US House Subcommittee hearing aimed to target India, but that doesn't mean it didn't contain lessons for New Delhi

  • That the intention was to go after India is apparent in the selection of both the panellists and the topics

  • Two of those who testified are well-known for their tirades against India for decades

  • Why the Democrats-led Congress chose to make India the chief whipping boy could have multiple reasons, not least of which is that the House is unsurprisingly anti-Donald Trump, and therefore has a jaundiced view on countries who trip over themselves to support him

"Sweet are the uses of adversity," says an exiled duke in Shakespeare's As You Like It, going on to ponder on lessons to be found in running brooks and sermons in stones, and such like. Following the hearing on Human Rights in South Asia in the House Subcommittee — that was frankly rather disastrous for India, it may be useful to adopt this attitude and look for those lessons, even if that’s not an exercise that we generally adopt.

Anyone who watched the hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, would have discerned not only that India got a drubbing and that Pakistan got away scot-free, but also that the State Department gave a far more professionally-measured statement than the panellists themselves. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells' statement praised India as a US partner, ticked all the right boxes, including terrorist intimidation, and called out Pakistan’s "continued support to terrorist groups" as the main obstacle.

Wells presented facts, which was more than could be said of the rest. One of those present and testifying had previously been fired from for the California Institute of Integral Studies for 'reckless violation' of professional ethics. Another one, whose novel was exhausting to read, continued to rely on fiction citing 'government sources' which were anything but. Yet another, otherwise articulate panellist, relied almost entirely on the standard Indian handouts. If that narrative had worked, there would have been no need for a hearing in the first place.

That the intention was to target India is apparent in the selection of both the panellists and the topics.

 US House Subcommittee hearing aimed to target India, but that doesnt mean it didnt contain lessons for New Delhi

File image of the US House of Representatives. Getty Images

Two of those who testified are well-known for their tirades against India for decades. The panellist from Pakistan was low-key to say the least, since any real testimony would have knocked Pakistan out of the court entirely. A fourth was from Amnesty International, though this testimony did rely on the facts rather than verbosity. Topics included were Kashmir, more Kashmir, as well as the National Register of Citizens. That testimony was probably the most damaging.

Amnesty not only decried the fact that 1.9 million people in Assam were rendered Stateless, but also reported faithfully on the raid of its offices by the Enforcement Directorate, arrests of activists, and worst of all, the undeniable rise in hate crimes. Whatever opinion one may have on Amnesty, its ability to present evidence clearly and concisely was admirable. It chose to omit mentioning that the majority of those detained were Hindus, and that the NRC dated to a bloody movement of the 1970s that arose from that ultimate fear that has generated wars and revolutions for centuries — the fear of losing one's land. That the NRC question has been subsequently communalised is a different question, and presents an entirely different problem.

Why the Democrats-led Congress chose to make India the chief whipping boy could have multiple reasons, not least of which is that the House is unsurprisingly anti-Donald Trump, and therefore has a jaundiced view on countries who trip over themselves to support him. Then there is the fact that with elections likely to enter a bloody phase, the Democrats are trying to outdo themselves and their own history as the lobby that backs even the most ersatz causes; and the fact that Muslim women joined the Congress for the first time even while Hindus remained steady at three; and finally, that Delhi’s ability to present its case as a ‘liberal democratic partner’ to the US is flimsy.

That’s no fault of an embassy or a government functionary.  That is due to the number of irresponsible statements coming from apparently responsible officials — like that of the Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh linking voting for the BJP and dropping a nuclear bomb on Pakistan — to the tirades against Muslims coming from lower functionaries. None of that has been officially condemned by the government.

Lesson number one: If you make a fool of yourself, someone somewhere is going to take advantage of it.

Lesson number two: There is no use being defensive about Kashmir. Instead of trying to recite history, try stating the simple fact that there is not a single counter-terrorism operation the world over that uses so little force or weaponry. The US counter-terrorism operation in Afghanistan relied on heavy aerial bombing and a massive use of force. The Pakistanis cleared entire sections of tribal areas of their population, reminiscent of the tactics used by Britain in the Malayan insurgency, not to mention the combined Russian and American campaign against the Islamic State that spared no arms. Compared to those 'campaigns', India's is a hopelessly mundane operation. There's more, much more in terms of the good stuff.

Lesson number three: Try and encourage expertise on understanding the US system. What works in Moscow may completely boomerang in Washington. And after having identified that expertise, follow the advice of those experts. The US system of getting testimonies or briefings from experts is a good one, even if its sometimes politically slanted. It keeps both academics and parliamentarians on alert and will help both to develop a sense of reality on the ground. At present, contempt for analysis is only matched by the inability of most — not all, mind you — academics to provide government with what it needs.

And finally, accept that criticism of India matters, and cannot be brushed under the carpet. It matters because calls for violence against minorities and eradication of an entire community will spook investors. True, there are hardened companies who remain in violence-torn places like Nigeria. But the deals they get are likely to be heavily in favour of themselves. For a healthy and even playing field in getting vital investment, clean up your act. Playing to the lowest lumpen elements may win votes. It certainly won't pile up the dollars.

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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2019 10:53:42 IST