Both Americans and Indians think they understand each other, especially the diplomats, think tankers, journalists who interact with their peers on the other side. Both sides have invested serious efforts in building this relationship. Yet, both countries have been & continue to be stunned to find themselves on the wrong side at major inflection points in this relationship. This points to something very basic that is wrong in mutual perceptions of each other. What is this basic & central problem?
1. The FDR to Truman transformation
The last American President who remembered America under British colonial rule was FDR. His view of India was similar to his view of America under tyrannical British rule. On March 11, 1942, Roosevelt wrote to Churchill “likening the Indian predicament to that of the thirteen American colonies facing the War of Independence“. Under FDR’s direction, the Atlantic Charter asserted the United States and the United Kingdom would “respect the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live; and that they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.”
Churchill had a completely different & more Nazi-like vision of the world. Like Hitler, he believed in the mastery of the European race over other races of the world and especially over Indians. As Wavell (Field Marshall in British Military & later Viceroy to India) wrote in his diary on July 27, 1942, “the prime minister hates India and everything to do with it“.
FDR’s America was adamant that they would not help “re-build the British empire“. In March 1945, the president reiterated his concern for “the brown people in the East.” Many of them were “ruled by a handful of whites and they resent it. Our goal must be to help them achieve independence.”
Churchill angrily retorted that the British “intended to hold on to what they had” and “nothing would be taken from England without a war.” Back in London, Churchill told his private secretary that “Hindus were a foul race protected by their mere pullulation from the doom that is their due.” He wished that Air Chief Marshall Arthur Harris, the head of British bomber command, could “send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.”
FDR passed away a month later in April 1945 and with him passed away the last American commitment to America’s war of independence from Britain. In fact, the very day FDR passed away, a British representative at the Commonwealth conference, in an outright repudiation of Roosevelt’s trusteeship scheme, announced the United Kingdom’s refusal to hand over its colonies to international supervision. FDR’s “dream for the dispossessed were buried before he was. The rift between India and the United States widened right away“.
2. America as successor to Britain’s Empire
Britain emerged from World War II as a mere shell of its colonial power and Truman’s America took over that old British Empire. Truman’s America now stood on the top of the world as its sole military, economic power. This was a sudden change for America’s mindset and the American establishment, perhaps unconsciously, adopted the British mindset to manage its new role.
Truman viewed India more from the old British viewpoint than FDR’s angle. He associated India with “people sitting on hot coals and bathing in the Ganges” and considered it “hardly important”. Since Truman, America’s policy towards India has been similar to colonial British policy towards the Indian subcontinent. Over the past 70 odd years, America has consistently preferred to support NonPakistan over India and maintained a balance-of-power objective for the Indian Subcontinent. President Obama came to power in 2009 with the express goal of restoring a balance to America’s relationship between NonPakistan & India, a balance, he thought, that had been tilted too far towards India under President Bush.
The same colonial British mindset prevented America from seeing the Afghanistan conflict as mainly an ethnic conflict between Pashtuns of Afghanistan & Panjabis of the Indus plain, a conflict that has been ongoing since colonial Britain’s partition of Afghanistan in 1893. An America that found it easy to create peace in eastern Europe by partitioning Yugoslavia into its ethnic regions found it impossible to comprehend the necessity of separating the Pashtun regions under NonPakistan from the Panjabi rule of Rawalpindi. The same America still finds it impossible to comprehend the need for a united Sunni regime for the Sunni provinces spread across the artificial European constructed line of control between Syria & Iraq.
This is the America with the same British mindset that seems determined to mentally keep Afghanistan & NonPakistan in the greater Middle East region rather than in the Indian Subcontinent.
3. The British mindset from the Indian side
What if Vallabh-bhai Patel had been chosen by Mahatma Gandhi as the Prime Minister of India in 1947? That is a question that continues to intrigue the Indian diaspora. Sardar Patel was perhaps the ideal Indian to build a confident relationship with America. He was a pure power guy, a man of iron will who united post-Britain India into a Republic from a motley collection of princely states. He would have maintained & increased the power of the Indian military and united Kashmir, an act that would have prevented 9/11 from happening some 60 years later. He would have, had he lived, intervened militarily in Tibet to prevent Chinese takeover. He would have happily accepted the permanent membership of the UN Security council that was jointly offered to India by US-USSR in 1955. Sardar Patel would have encouraged private enterprise over state-owned public entities and favored free business.
