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June - July 2007


Editorial

Tony Blair and the Indian sub-continent

by Krishan Ralleigh


Tony Blair’s tenure as the Prime Minister for last ten years also marks the strengthening of friendship between Britain and India during the same period. The ex-colonial masters took a very long time to understand and appreciate the young democracy of an ancient civilisation, once the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire.

The two Prime ministers directly involved in shaping the future course of ‘New India’ were Sir Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. Churchill, the imperialist, saw Mahatma Gandhi ‘a half-naked fakir’ deserving nothing but contempt from the imperial masters. Clement Attlee, the prime minister elected after the war, saw the writing on the wall; and knowing the economic state of Britain, hastened to abandon the vast lands of India and her people to their own fate. Independence at the midnight hour on 15 August 1947 resulting in the partition of the country that became a monumental tragedy continuing to simmer until this day.

In the first fifty years of India’s inception as a free country, the British Prime Ministers tended to favour Pakistan in any disputes between the two countries despite the fact that during these years Pakistan was a dictatorship, an aggressor in Kashmir, in 1965 war and again in 1971 against Bangladesh. The British foreign policy, believing in the ‘balance of power’ supported the so-called ‘underdog’ to keep India under check. There were no ethical, moral or equity principles involved except the fact that during the ‘cold war’ Pakistan was a member of SEATO and MEDO, the organisations set up by western powers to contain communism spearheaded by the USSR and Mao’s China.

The year, in which the sub-continent entered 50th year of independence, Tony Blair won election in Britain; bringing a fresh air of hope and enthusiasm. Faith in the bright future of Britain pervaded the country. It was not just the ‘New Labour’ but a modern Britain that would stand out in the comity of nations. Tony Blair said at the time of victory in 1997, “This new Labour Government will govern in the interests of all our people. That I can promise. Today we have set objectives – a world class education system. Education is not the privilege of the few but the right of the many. A government that remembers that it was a previous labour government that fashioned the welfare state and the NHS. It was our proudest creation. It shall be our duty to modernize it for a modern world, and that we will do. We will work in partnership with business to create the dynamic economy, the competitive economy of the future. It will be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country. That cleans it up, that decentralizes it. And it shall be a government, too that gives this country strength and confidence in leadership both at home and abroad, particularly in respect of Europe.”

It would be interesting to explore how many of the above objectives have been achieved by Tony Blair’s government in the decade ending this month.

In the last ten years, Britain has had dynamic economy; low inflation, low interest rates and the City of London has become the magnet that attracts wealth from many parts of the world. Indian entrepreneurs, among others, have successfully carved a niche for themselves in the corridors of opulence during this decade.

Standard of education in schools and universities has become envy of the people in Europe and the USA. Developing countries had always considered British universities as the centre of higher education at its best. It is even more so today.

National Health Service, despite burgeoning bureaucracy, is serving the country well. The waiting time for surgery is far less than it used to be ten years ago. GP surgeries are better equipped; and communication with patients and local community is vastly improved.

But what about Britain’s role in the world including Afghanistan and Iraq?

Tony Blair’s decade has seen Indo-British friendship mature into a true partnership in business. The visit to India during his presidency of Europe was a revelation for Indian leaders. He was open, friendly and sympathetic to India’s aspirations for a just share of the world’s riches. For Tony Blair, Indian democracy and its growing economic power was something to celebrate and not to grudge as is often the case with some of the leaders (and the media) in the West.

The war in Afghanistan against the barbaric regime of the Talibans and against Saddam Hussein in Iraq has strengthened the democratic forces not only in these countries but also on the sub-continent. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been facing terrorist activities in their countries for different reasons. For India, the fundamentalism in Islam has been a threat since independence. It was the main cause of the partition of the country.

It was an extremely bold decision by Tony Blair to side with the United States against Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorist activities that grow out of it. It has also enabled Britain and the USA to understand the position of India vis-à-vis Pakistan. It is now an open secret that Pakistan has been part of the nexus of evil forces that exported terrorism and nuclear expertise to Iran and North Korea. Pakistan supported the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was Pakistan under General Musharraf, which attacked Kargil in Kashmir. Tony Blair and President Bush had seen through this charade of Pakistan joining western powers to get armament against communist expansion; and then supporting terrorism in Indian Kashmir.

