Sarita Sarvate

The Iraq War

May 14, 2003

India Currents

BY SARITA SARVATE

President George Bush claims to be on a mission to eliminate terrorism and promote democracy around the world. If this were really the case, Indians at home and abroad would be overjoyed, on both counts. For, India happens to be one of the leading countries in the world to have suffered at the hands of Islamic terrorists. The Indian military has been facing incursions by terrorists, even al Qaeda, from Pakistan into the disputed region of Kashmir for nearly two decades.

India is also the largest democracy in the world and has survived for over a half century in a region mostly ruled by autocratic regimes. It is ironic then that most Indians at home and abroad view America’s invasion of Iraq as simply a colonial adventure. Just as Europeans went to Asia in the guise of promoting trade and Christianity, one Indian columnist pointed out, Americans have gone to Afghanistan and Iraq under the pretext of spreading freedom and democracy. And just as the real aim of colonizing Asia and the Middle East in the last millennium was the wielding of economic and political power by the West, another commentator noted, this millennium’s colonization of the Middle East by America is aimed at exploiting oil for the benefit of its corporations. The specter of colonization has never quite left the Indian subcontinent. After four centuries of British rule, the Indian populace is afraid that the last 50 years of independence might just prove to be a passing phase in a long saga of foreign domination.

It is this fear that led India to exercise Swadeshi or economic self-sufficiency for nearly four decades after the end of colonial rule.

The two Bills—Clinton and Gates—finally persuaded India to open its gates to foreign investments in the 1990s, despite the warnings of commentators like Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy who argued that globalization was just another name for colonization.

Alas, Roy was to be proven right.

After the Enron corporation bilked my home state of Maharashtra out of millions through an egregious power plant project that was never completed, and then simply went bust to leave the Indian government to clean up its mess, many Indians felt vindicated that globalization had finally been exposed for what it truly was; an American corporate ploy to exploit India’s human and material capital.

Then, as labor movements in the West turned protectionist in the face of massive unemployment, and thousands of Indian high-tech workers began the long trek home because of tightening immigration restrictions, experts noted that this next generation of colonization too had failed to uplift the life of the common Indian.

The dot-com bust and the decline of the stock market are the real reasons for the invasion of Iraq by America now, many Indians believe. Since globalization was a failure, they point out, America is now resorting to this third wave of colonization through military take-over of the Middle East and the exploitation of its oil to boost American corporate profits. If that were not the case; if America were truly interested in the elimination of terrorism and the dissemination of democracy in the region, many say, America would have long promoted a democratic government in neighboring Pakistan. Of course American pundits call the U.S. treatment of Pakistan “real-politik.” “Pakistan is our friend in the war against al Qaeda,” they say with a straight face, while acknowledging that perhaps bin Laden is still hiding there.

Many Indians counter that the real reason America supports a Pakistani despot is because it knows that a democratic government in Pakistan might not support its commercial interests in the Middle East. Ironically, India too abandoned ideology for “real-politik” in this latest crisis. Given the choice between offering sympathy to Saddam and supporting George W., Vajpayee opted to do neither.

And the only “shock and awe” the Indian populace decided to get excited about in the last few weeks, was not about Iraq, but about the loss of the cricket World Cup to Australia.

Such is the legacy of colonization.