INDIA SPECIAL/BALI AND BEYOND
Grouchy Dragon, Defiant Tiger
Acomment on a social networking site summed it up neatly: ‘Twenty years ago India was in eco- nomic doldrums, and the country’s finance minis-
ter made a beeline to Western capitals for prescriptions
of recovery. Today, the same man, as prime minister is
visiting Western capitals to prescribe measures for them
to come out of their economic crisis.’
Even making allowances for hyperbole, the grain of
truth in that statement cannot be denied even by India’s
obdurate critics. Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan
Singh’s visits to Bali — to attend the 9th India-
Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit and the
6th East Asia Summit — and Singapore last week were
not mere extensions of India’s Look East policy, but a
sign, seen often, of India’s assertiveness on the global
So, is India being deliberately provocative
by engaging with nations in its sphere of
influence? “No, we are not,” says the official.
“But then we too don’t like them being in
Pakistan, etc, will they stop because of
In a region where the Indian — Indic, if
you will — historic influence is all too clear
in the customs and languages, perhaps it is
only right that India re-establish its pres-
ence, a desire that is in sync with the sole
superpower America’s unstated aim of con-
taining the Chinese dragon.
As India played out its role in Bali, a role
that had been pre-scripted, the concatenation of events hold a portent. President
Barack Obama, who has spoken of his warm
ties with Singh but did not find the time to
meet with the latter since their last engagement in India a year ago — the two have
been at the same international group meetings several times since then — was the first
bilateral meeting that the Indian prime
minister held in Bali.
In his opening remarks, Singh ‘reported’
to the President that ‘all the irritants in their
ties have been removed.’
Just a couple of days before, India had
amended its nuclear liability laws to be
more in tune with the American nuclear
industry’s demands. India’s domestic
nuclear liability laws, which placed unlimit-
ed liability on the suppliers was the single
issue that held up not only the operationalization of the
India-US nuclear deal, but also had a cascading effect on
the entire gamut of ties.
‘We have tabled the new guidelines; it is for the American
industry to let us know if they meet their expectations,” said
sources in the government.
In another sign, Australia — whose Prime Minister
Julian Gillard held a pull-aside meeting Dr Singh in Bali —
relented from its earlier refusal to supply uranium to India,
a move that will still have to be approved by the ruling
Labor Party caucus in December.
And Japan, which had always remained skeptical of a
nuclear India and which put its strategic dialog with India
on the backburner after the Fukushima disaster in March,
All of which, when read together rather than as isolated developments, would indicate an
American nod behind it all.
“We are not in any camp, the
days of the world being divided
into camps are over,” says an
Indian official. “For those with
the outdated Cold War outlook
on the world all this would seem
strange, but it is not ‘if you are not with us, you are against
Thus, it is, that India seems comfortable supping with
China even while disagreeing on the menu, and picking
and choosing the ingredients from the American kitchen,
in its effort to host a grand banquet.
In an emerging world that has trade as the fulcrum and
not ideological shibboleths, India, with an economist
prime minister, seems a cinch for the long haul.
S TEPHEN MORRISON/REU TERS
JASON REED/REU TERS
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, left, and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
at the ASEAN-India Summit in Bali, November 19
Saisuresh Sivaswamy, Senior Editorial Director,
Rediff.com, traveled with the Indian prime minister’s
media delegation to the ASEAN Summit.