If today the Talibans and al-Qaeda are creating problems in Afghanistan, it is mainly due to Pakistan’s passive support to these groups in the remote parts of North-West Frontier. People of Pakistan, overwhelmingly, aspire for a democratic government in Pakistan. Tony Blair has, in no uncertain terms, given support to proper democratic process in Pakistan.

Similar is the story in Iraq. The purpose of bringing the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime was to contain the proliferation of nuclear armament and the forces of terrorism. The fact that it has not happened so, despite large sacrifices of men and material resources by Britain and America, does not diminish the courage and conviction of these two leaders. It only proves that the forces of evil are far more elusive, clandestine and powerful than anticipated by the strategists in the west.

India’s foreign policy regarding the Middle East has always been spineless mainly because of its dependence on Arab oil and a large Muslim lobby within India. By getting rid of one despot in Middle East, Tony Blair and George W. Bush have encouraged democratic forces in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Already within Iraq, the Kurds in the North and Shia Muslims in the South have been reaping the fruit of freedom from despotic regime of Saddam Hussein. British and American forces have certain objectives to achieve in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is to strengthen democratic process in these two countries for the benefit of their people. These forces are there to guarantee peace that brings prosperity to the people of these countries. Britain and America are not there to create new colonies or areas of influence. It is not even a fight between capitalism and communism. That war ended long ago. The need of the hour is to bring changes in people’s thinking through ballot box. To empower the common man in underdeveloped countries, not by giving him Kalashinkov rifles and sophisticated armament, but by providing means of education, better health and environment and developing agriculture, industries and technological infra-structure.

India and Britain today believe in these common goals. Tony Blair with courage, statesmanship and vision has brought that day nearer when the world will be globally united in common pursuit of peace and prosperity.

For the enlightened Indians the world has always been, ‘Vasudhra kutumbkum’, “The World is my family”, as stated in the Upanishads. “The whole world of mortals is an interdependent organism,” says the Mahabharata.

Free from statecraft, Tony Blair, the person, will have enough time to pursue other disciplines. We suggest that he should go deep into the philosophy of Vedanta and read ‘Upanishads’ and ‘The Bhagavad Gita’, especially the one translated by Dr. Radhakrishnan. He will find himself mentally enriched and well-equipped to cope with the hatred and animosity shown for him in the recent years.

Tony Blair’s tenure as the Prime Minister for last ten years also marks the strengthening of friendship between Britain and India during the same period. The ex-colonial masters took a very long time to understand and appreciate the young democracy of an ancient civilisation, once the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire.

The two Prime ministers directly involved in shaping the future course of ‘New India’ were Sir Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. Churchill, the imperialist, saw Mahatma Gandhi ‘a half-naked fakir’ deserving nothing but contempt from the imperial masters. Clement Attlee, the prime minister elected after the war, saw the writing on the wall; and knowing the economic state of Britain, hastened to abandon the vast lands of India and her people to their own fate. Independence at the midnight hour on 15 August 1947 resulting in the partition of the country that became a monumental tragedy continuing to simmer until this day.

In the first fifty years of India’s inception as a free country, the British Prime Ministers tended to favour Pakistan in any disputes between the two countries despite the fact that during these years Pakistan was a dictatorship, an aggressor in Kashmir, in 1965 war and again in 1971 against Bangladesh. The British foreign policy, believing in the ‘balance of power’ supported the so-called ‘underdog’ to keep India under check. There were no ethical, moral or equity principles involved except the fact that during the ‘cold war’ Pakistan was a member of SEATO and MEDO, the organisations set up by western powers to contain communism spearheaded by the USSR and Mao’s China.

The year, in which the sub-continent entered 50th year of independence, Tony Blair won election in Britain; bringing a fresh air of hope and enthusiasm. Faith in the bright future of Britain pervaded the country. It was not just the ‘New Labour’ but a modern Britain that would stand out in the comity of nations. Tony Blair said at the time of victory in 1997, “This new Labour Government will govern in the interests of all our people. That I can promise. Today we have set objectives – a world class education system. Education is not the privilege of the few but the right of the many. A government that remembers that it was a previous labour government that fashioned the welfare state and the NHS. It was our proudest creation. It shall be our duty to modernize it for a modern world, and that we will do. We will work in partnership with business to create the dynamic economy, the competitive economy of the future. It will be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country. That cleans it up, that decentralizes it. And it shall be a government, too that gives this country strength and confidence in leadership both at home and abroad, particularly in respect of Europe.”