Unfortunately Gandhi chose Nehru over Patel. In any case, Patel passed away in 1950 and Nehru became the sole driver of Indian policy. Nehru was a product of the left-oriented British elite and he had little regard for what America stood for. In fact, his view of America was a mirror image of America’s view of India, both being reflections of Britain’s views of the two countries. Nehru’s view of America was that of the British elite of America – crude, uncultured, crass capitalistic, rude, overbearing, and more lucky than smart. By the way, this is still the current view of India’s BrIndians, the British-influenced Indians who populate India’s “intellectual” institutions.
Nehru’s stance of moralistic preaching to America while taking American money is still the stance of today’s BrIndians who are invited and strive to be invited to write for BBC, New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post and Huffington Post. They are unabashedly contemptuous of core America, the America that delivered the Senate to the Republicans in November 2014. They are still contemptuous of President George W. Bush who delivered more to India than any other American President.
4. The Contempt of Core India from American “intellectuals”
Even a cursory reading of American authors shows you the deep & permanent assimilation of British mindset towards India. And we just don’t mean superficial thinkers like Tom Friedman, Nicolas Kristoff or others like Anne Applebaum just to name a few. We mean real deep-thinking analysts who fashion America’s policy. Every one of these thinkers learned everything they know from British writings on India. Some like Robert Kaplan went farther back to Portuguese writings about India from the 15th-16th centuries.
And who did the Portuguese & the British admire? What were the “Indian” glories that brought the Poruguese to Indian shores to seek “Christians & spices”? The Mughal glories or the glories of the Uzbeki Mongols who invaded India in the early 16th century & ruled North India till early 18th century.
The Uzbeki Mongols were the last of the steady stream of Muslim invader-occupiers from Afghanistan & Central Asia from late 12th century. So it was natural for Portuguese & British writers to view Muslim conquerors as natural rulers of Hindu-majority India. It is this deep-seated conviction that determined British policy towards India and it has carried over to American thinking about India. It is this deep-seated conviction that is behind the American preference of NonPakistan over India, even today’s pathetic terrorism-infected failed-state that calls itself Land of the Heavenly Pure. It is this deep-seated conviction that is underneath the forlorn hope of the American establishment that, somehow with American money, arms & support, they can re-build a strong, stable, Pakistan to balance India.
The conviction that Muslims are the natural rulers of Hindus, who are a sad pathetic people steeped in obsolete, superstitious, mental swamp.
5. Where did America’s thinkers learn about Hindus?
America was founded by Englishmen and much of American thinking has been inherited from British scholars like Mill, Macaulay, writers like Kipling. And Winston Churchill remains the most admired British figure in America. What did these men convey to Americans about Hindus & Hinduism?
- Mill – “the Hindu, like the eunuch, excels in the qualities of a slave,“
- Macaulay – “All those arts which are the natural defence of the weak are more familiar to this subtle race than to…the Jew of the dark ages“
- Kipling – “It was the Bengali male’s “extraordinary effeminacy“, as evinced by his diminutive physique, his flowing clothes, and his worship of goddesses, that best illustrated why he, and by extension India, had to be guided by the firm, benevolent hand of a supremely masculine race“
- Another writer – “something of an Irishman, something of an Italian, something of a Jew: if one can conceive of an Irishman who would run away from a fight instead of into it, an Italian without a sense of beauty and a Jew who would not risk five pounds on the chance of making five hundred“
- Churchill – I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion … More often that not the small, brown, fangless, and numberless Indians whom the frail old pacifist personified brought to Churchill’s mind a prey species … the Hindus were a foul race ‘protected by their mere pullulation (rapid breeding) from the doom that is their due
This is the stuff America’s writer-thinkers inherited from the British “scholars” they admired & studied.
You can see these feelings in today’s writings in the New York Times and the Washington Post, to name a couple. You can see the same contempt, inherited or natural, in the articles by Ellen Barry of the New York Times & Annie Gowen of the Washington Post. Worse, you can see the institutionalization of this Hindu contempt in office of global standards of the New York Times as we found out a couple of years ago. We can even see this in Ariana Huffington who recently launched Indian branch of Huffington Post.
You can see this in America’s determined differentiation of “Indian” from “Hindu” even though they are exactly the same term that means precisely the same thing. The term “Hindu” is Persian-Arabic term for Sanskrut name “Sindhu” and the term Indian is from Indus, the Latin term for the same Sanskrut name “Sindhu”. The Sindhu is the mighty river that flows from the Himalayan range into the Arabian sea, the river on whose banks the Culture & Religion of India were developed. Thus Indian & Hindu both mean the exactly same thing in Latin & Persian-Arabic respectively. Everyone knows this, everyone that has the merest knowledge of India.
