It’s all about money, honey !
PADMA RAO SUNDARJI
When I began to write Delhiberations for GK Magazine, I decided to keep away from political commentary, since all major dailies carry it wall-to-wall anyway. The last thing a Sunday reader needs is more of the stuff television channels perforate eardrums with, throughout the week.
This time, I make a departure. To comment, not on our politics, but that of others, specifically of the magnificent, well-meaning but somewhat bumbling entity called the European Union (EU).
On January 7 this year, the German ambassador in New Delhi, Michael Steiner, held a lunch at his residence, to which he invited other ambassadors of the EU, of which Germany is the largest and most influential member.
A meal shared by EU envoys is no big deal. Except that at this one, there was an additional guest : Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, currently the BJP’s poster boy and likely candidate for the next prime ministerial elections.
Predictably, nobody knew about this lunch till last week, when the ambassador of the EU in India, Joao Cravinho, blurted out that it had, indeed, taken place. So that the Europeans don’t mumble with tiresome predictability that Indian newspapers misquote people, I quote Mr. Cravinho from Reuters :
‘We were pleased that he (Mr. Modi) was able to tell us that because of a number of changes that he has introduced, that such events (as the Gujarat riots) could not be repeated in 2013.”
The German ambassador, Mr Steiner, too, commented briefly on his lunch. I quote him from a report by the Agence France Presse (AFP):
"India is a democracy. We respect democratic institutions. We respect election results in India and we have full trust in its judicial system. Because of this respect and trust, we are now in a new phase."
On February 8 and when Mr Steiner justified breaking bread with Mr Modi, he had obviously not heard that on February 7, the Supreme Court had entitled the widow of an MP slain in the Gujarat riots to access the closure report submitted by the SC’s own Special Investigation Team (SIT), which had absolved Mr Modi of compliance in the riots in which more than 1500 persons were killed, and given her six weeks to file a fresh petition against the report.
It is not my brief to either condemn or praise Messrs. Modi, Steiner, Carvalho or any of the luncheon guests. I leave that to the courts, our collective gods and - you readers.
However and as a longstanding correspondent with the German media and a veteran EU watcher, I feel compelled to point out to those who place their faith in ‘international observers’ and European human rights consciousness, that the EU is quite capable of turning a blind eye to any perceived violations, if its own requirements demand it.
The European Union had its greatest success when it was conceived as the European Community EC – a purely economically-linked entity. Indeed, the member states of the EC – where I practically grew up in the seventies and which I love as my second home, despite my critique – saw their greatest commercial and economic success during that era.
The EU as a political body, is, according to an increasing number of Europeans themselves, a disaster. And on the heels of the Euro crisis, perhaps even a financial one.
For a start and remaining within its own borders, do recollect the immediate and joyous embrace of eastern European states (most in 2004) into the Union, despite their abysmal per capita incomes and the prevalent fear at the time, that they may drain the collective riches of the EU (as it turns out, Poland, for one, is a success story as is Estonia).
Now juxtapose that with the EU’s continuous dithering over the admission of Turkey into the Union. What is the hold-up ? Yes, you guessed right. Brussels can issue as many wordy and convoluted explanations as it likes, but the biggest hurdle remains the fact that Turkey is a Muslim-majority country. So, not quite kosher for the majority Christian-EU to admit equally ecstatically into its folds. Especially and more so since 9/11, never mind the fact that Turkey had little to do with the attacks in New York.
But the greatest disaster of all is the pretence kept up - rather wobblily - by the EU, of having a joint and mutual ‘foreign policy’. Here’s the thing: how can say, France, aggressively pushing its Rafale figher jet to weapon-hungry India and Germany, equally forcefully lobbying for its Eurofighter ( a deal the latter subsequently lost) or France sending troops to Mali and Germany not doing so, possibly declare a mutual foreign policy ?
Here are some examples of the EU’s ‘foreign policy’ (it even has a ‘foreign minister’ ) closer to home:
Sri Lanka: in the eighties, thousands of Tamils, many genuinely traumatized by the terrible civil war in the northern part of Sri Lanka between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan army, began to arrive on the shores of – among other countries – the European Union. It was well-known that the EU grants asylum, social security, education, jobs and citizenship to those who feel ‘persecuted’ in their own country. At the time, hardly any EU country had the slightest notion of what was actually going on in Sri Lanka: that the LTTE was evolving into a totalitarian and deadly terror group which later invented and fine-tuned the art of suicide bombing and forcibly recruited women and children into its ranks, whom it finally used as ‘human shields’ to protect its leadership in the last stages of war. To profusely bleeding European hearts, theirs was a “struggle for freedom” in faraway Sri Lanka, a country of which, the EU, at best, knew the sun-beds along the balmy Southwestern coast. Many of the ‘refugees’ the EU took on, became affluent and directed much of their wealth openly and directly to the LTTE. Which, in turn, purchased weapons, gunships, warships, turning many of them against its own Tamil dissenters.
Several years later and when it became clear to many intelligent and straight-thinking western diplomats who had served time in Sri Lanka and knew what was going on at close quarters, several countries like the US declared the LTTE a terror group and froze money transfers from former refugees to Sri Lanka..
