush protests there were campaigns to organise the mobilisation. New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India), along with radical film-makers, had a week-long anti-imperialist film festival in Bangalore which drew big crowds of youth and college students. The New Socialist Alternative’s youth comrades enthusiastically campaigned against Bush’s visit in many colleges which brought students to the protests.

Apart from the traditional left parties such as the CPI (M) and the CPI, many students, women and Dalith organisations and trade unions came out on the streets of India to protest against Bush and American imperialism. Muslim organisations in every major city held huge demonstrations against Bush. In the city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh clashes broke out between the protesters and the BJP supporters who were welcoming Bush. Two protesters died in the police firing and many were injured. (In the aftermath of this, bomb blasts in the temple town, Varanasi, killed at least twenty people. Communal tensions are rising dangerously in the area.)

While the slavish ruling party – the Indian National Congress {Congress Party} – plus the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party {BJP}, the media corporations (print and electronic) and the Indian industrial companies were getting ecstatic about the visit of Bush and the enormous riches that it is going to bring for them, the ordinary working people of India, steeled by the hard knocks of capitalist globalisation, summarily rejected Bush and imperialism.

Many analysts for the ruling elite have hailed Bush’s visit as historic. They have compared it to the visit of Richard Nixon to China in the seventies which is supposed to have changed the political and economic course that country took subsequently. The top people in the ‘Who’s who’ of the American corporate gangs accompanied Bush to India, to make a beeline to entice the Congress-led government to agree to future American investments.

There is no doubt that the Indian administration and the bourgeois media want to sideline the protests and only look at the investment prospects; for that they are ready to break every rule in the book and the protocol. It was unprecedented in the history of India that a Prime Minister went to the airport to receive a foreign dignitary, as Manmohan Singh did to receive Bush. It is quite ironic that security dogs of Bush’s entourage desecrated the holy Raj Ghat, where M K Gandhi, hailed as Mahatma, is cremated.

What’s behind the “Big Deal”?

It was also quite staggering the extent to which the US has gone in agreeing to the development of nuclear power in India. Bush’s visit to Asia has been prompted by the rapid growth of China as a political, economic and military power in the region. The protesters who ‘greeted’ Bush were well aware of the double standards and hypocrisy of his regime, contrasting the attitude to North Korea and Iran with this favourable approach to India. As protesters raged and chanted "Global terrorist go back!" across the country, the American president and the Indian prime minister clinched a sinister deal on nuclear cooperation (proliferation).

A commentator on the web-site ‘’ said, “And the bomb, far from emboldening us (India), seems only to have induced servility”. There were hectic parleys behind the scenes by the bureaucrats of both the US and India in order to come out with a deal by hook or by crook. They cooked up a deal which menacingly laughs at the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

While the Indian establishment is heralding the nuclear deal as a ‘win-win’ situation, the American industrial lobby is preparing itself for the big kill. Many serious analysts feel that the deal is not such a benevolent gift as it is made out to be. It was a sinister move to put India out of the bargaining for fossil fuels which are getting ever scarcer by the day. Bush was cheeky enough in New Delhi to say outright:- "It’s in our economic interests that India has a civilian nuclear power industry to help take the pressure off the global demand for energy. To the extent that we can reduce demand for fossil fuels, it will help the American consumer."

The speed with which this deal has come through should be seen from point of view of the postures that India has been taking in relation to its own energy needs. India has been on the look-out for petroleum and natural gas for some time now and has made the US administration sit up and take notice. India’s threatened oil deals with Iran and Syria, and also with Myanmar, were cutting into the US interests and hence this ‘big deal’.

Business deals and energy

The stage was being set in the Indian political establishment before this stitch-up was done. In the recent reshuffle of the erstwhile union cabinet, Mani Shankar Aiyar was stripped of the Petroleum, Oil and Natural Gas portfolio at a critical juncture. The job was transferred to Murali Deora, one of India’s most right-wing, pro-U.S. and pro-big business politicians, Mani Shankar Aiyar was a vocal proponent of the scheme to build a pipeline to deliver Iranian gas to Pakistan and India. The Bush administration had repeatedly made clear that it is adamantly opposed to the building of such a pipeline. Aiyar also championed the development of an “Asian energy grid” to lessen Asian dependence on western-based oil companies, and promoted cooperation between India and China in overseas energy exploration and production. The US government formally protested against a deal which Aiyar helped put together, that saw the two largest sate-owned oil companies in India and China jointly purchase a stake in oil and gas properties in Syria.

Bush made a pointed reference to Myanmar in his joint press conference with Manmohan Singh after the nuclear deal was signed. He was indirectly sending a signal that India should not seek its energy needs from Myanmar, attacking the record of human rights in that country. (This is anyway hypocritical since Bush’s next stop-over was to see Musharraf, the dictator of Pakistan)

This nuclear pact will allow India to buy atomic technology and fuel – provided the US Congress gives its approval. It is expected to allow trade between India and other nuclear powers if the Nuclear Suppliers Group – an informal group of 40 nations that controls global nuclear transactions – also lifts sanctions. Chirac’s visit to India just before Bush had posed a situation where France was prepared to come to a deal with India on civilian nuclear energy co-operation.

India has 15 nuclear power plants in operation, with a generating capacity of 3,310 megawatts (MW). Seven more plants with a capacity of 3,420MW are scheduled for completion by 2009. Though the country has uranium deposits, they have not been mined in great quantities, leading to a shortage.

“U.S. Firms See Nuclear Pact as Door to India”, suggested the Wall Street Journal; many American companies are eyeing India as the next big frontier after China. "This is about the alignment of two democracies," says Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, who argues that an Indian nuclear pact would yield a bounty "that goes far beyond mere commercial measures." A failed pact, he says, would cast a pall over U.S.-India relations and send the big deals to places like France, Russia and China.

Trans-national corporations such as General Electric, Ford, Wal-Mart and Boeing very badly want this deal to go through the American Congress; they argue that solving the nuclear hurdle will improve ties between U.S. companies and the Indian government, especially in defence procurement and government infrastructure projects.

Ford builds 50,000 vehicles a year at a plant in southern India, but Ford’s Vice President, International Relations, Biegun says that a nuclear deal "will improve the prospects for Ford to increase its activities in India."

India remained largely closed to big outside investment until the mid-1990s and was resisting efforts to liberalise its service and retail sectors. But trade between the countries is up, while U.S. investments have skyrocketed, especially in the IT and IT – enabled services.

Boeing Co., which signed an $11 billion deal last month to sell Air India 68 planes over the next five years, is set to lobby for congressional approval. So is General Electric, the largest U.S. investor in India, which would stand to profit from a newly opened nuclear market.

India’s annual military procurement budget is about $12 billion; only $90 million of that last year went to U.S. companies. Plans to expand India’s tiny nuclear power network could cost as much as $100 billion. And then there is the $1 trillion needed in infrastructure work, for projects such as ports and power stations, roads and gas pipelines. It is this material economic interest that drives the greedy American business empires and their wrong-headed representative on the new course of nuclear madness.

This new situation of a nuclear-enabled India, ably supported by American imperialism, throws a dangerous challenge to the entire working people of the region of South Asia. The massive protests in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have demonstrated that the masses of the region, however divided on national and religious lines, clearly see the sinister designs of their own bosses and imperialism.

The task of the Marxist-socialists under the banner of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) is to programmatically unite and guide these anti- imperialist and anti-capitalist forces towards the ideas of genuine socialism to overthrow capitalism and landlordism to build a nuclear free, democratic socialist confederation of South Asia.

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March 2006