Yet, American media & American establishment continue to use the Latin term “Indian” as different from the Persian term “Hindu” to distinguish between Indians converted into other religions & Indians that remain in the original Indian/Hindu religion.
6. The American-Indian Interaction
Frankly, the American establishment is not to blamed. The real blame lies with the BrIndian elite. Thanks to Nehru, newly-independent India remained “British”-obedient in spirit if not in action. On major result was that the BrIndian class, the class that had prospered under British patronage & with British-obedience, remains dominant in physically independent India.
Ask any American journalist, writer, diplomat and they will tell you this BrIndian class is the one they deal with. And this class is very adept in managing Americans as they were in managing the British. Their main goal is to maintain & increase their primacy, influence & wealth. In that pursuit, they essentially say things to American visitors that the Americans want to hear, that make Americans feel that they are learning about India and thereby convince Americans that they have found allies within India. In exchange, the BrIndian class gets invited to American think tanks, to write op-eds in the New York Times, and get their books published by American publishing houses.
And then the American establishment gets stunned when Indians do things that Americans never expected them to do – like the liberation of East Bengal in 1971, the support of USSR in Afghanistan in 1979, the nuclear test in 1998, and recently the election of Narendra Modi in 2014.
These shocks hit because America continues to be dominated by the British mindset about India that keeps getting reinforced by frequent interaction with the BrIndian class in India, a class that is as British in their mindset as the American establishment.
As a result, America keeps remaining isolated from the majority of Indians, the Indians who know deep within them how great their society used to be, who want to regain their glory days and who understand how America continues to be against their heritage & goals.
7. Narendra Modi – His mandate & Americans like Henry Kissinger
We are optimists about US-India relations by nature, by passion and by experience. America has not become the smartest and the most successful society on earth by remaining dumb. And change often comes within America, not from the colonial inheritors like the New York Times cohort, but from core America, the America that learns, adopts and succeeds in remaining the greatest power on earth.
In the Indo-American context, we see that change coming from what many might consider to be the most unlikely source – Henry Kissinger. Read his section on India in his new book World Power. Read what he writes about Kautilya or Vishnu-Gupt Chanakya. This is one strategist dedicated to success in 20th century writing about a great strategist dedicated to military, economic, societal supremacy in the 3rd century BCE. Kissinger’s treatment is neither deep nor insightful. But it is respectful. And it is the first serious attempt we have seen to study the success of real India, core India, the India that was the most successful nation on earth for 2-3 millennia, the nation that had 38% of global GDP at the turn of 1,000 CE. Kissinger is not the first to do so. Robert Kaplan began this a couple of years ago. But Kissinger has gone much farther than Kaplan has. After all, Kissinger is first a do-er while Kaplan is first a writer.
Kissinger understands that to get where India wants to go and can go, to get what drives Narendra Modi, Americans have to understand the Bhagavat-Geeta and Chanakya. Other American thinkers will follow Henry Kissinger and within 5-10 years we think we will see a more robust understanding of pre-Islam India or Hindu India in America. Then, perhaps, America will shed its British mindset about India and thus remove the central problem in the US-India relationship.
That moment cannot come soon enough for us. Because we see that every new generation of Indians is more core Indian/Hindu than the previous and more determined to restore Indian/Hindu glory in all its facets – economic, military, cultural, and religious. It is this force that has catapulted Narendra Modi from a chief minister of a regional state to the Prime Minister of India with an enormous mandate. He knows that he has to be true to this mandate entrusted to him by the newer Indians and it is a mandate that he believes in deeply.
This Indian drive will be rough and strewn with major obstacles. It may even be violent, intensely violent at times, in its drive to restore India’s culture and religion. It will be stridently opposed by the colonial British mindset within both America and India, by the New York Times cohort in America and by the BrIndian cohort in India. But as long as America’s establishment keeps shedding its British-inherited, anti-Indian/Hindu mindset, the future of US-India relationship is bright and these two societies will remain on course to become mutually reinforcing beacons of democratic, intellectual, and business freedom.
* The quotes about FDR, Churchill & other British writers are from the book Churchill’s Secret War that was reviewed & quoted from our articles on July 2, 2011 & July 16, 2011. The quote about President Truman is from the book Forged in Crisis by Rudra Chaudhuri that was reviewed on July 12, 2014.
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