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2000-03-20

Clinton’s South Asian Tour

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President Clinton’s visit to India is the first by a U.S. president in 22 years and the most extensive ever. The five-day trip marks what’s being described as a significant shift in U.S. policy towards India. Secretary of State Madeline Albright calls it the beginning of a new chapter in bilateral relations. Indo-U.S. relations were strained throughout the Cold War, when New Delhi was a key member of the non-aligned movement. Relations took a further blow after India’s decision to go nuclear in 1998 — but Washington’s decision to impose limited sanctions against India have had little impact. U.S. trade and direct investment in India is a fraction of its financial stakes in China. [includes rush transcript]

Both sides hope to change this during Clinton’s visit. India’s Hindu right-wing government wants greater U.S. investment and respect for its status as a regional power. Washington’s agenda includes opening India’s markets to U.S. businesses, stability in troubled Kashmir and a pledge from India to end nuclear testing — this despite the U.S. Senate’s refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, CTBT. New Delhi has also made it clear that it won’t brook U.S. mediation over its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.

The Clinton visit also comes at a time when Indo-Pakistani relations are at their most strained. The two countries, both nuclear powers now, came close to a full-fledged war last summer when Pakistan backed militants crossed into the Indian-held Kargil region of Kashmir — and Clinton’s decision to visit Pakistan, albeit for a few hours, has not gone down well in India.

But while officials talk of a new strategic partnership, the people of India see it otherwise. The National Alliance of People’s Movement, left parties and a host of NGOs and other groups are staging sit-ins and protests. They see the visit as another attempt to thrust globalization down the throats of Indian people. They also oppose US military interventionism in various parts of the world.

Guests:

  • S.P. Udayakumar, Research Associate & Co-Director of Programs, Institute on Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota.
  • Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi. E-mail: Jayati Ghosh.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn to an international story right now. President Clinton abruptly cancelled travel plans that would have taken him by helicopter to a village in densely crowded, impoverished Bangladesh and instead delivered encouragement for a young democracy and a multi-million-dollar aid package in the capital city of Dhaka. The first American president to ever visit the largely Muslim country, Clinton received a twenty-one-gun salute as he and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived to a red carpet greeting.

Heavy security was obvious, with many soldiers with rifles standing alongside the airport runway and closely spaced along the route into town. A military band played the national anthems of both nations on a bright humid morning. And Clinton’s motorcade route, as he traveled to the office of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was lined with thousands of uniformed schoolchildren, many waving small American flags.

On the eve of the visit, Clinton cancelled the planned centerpiece of his one-day trip to Bangladesh. The ninety-minute trip to the village of Joypura was billed as an opportunity to visit a school for girls and a thriving microcredit lending operation that makes small targeted loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses.

President Clinton went to Bangladesh from his first stop in India. President Clinton’s visit to India is the first by a US president in twenty-two years and the most extensive ever. The five-day trip marks what’s being described as a significant shift in US policy towards India. Indo-US relations were strained throughout the Cold War when New Delhi was a key member of the Non-Aligned Movement. Relations took a further blow after India’s decision to go nuclear in 1998.

Both sides hope to change this during Clinton’s visit. India’s rightwing Hindu government wants greater US investment and respect for its status as a regional power. Washington’s agenda includes opening India’s markets to US businesses, stability in Kashmir and a pledge from India to end nuclear testing, this despite the fact that the US Senate has refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. New Delhi has also made it clear it won’t brook US mediation over its dispute with Pakistan and Kashmir.

The Clinton visit also comes at a time when Indo-Pakistani relations are at their most strained. The two countries, both nuclear powers now, come close to — came close to a full-fledged war last summer when Pakistan-backed militants crossed into the Indian-held Kargil region of Kashmir. And Clinton’s decision to visit Pakistan, albeit for a few hours, has not gone down well in India.

But while officials talk of a new strategic partnership, the people of India see it otherwise. The National Alliance of Peoples Movement, left parties and a host of non-governmental organizations are staging sit-ins and protests. They see the visit as another attempt to thrust globalization down the throats of the Indian people. They also oppose US military interventionism in various parts of the world.