It would be interesting to explore how many of the above objectives have been achieved by Tony Blair’s government in the decade ending this month.

In the last ten years, Britain has had dynamic economy; low inflation, low interest rates and the City of London has become the magnet that attracts wealth from many parts of the world. Indian entrepreneurs, among others, have successfully carved a niche for themselves in the corridors of opulence during this decade.

Standard of education in schools and universities has become envy of the people in Europe and the USA. Developing countries had always considered British universities as the centre of higher education at its best. It is even more so today.

National Health Service, despite burgeoning bureaucracy, is serving the country well. The waiting time for surgery is far less than it used to be ten years ago. GP surgeries are better equipped; and communication with patients and local community is vastly improved.

But what about Britain’s role in the world including Afghanistan and Iraq?

Tony Blair’s decade has seen Indo-British friendship mature into a true partnership in business. The visit to India during his presidency of Europe was a revelation for Indian leaders. He was open, friendly and sympathetic to India’s aspirations for a just share of the world’s riches. For Tony Blair, Indian democracy and its growing economic power was something to celebrate and not to grudge as is often the case with some of the leaders (and the media) in the West.

The war in Afghanistan against the barbaric regime of the Talibans and against Saddam Hussein in Iraq has strengthened the democratic forces not only in these countries but also on the sub-continent. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been facing terrorist activities in their countries for different reasons. For India, the fundamentalism in Islam has been a threat since independence. It was the main cause of the partition of the country.

It was an extremely bold decision by Tony Blair to side with the United States against Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorist activities that grow out of it. It has also enabled Britain and the USA to understand the position of India vis-à-vis Pakistan. It is now an open secret that Pakistan has been part of the nexus of evil forces that exported terrorism and nuclear expertise to Iran and North Korea. Pakistan supported the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was Pakistan under General Musharraf, which attacked Kargil in Kashmir. Tony Blair and President Bush had seen through this charade of Pakistan joining western powers to get armament against communist expansion; and then supporting terrorism in Indian Kashmir.

If today the Talibans and al-Qaeda are creating problems in Afghanistan, it is mainly due to Pakistan’s passive support to these groups in the remote parts of North-West Frontier. People of Pakistan, overwhelmingly, aspire for a democratic government in Pakistan. Tony Blair has, in no uncertain terms, given support to proper democratic process in Pakistan.

Similar is the story in Iraq. The purpose of bringing the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime was to contain the proliferation of nuclear armament and the forces of terrorism. The fact that it has not happened so, despite large sacrifices of men and material resources by Britain and America, does not diminish the courage and conviction of these two leaders. It only proves that the forces of evil are far more elusive, clandestine and powerful than anticipated by the strategists in the west.

India’s foreign policy regarding the Middle East has always been spineless mainly because of its dependence on Arab oil and a large Muslim lobby within India. By getting rid of one despot in Middle East, Tony Blair and George W. Bush have encouraged democratic forces in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Already within Iraq, the Kurds in the North and Shia Muslims in the South have been reaping the fruit of freedom from despotic regime of Saddam Hussein. British and American forces have certain objectives to achieve in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is to strengthen democratic process in these two countries for the benefit of their people. These forces are there to guarantee peace that brings prosperity to the people of these countries. Britain and America are not there to create new colonies or areas of influence. It is not even a fight between capitalism and communism. That war ended long ago. The need of the hour is to bring changes in people’s thinking through ballot box. To empower the common man in underdeveloped countries, not by giving him Kalashinkov rifles and sophisticated armament, but by providing means of education, better health and environment and developing agriculture, industries and technological infra-structure.

India and Britain today believe in these common goals. Tony Blair with courage, statesmanship and vision has brought that day nearer when the world will be globally united in common pursuit of peace and prosperity.

For the enlightened Indians the world has always been, ‘Vasudhra kutumbkum’, “The World is my family”, as stated in the Upanishads. “The whole world of mortals is an interdependent organism,” says the Mahabharata.

Free from statecraft, Tony Blair, the person, will have enough time to pursue other disciplines. We suggest that he should go deep into the philosophy of Vedanta and read ‘Upanishads’ and ‘The Bhagavad Gita’, especially the one translated by Dr. Radhakrishnan. He will find himself mentally enriched and well-equipped to cope with the hatred and animosity shown for him in the recent years.

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More articles by Krishan Ralleigh

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