January 19, 2001


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S Gopikrishna

India should brace itself for an abrasive US ambassador

Dinesh D'Souza or Raghavendra Vijayanagar? Zack Zachariach or Gopal Khanna?

The desi rumour mill is at work as usual. Ever since Dubya started naming people to the cabinet, the rumour mills are working overtime about desis becoming cabinet members.

This obsession with our folks being appointed to the cabinet is laudable and laughable -- laudable because we now believe that Indo-Americans have the necessary potential to become cabinet members and laughable because it contradicts all known information.

For starts, minority representation is not quite the Republican thing -- both Condeleezza Rice and Colin Powell have been brought in to placate African-American voters who voted overwhelmingly against the Republicans. Indeed, prominent GOP officials from Bush Sr's days have made less then endearing references to minorities -- the traffic of pejorative expressions like the 'N' word for African-Americans and 'Sandniggers' for Arabic-Americans flowing out of their mouths is reminiscent of the volume of the waters of the Niagara falls.

In the very unlikely event that visible minority appointments have to be made, would a desi be picked?

There are numerous communities in the USA whose financial and political clout record is as impressive as the desi record, if not more. The Chinese-American community's first senator, Hiram Fong (D-Hawaii Islands) was elected in the 1950s, and this has resulted in a long tradition of participation evident (in its negative aspect) in the fundraising scandals following Clinton's re-election in 1996. In addition to dominating the politics of the Hawaii Islands, the Japanese-American community has added other feathers to its cap by senatorial seats in states as crucial as California (Senator Hayakawa, D-California, 1977-1983).

As to why a desi should be appointed over candidates from communities with such obvious influence remains unanswered. Indeed, Indo-Americans can congratulate themselves if awarded the janitor-generalship of the US, forget the surgeon-general.

In addition, all the other names being bandied for appointments lack the most crucial element for administrative positions -- experience. With the exception of Dinesh D'Souza, none have had any administrative experience at the national level. When was the last time an undergraduate, fresh out of school was named to a senior executive position in IBM or GE?

Of course, Dinesh D'Souza may aspire to a senior level position (if not a cabinet level appointment) but should the rest of us look forward to it? The views of the insufferable Dinesh D'Souza about the "lack of adaptability" among immigrants are only too well known -- a perusal of his Illiberal Education reveals his bashing a desi student studying at Georgetown University for eschewing "American culture" by confirming to his cultural heritage. (The account appears on pages 133 and 283 of the aforementioned book).

If made chief policy advisor to the INS, don't be surprised if D'Souza's maiden policy position paper goes -- "Old is Gold -- Immigration models from the pre-Kennedy days."

We then come to the question of appointing the next American ambassador to India upon Richard Celeste's retirement. As usual, there is some loud speculation about an Indo-American being named ambassador to India. The following analysis will reveal that the probability of an Indo-American being named American ambassador to India is no higher than Ambassador cars (ie, vintage Mark 2 and Mark 4 stuff) being imported into the US.

While the ambassadorship to India isn't a plum job, it still merits enough importance to go to an ex-governor (eg, Richard Celeste) or an academic with impeccable credentials, connections and expertise in South Asia (eg, John K Galbraith in the 1960s or Robert F Goheen in the 1970s). The desis who have convinced themselves of being "front runners" certainly don't have the necessary expertise, if not the clout to swing an ambassadorship.

Historical precedent would also rule against such an appointment. The far more liberal Clinton administration named only one South Asian to the ambassador's position -- namely Osman Siddqui to a country as inconsequential as Nauru. The Bush administration, rest assured, will not want to name visible minorities as ambassadors even to Gambia, let alone India.

Indo-American ambassadors are the product of fervent imaginations working overtime.

The likely nature of the appointment will become clearer after examining the future course of Indo-American relations.

Pundits who are busy predicting how the new government will go ga-ga over India's business potential and cultivate India assiduously may be overlooking a couple of factors that may be more important to Dubya and company.

For starts, the Bush family's high opinion of China is symptomatic of the American passion, bordering on the obsessive, for the same. Dubya's dad was the former American ambassador to China and played a pivotal rule in implementing the normalisation of Sino-American relations in the mid 1970s.