We go now to New Delhi to Jayati Ghosh, who is a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Professor Ghosh.

JAYATI GHOSH: Hello. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you describe the preparations for President Clinton and what the response has been to his arrival?

JAYATI GHOSH: Well, it’s difficult to say that there is one response. The preparations by the government have involved a major media campaign, which is basically stressing the bilateral ties that India has with the United States. And funnily enough, they’ve been stressing how this is a major sort of visit of significance, trying to pretend that him going to Pakistan does not suggest that he really used both India and Pakistan really on par and as a means of, well, basically, to [inaudible] one is getting rid of the economic sanctions which the United States have imposed on India after the nuclear tests two years ago, and secondly, in terms of somehow attracting more American investment.

The response has been very mixed. There’s the official media, and even the members of the private media have tried to make out as if this is something welcomed by all Indian people. But there has been a lot of opposition. There’s a very significant groundswell of protest against American policy, and there have demonstrations and protests last week. And there would be many more, if they hadn’t been banned by the government since yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean banned?

JAYATI GHOSH: Banned means, you know, that the government of Delhi has basically said that they’re not going to allow any processions or demonstrations to occur while Clinton is visiting. And when he goes to Hyderabad and Bombay, the same story is repeated. Basically, the people have been told they’re not allowed to demonstrate, they’re not allowed to exercise their democratic right to indicate their opposition to Clinton’s visit.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professor Jayati Ghosh, who is a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Can you talk about the array of groups that are protesting, or organized the protests until yesterday, of President Clinton’s visit?

JAYATI GHOSH: Yes. There is a very wide set of groups that are protesting. They range from the left party, the trade unions and a whole lot of NGOs who have been associated with alternative development strategies, with the new economic policy, with advocacy work against market protesters and so on. So, you know, we have people like Medha Patkar who is in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, who has been against large dams. We have people — very important people in trade unions. We have major peasant groups. We have a lot of NGOs from all over the country who have in fact congregated in Delhi with the intention of expressing their dissent.

AMY GOODMAN: So what will happen now?

JAYATI GHOSH: So far we’ve been told — in fact I was planning to be part of the demonstration. We’ve been told that anybody who tries to form a group of more than five people on the streets of Delhi tomorrow will be actually arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: This is what President Clinton is hailing as the great democracy of the Asian continent.

JAYATI GHOSH: Absolutely. In fact, one of the points we have made in our statement is that, you know, protests were allowed in Seattle against visiting dignitaries. And yet when we have an American president visiting here, we are not even allowed to protest. So the Indian visiting minister can be protested against in Seattle by trade unions and NGOs in the United States, but we are not allowed to express our democratic right to dissent.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Seattle, President Clinton, when he came into Seattle during the World Trade Organization Summit, sat with the Indian representative who ultimately went against him. Can you explain India’s position with the World Trade Organization and overall globalization?

JAYATI GHOSH: Well, you know, the Indian government’s position, again, I don’t think necessarily reflects the views and the desires of all the Indian people. But the Indian government’s position also has been that they would expect to see a lot more transparency in the functioning of the WTO, as well as a lot more real concessions made in terms of trade liberalization. A lot of what has happened so far after GATT has been speaking to the letter of the law rather than the spirit. So in textiles and agricultural, there’s been very little real freedom for exports from developing countries. And what I think India and a lot of other developing countries were hoping is that after the — you know, in the new phase there would actually be some attempts to meet the commitments that were made in spirit and less pressure to get into new issues which are against the interests of developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professor Jayati Ghosh, an economist in New Delhi. And when we come back from our break, we will also be joined by S.P. Udayakumar, who is with the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. After that, we’ll also be joined by Tariq Ali, who is a Pakistani scholar in Britain, and we’ll talk about why President Clinton decided the last minute — turned around and decided to include Pakistan in his trip, albeit a four-hour trip to a military base, and speculation about whether it had anything to do with a $50,000 fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton, who’s running for Senate in New York, that occurred, well, just before this trip. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! on this day, historic, when a US president for the first time in twenty-two years has visited the Indian subcontinent. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation on this historic day, first time in close to a quarter of a century that President Clinton has gone to India. As we continue our conversation with Professor Jayati Ghosh, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi; also, S.P. Udayakumar, research associate and co-director of programs at the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota.