Predictably, the EU immediately thought of following suit. (this is much like the EU’s ‘fresh look’ at Mr. Modi, which merely follows in the heels of the US and Britain last year).
However, this came at a very inopportune time. A peace agreement brokered by the Norwegians between the two warring sides in Sri Lanka was teetering yet again. The Tigers had issued an open warning that an EU ban would mean a return to war. I was in Sri Lanka. I knew the Norwegian mediators well. They, too, threw up their hands at the impending EU ban and declared that this would be their last effort at mediation, if war broke out afresh.
Just weeks later – ironically at the very time that Brussels was meeting to vote on the ban of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, I was invited in Delhi to the five-star suite of the then EU foreign minister for a press briefing. The occasion was the ‘historical’ first Indo-EU strategic summit. With breathless enthusiasm, the fashionable lady outlined the agenda : to address mutual “strategic” concerns and to help ensure each others’ security. At question time – exactly when the Brussels meet on the LTTE had almost ended – I raised my hand. Since a re-commencement of war in Sri Lanka would have serious repercussions on the safety and security of Southern India, I asked what had been decided in Brussels ? She looked blank and stunned. The foreign minister of the EU, attending a security summit in and on South Asia, had no clue about the meeting in Brussels that would ban the LTTE, lead to fresh war and endanger security in South Asia. After whispering to her aide, she at first and rather haughtily, tried to brush aside my question by insisting that this meeting was restricted to India-EU affairs. I persisted that war in Sri Lanka very much concerned India’s security, so why was the EU banning the LTTE – also responsible for killing Mr Rajiv Gandhi – now, at this delicate phase? She said she was running late for her tea with Mrs Sonia Gandhi and we were ushered out of the room.
The EU banned the LTTE, froze account transfers from refugees of Sri Lankan origin in Europe – unfairly to those among them unconnected to the LTTE - and the rest is very bloody history.
Two more recent illustrations.
Several years ago, I stumbled into a press conference at the German embassy. I wrote for a German magazine, but no other German journalist had been invited so I was obviously there by mistake. The interaction was exclusively for the Indian media, primarily television. Sitting alongside the chiefs of Germany’s largest aircraft manufacturers, the then German ambassador confidently pushed for the sale of the Eurofighter ( a deal that Germany lost to France). If India decided on the aircraft, he declared, then all mandatory permissions from his government in Berlin would be waived. This was hard-sell at its best.
Just a few months later and in another weapons-related matter, I gained access to a classified document from the Home Ministry in New Delhi. It was a list of guns that the Home Ministry wished to purchase from a German company. A potential hitch could be an absurd requirement by the Berlin government – to issue the very same permission that the ambassador had confidently offered the waiver of for the Eurofighter - that India would have to certify that the guns would only be used for ‘defence’ and not against ‘freedom-fighters’.
When I scanned the list, I found that the Indian Home Ministry had cleverly – and quite rightly – listed the guns as for use by paramilitary forces. (It is no secret that most paramilitary forces like the ITBPF have special anti-Naxalite units which they advertise proudly on every raising day, so I had a fresh laugh.).
Whether one agrees with anti-Naxalite operations, weapons sales or not, it is surely hypocritical that a country like Germany, aggressively pushing for a piece of investment pie in the emerging economy India, and manufacturing and openly lobbying for weapons sales to India, still insists on certification in the name of ‘human rights’.
I am no war-monger. But for argument’s sake, what a product is used for by the buyer, is surely no business of the seller ? More so, when it is a foreign country forcefully lobbying the sale? Would Germany or the EU promise to certify that they will withdraw participation in NATO operations in Afghanistan or France’s troops from Mali, or accept Turkey into the EU, as a pre-condition for Indian business-houses, say the Tatas, taking over cash-strapped units of European industry? Or for Indian software engineers to take up jobs in their countries?
Back to lunch.
In April 2010 and barely two years before Mr Modi’s recent mid-day meal, two German parliamentarians – one of the currently ruling Christian Democrats Union (CDU) - and the director of a Catholic human rights group visited Orissa and Gujarat. In an official press release dated April 15, 2010 on the website of one of the parliamentarians, they reported :
“We criticized Chief Minister Narendra Modi that the administration mutely looked on during the violence (of 2002)..Through this trip, we want to awaken public opinion to the fact that religious freedom in India often exists only on paper. We want to show solidarity, not only with our Christian brothers and sisters but also with persecuted Muslims.”
Friends in Kashmir – of all political hues, I bring these stories up to stress the irrelevance of the European Union’s so-called unity over foreign policy and its convenient smokescreen of human rights, one which is obviously easy to lift when trade –or any other self-serving interest - demands it.
I bring them up to alert those, who, no matter how divergent their views, are certain that they will get support from the supposedly greatest upholders of human rights in the West: the EU.
Remember, at the end of the day and despite the many rights groups in India who bleed in solidarity with their counterparts and governments in the west : it’s all about money, honey.
I am laughing hard. And I bet Mr Modi is too.
(The author is a senior freelance foreign correspondent)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 9 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 9 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 10 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST
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