Bush Sr's sympathy to China is reflected in his framing policies like the granting of amnesty to Chinese fleeing rigorous population control techniques. The unusual scheme of granting permanent residence to Chinese students residing in the US en masse in 1989 ( irrespective of their political stance) after the Tianamen Square massacre by Bush Sr illuminates the family's interest in China.

If Chinese students occupied centre-stage in 1989, Indian students occupied centre-stage in 1990 when the Mandal agitation shook India, a major student supplying (read "revenue supply") country for the graduate programs of American universities. Granted that the gravity of the Tiananmen Square incident far exceeded the consequences of the Mandal agitation, the lack of even a mere acknowledgement of the Mandal agitation from Bush Sr should draw attention to a generic lack of interest in India.

Dubya, the aagyaakaree putra personified, relies very much on his father's buddies and policies and relies on his family to an extent surprising even by Indian standards. Jeb Bush's machinations to secure the White House for his brother is unmatched even by Laloo Yadav or Om Parkash Chautala. Rest assured, sheer family tradition will ensure Dubya's interest in Chinese affairs and uphold China's interests over India in the economic sphere.

However, Dubya may be expected to show a lot of interest in India for reasons that have nothing to with any Indian.

It is well known that American presidents have long needed (and have even created) a villain each in order to play hero. Reagan had the 'Evil Russian Empire,' George Bush tried Saddam Hussein (and failed curiously) while Clinton conjured a vast conspiracy centered around wild-eyed, right wing fanatics like Tim McVeigh.

So, who will Dubya "appoint" his villain?

Elementary! Osama Bin Laden will inherit the mantle from Clinton's "right wing fanatics".

Dubya will play hero opposite Osama Bin Laden, presently in hiding in Afghanistan. Dubya will have to demonstrate enough Hollywood style action against Laden in order to seem credible. "Action" needs a base for coordination -- a formal search for a "base" is in the works.

Pakistan would have to be precluded because of its proximity to the Taleban, who have essentially provided refuge to Osama et al. Iran's Marg Bar Amrika (Death to America) attitude eliminates any relationship with a nation as kaffir as the USA. The Uzbeks and the Kazakhs are too busy bruising themselves and everybody else to respond to the US's overtures. The cozy relationship between China and the US and the former's geographical proximity to Afghanistan would make it the perfect spot for anti-Osama operations but for the Tibet issue.

Despite Tibet's inhospitable terrain and bitter cold, its proximity to Afghanistan make it the ideal launching pad for the "Get Osama" crusade. However, permission for the operation would have to be obtained from Beijing. Beijing's standard policy on Tibet is and will be -- Access denied!s

The only country that remains after the aforementioned process of elimination is India. Since India's own problems with Osama may ensure the Americans a sympathetic audience, America may be expected to woo India with all possible skill and enthusiasm in the near future.

Dubya would then need a pliable and trustworthy ambassador ready to woo, cajole, beat and bite India by turns into co-operating and toeing the American line in Operation Get Osama. An ambassador possessing outwardly charm, loathing of democratic process and lack of respect for other people's opinions would be ideal for the job.

Who would make a better candidate than Florida's Katherine Harris? Her bull-in-china shop attitude would help her woo and boo India as and when necessary. Emotionally and intellectually, Dubya and Harris would be able to relate to each other since they possess each a belfry bubbling with bats. As a bonus, she likes to travel to "exotic foreign countries".

Perfect resume for American ambassador to India.

India has been periodically inflicted upon by a bunch of self-righterous American women raising hell. The last official American exponent of this school boasting titans such as Katherine Mayo and Barbara Crossette was trade representative Carla Hills.

Katherine Harris may well prove to be the next.

After destroying democracy in Florida, will Harris (or another person with the same characteristics) destroy the world's largest democracy under the pretext of pursuing Osama?

Difficult but not impossible -- India should brace itself for an abrasive ambassador (certainly not an Indo-American) with a penchant for Harris-style harassment -- or should I say "Harrissment".

S Gopikrishna writes on issues pertinent to India and Indians from Toronto. Feedback may be sent to him at: S Gopikrishna

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