Professor Udayakumar, can you talk about President Clinton’s decision to go to India and what you think the purpose of it is?

S.P. UDAYAKUMAR: Yes. I personally am not very much against Clinton going to India or South Asia, but what troubles me is the way the South Asians, in general, are reacting to this visit. It is not a second coming, although they make it sound like that. And the self-colonization that is going on in the whole process, the big government bending over backward back to please the Americans. And the Indian community in the United States is going out of its way to make sure that, you know, Clinton doesn’t go to Pakistan, goes only to India, and make the whole trip so important for our foreign policy and economic policies and other programs, and how the state leaders in India are fighting with one another, literally speaking, to have Clinton in their state capital. We can also see one Bangladeshi Army officer is quoted as saying that "for us, something like this may not happen again in our lifetime." And under the political party in that state of Tamil Nadu has blamed the local government for not doing much to have Clinton in the state capital of Chennai. You know, this kind of things are very troubling.

The way we have lost our self-esteem and the extent we go to have President Clinton just for our salvation is very troubling. And also, who is doing this normalization or improvement of relationship with the United States is an important factor. The BJP government in Delhi — the BJP-led government, rather, in Delhi has its own agenda in making its programs more legitimate and inviting more, you know, international acceptance for some of their policies and programs.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain who the BJP government is in India?

S.P. UDAYAKUMAR: Well, the BJP-led government, which is headed by Mr. Vajpayee, is the one I’m talking about. And if you look at some of their policies, like the nuclear tests they carried out last year and the high military expenditure they have just introduced in the recent budget and the highly militaristic tone they are speaking, all these things are very much troubling. They are doing all these things in the name of India’s national interest and strategic planning and development program, and so on and so forth. And this is a wonderful opportunity for them to legitimize whatever they are doing under the pretext of improving relations with the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What —- go ahead -—

S.P. UDAYAKUMAR: Well, and to answer the other part of your question, what is he going to do? Nothing much. He hasn’t spoken a word about anything. Actually, it was Madeleine Albright who spoke at Asia Society recently, outlined the issue, outlined the visit. And in the whole speech, all she had to say was we have national interest in Pakistan, in Bangladesh, in India. It has always been the case: wherever the United States goes they have always their self-interest and national interest, and they don’t give a hoot to the local people’s interest. You know, what do the 400 million poor people in India and 100-plus poor people in Bangladesh and Pakistan are going to gain from all this? Nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor S.P. Udayakumar speaking to us actually from Minneapolis, University of Minnesota. The Institute on Race and Poverty is his program. Speaking of poverty, can you lay out the economic landscape of India, how many people there are, how many people are in poverty?

S.P. UDAYAKUMAR: Well, you know, estimates vary, according to who counts. But I believe that there are almost 400 million poor people in India who are completely left out of this globalization hoopla that’s going on right now. It is good for the middle class, of course. And a lot of us managed to come to the United States for our job, our education, and so on and so forth. And this is always good for the elites to — by indulging in trade with the United States, they are even starting to gain more out of the whole thing.

And, fortunately, as Professor Jayati Ghosh pointed out, there are quite a few groups that are voicing the concerns of the poor and, you know, alerting Indians, in general, to the dangers that are impending in this whole economic relations. But the ruling elites, as such, don’t give any importance to the poor people’s needs and wants.

Actually, that is part of this whole liberalization game that the whole world is playing now. You listen to what the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the Washington, D.C. people say, and they say that it is good for poor people also. And the World Bank president gave a big lecture a couple of days ago at the Boston National Press Club about poverty and all that. But the poor people have to wait. You know, these 400 million have to wait, wait, wait, wait forever. They have been waiting for Indian elites so far. Now they are waiting also for Americans and the rest of the elites around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to S.P. Udayakumar at the University of Minnesota, the Institute on Race and Poverty.

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