Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2016-06-07 06:50:59 Published on Jun 07, 2016
Sen corker and his glass house

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to the United States, where he will receive the honour of addressing both Houses of Congress, he has surprisingly come under some unwarranted criticism from some members of that august Assembly. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Robert Phillips Bob Corker of the Republican Party, publicly denounced India’s human right record and the current economic liberalisation programmes in progress. True, he wasn’t addressing us, per se, but was in fact, questioning Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, who was testifying at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on India-US relations.

What appears to have angered him the most, apart from the hostility of the Modi Government towards foreign funding of Indian NGOs by American organisations such as the Ford Foundation, has been the slow progress on the India-US nuclear deal, which is still far from reaching fruition. Obviously, it just may well be that expectations of contracts for his home State of Tennessee may have something to do with his public display of angst.

What is particularly astonishing is his diatribe against what he considers as complete lack of prosecution against rising religious intolerance and “slave” traders in India. He is not just referring to “bonded labour” as we understand it, but as he says “what of people working for a dollar a day. How does a country like this have 12 to 14 million slaves in the year 2016? How does that happen?”

Though this is a welcome change, coming from a Southerner whose ancestors most certainly fought on the Confederate side against abolition of slavery not too long ago, his would certainly be better informed if he were to study recent history.

The adverse impact of British rule, that incidentally enjoyed the support of the American leadership, is there for all to see and that includes the engineering of partition of the sub-continent for narrow geo-political gains at immense human cost, reverberations of which affect us to this day. While the point he makes is valid to some extent, to hold Modi’s Government solely responsible appears misguided, given the fact that earlier Governments have failed as well, despite enormous strides made in alleviating poverty.

Moreover, he hardly speaks from a position of moral ascendancy given the fact that America itself is witnessing a rising tide of race and religion related violence, not least, given the increasing popularity of a bigot like US presidential hopeful Donald Trump in the presidential sweepstakes. Be that as it may, there is certainly a need for our present Government to concentrate on this issue of bonded labour in all its manifestations and include it in its ongoing efforts to reform our economy, especially with its primary focus on transforming the rural sector. To be ranked fourth in the Global Slavery Index this year with a little more than 1.4 percent of our population in chains, an increase of 0.3 percent from the 2014 report hardly does us any credit, whatever is the credibility of the Index itself.

However, this is more than just a case of the kettle calling the pot black and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would do well to look inwards at policies that their own Governments have followed in various parts of the world over the years. In its global war on terror, for example, the Americans and their allies have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children.

American atrocities in Libya, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere have been the sole reason for the rise of transnational terror organisations like the Islamic State. That the Taliban was the US’s own creation from an earlier era also cannot be overlooked. All of this is sufficient to indict the US Government for its actions, though some may give them the benefit of doubt, given the fact that the 9/11 attack on its soil was a unilateral act of war without provocation, though some may dispute that contention given American support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. Their actions in South America from the 1960s to the 1990s, at the height of the Cold War, are nothing to be proud of either. It now emerges that they actively supported Latin American regimes that were complicit in Operation Condor, an operation that has received little coverage in our media, or for that matter, from our Left parties.

This operation was a campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents initiated by the Right-wing dictatorships of south America. In this, the Governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil coordinated their actions to eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas, and to suppress active or potential opposition movements against themselves. Due to its clandestine nature, the precise number of deaths directly attributable to Operation Condor is highly disputed, though some estimates put it at more than 60,000.

Victims included dissidents and Leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, students and teachers, intellectuals and suspected guerillas. The US Government provided technical support and supplied military aid to the participants until at least 1978, and again after Republican Ronald Reagan became the President in 1981. They also actively trained officers from these repressive Latin American regimes at the infamous School of the Americas in Panama, a US training centre in counter-insurgency tactics.

Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet was considered to be one of its main architects. Though later arrested in London and allowed to return to Chile, he was still to be convicted at the time of his death in 2010. It is now a matter of some satisfaction that justice has finally been done. The former Argentinian dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and 14 other military officers from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay were recently convicted and sentenced by a Federal Court in Argentina, the first such conviction against those involved in Operation Condor.

Will the US Government now take action against its own politicians and officials who were actively involved in this massive abuse of human rights? The answer is pretty obvious and Senator Corker and his committee would do well to remember the old adage that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.

This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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