A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Friday, March 03, 2006

America's Friendship with India


"Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel."

Hamlet, I.iii.62

Yesterday, or today if you are in the US, President Bush addressed the people of India while a guest of that great and rising nation:

Bush: "I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Indian people. I'm honored to bring the good wishes and the respect of the world's oldest democracy to the world's largest democracy."

India in the 21st century is a natural partner of the United States because we are brothers in the cause of human liberty. Yesterday, I visited a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, and read the peaceful words of a fearless man. His words are familiar in my country because they helped move a generation of Americans to overcome the injustice of racial segregation. When Martin Luther King arrived in Delhi in 1959, he said to other countries, 'I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim.' I come to India as a friend."

"I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends."

Richard II, II.iii.46

President Bush has mentioned as early as 1999, when a candidate for the presidency and a mere Texas governor, the need for closer ties between America and India. But there were obstacles to overcome. India, a majority Hindu country surrounded by Islamic nations, was at that time was pursuing a nuclear program that, however justified by its defense needs, fell afoul of the nuclear non-proliferation rules the US sought to enforce. In truth, the rules failed to recognize the distinction between democracies, which can largely be trusted to use nukes defensively, and autocracies, which can be expected to use them to blackmail free nations. India's turn away from economic statism, in addition, began only around 1991 and required more time to generate more wealth and win more adherents.

But President Bush was patient and strategic, seeing a counterweight to Chinese fascism (communists don't have stock markets – China, as a one-party state with a market economy, now qualifies as fascist) and Islamic extremism. He perhaps also saw India as a South Asian model of a pluralistic, democratic free market state encompassing a large Muslim minority. But along with all these convergent national interests, Bardseye believes that President Bush simply saw, and sees, a friend:

Bush: "In both our countries, democracy is more than a form of government, it is the central promise of our national character. We believe that every citizen deserves equal liberty and justice, because we believe that every life has equal dignity and value. We believe all societies should welcome people of every culture, ethnicity and religion. And because of this enduring commitment, the United States and India have overcome trials in our own history. We're proud to stand together among the world's great democracies.

"The partnership between the United States and India begins with democracy, but it does not end there. Our people share a devotion to family, a passion for learning, a love of the arts, and much more. The United States is the proud home of more than two million Americans of Indian descent, a figure that has more than tripled over the last 20 years. America is honored to welcome 500,000 Indian tourists and businesspeople to our country each year. And we benefit from 80,000 Indian students at our universities, more than we have from any other nation."

"If the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end."

Sonnet #30

Bush: "The advance for freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, just two years before India achieved independence, there were fewer than two dozen democracies on Earth. Today there are more than 100, and democracies are developing and thriving from Asia to Africa, to Eastern Europe, to Latin America. The whole world can see that freedom is not an American value, or an Indian value. Freedom is a universal value, and that is because the source of freedom is a power greater than our own. Mahatma Gandhi said, "Freedom is the gift of God...and the right of every nation." Let us remember those words as we head into the 21st century."

Bardseye feels proud today to see formalized this natural friendship. India and America need engage in no compromise of their own values in dealing with each other. In dealing with India, America need feel none of the hypocrisy we feel in dealing with oil-rich autocracies in the Middle East or with a fascist Chinese regime that dictates the lives of its people. Truth be told, our friends are few, and compose a group of isolated, oddball nations; England, Singapore, Poland, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, chief among them. Today we (formally) add India, whom we should indeed grapple to our souls with hoops of steel.

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