India and Iran: civilisational continuum
by Sandhya Jain on 20 Jul 2008 0 Comment

A civilisational continuum binds India and Iran, nurtured by long centuries of commerce and diplomacy that even the en masse change of religion in one country has been unable to snap. History is witness that political stability in our part of the world requires a strong Iran and a strong India.


Though there are many sources of instability in today’s world, historically a strong Iran and a weak India resulted in the painful invasions of the Persian Nadir Shah and the Afghan Ahmad Shah. Conversely, a strong India and a weak Iran left the region vulnerable to attack from Central Asia, viz. the Mongols in the 13th century. And when there was a strong power at both ends of the spectrum, there was glory and stability, most notably during the Mauryan and Seleucid empires of the 2nd century BC, and the Gupta and Sassanid empires in the 4th-5th centuries AD.


Though India no longer fears a land-based invasion and occupation by foreign armies (as is the unhappy contemporary fate of Iraq, parts of Afghanistan, and soon perhaps even Pakistan), a strong Iran is imperative to maintain the power equilibrium in the region, especially as volatile and dangerous players are in the arena. Today India feels vulnerable precisely because an Iran hounded by America is on the defensive; Afghanistan and Pakistan are virtually imploding with no small assistance from their Western friends; and Central Asia is unstable following a string of coloured revolutions and attempted revolutions.


Indo-Iranian nuclear cooperation


The lesson of history is to revive historical relationships. When the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was cornered by domestic and international opposition in the mid-1970s, my father, late Girilal Jain (then Resident Editor, The Times of India) suggested reaching out to Iran as a way of breaking India’s isolation. He participated in what is now called Track II diplomacy, and skilful governmental efforts saw Mrs. Gandhi visiting Teheran in May 1974  (Source: Iran Nuclear Watch).


Significantly, as this was the time of Pokharan-I, the joint communiqué stated that contacts would be made “between the atomic energy organizations in the two countries in order to establish a basis for cooperation in this field.” Moreover, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi also visited India; invoked a mutual ‘Aryan heritage,’ and the Iranian-Indian Nuclear Cooperation Treaty was signed in February 1975. Does the Foreign Office remember?


Four months later, strident political opposition compelled Indira Gandhi to impose Emergency (26 June 1975), and it is worth considering if the 1977 elections that followed were not India’s version of a ‘coloured revolution.’ It is a view that has received scant attention from scholars and strategic analysts. Yet this may be the answer to the otherwise inexplicable decision of RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras to literally throw a lifeline to the beleaguered Indira Gandhi in the 1983 Delhi elections and revive her flagging morale, to the utter shock of the Jan Sangh.


N-deal and Iran linked

India’s unexpected vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005; the undesirable Indo-US nuclear deal and strategic relationship; and America’s open sesame for an Israeli assault on Iran, are inextricably linked. The nuclear deal effectively guillotines India’s nuclear potential and ambition, and the strategic deal undermines Iran. India’s ratifying the nuclear deal is tantamount to shooting itself in the foot.


In fairness, however, the UPA government has always appeared to me to be more serious about its oil and gas diplomacy with Iran and Central Asia than about the nuclear-strategic deal with America. It is an amazing coincidence that the National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan flew to Teheran around the same time as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh breezed off to Japan with an airy promise to move to the IAEA soon, with consequences that are there for all to see.


Whose deal?


With the government now in jeopardy, the non-political (whatever that means) Prime Minister has retreated to the safety of his office, leaving the unenviable task of shoring up his regime to loyalists of the Gandhi dynasty.


His retreat and the demands of the Samajwadi Party compelled first Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi, and now Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi, to discard their veils and canvass openly for the nuclear deal. The cognoscenti know that the deal is close to Ms. Sonia Gandhi’s heart, and it is in the fitness of things that she bats for it. Dr. Manmohan Singh himself had announced more than a year ago that his was not a single-issue government and he would simply ‘move on’ without the deal.


Now, however, the Amethi MP tells bemused villagers that the deal is ‘good’ and worth even the sacrifice of the government, but is unable to tell us how. How much money is India expected to invest in obsolete reactors and obsolete technology; how much power will be generated after how many years; above all, what will it cost? And will America meanwhile have free access to our thorium-breeder technology and our thorium-rich sands on the southern coasts?


The Gandhis will not answer these questions, relevant as they are, though a shrill Ms. Sonia Gandhi expects Andhra villagers to believe that the deal is in the interest of the nation, when party managers are nervous if all their own MPs will support the government on the floor of the house! Ms. Gandhi must explain what she means when she says India needs the “latest nuclear technology and fuel power from other countries,” because everyone knows American technology is 30-years-old and that America is the only democracy (sic) where an elected government will openly lobby the commercial interests of a corporate firm.


Westerners have long claimed superiority on account of having separated religion from politics in public life. This is questionable, but we need not go there now. However, it is undeniable that they are unable to separate their business from the politics, and that politics is clearly subordinate to commerce. This may explain why the British Crown rushed to rescue the East India Company when it messed up its ‘accidental rule’ over India.


The Hindu varna system, in contrast, accords paramountcy to Dharma and the security of nation and society; business and other sections of society thrive within this framework. Hierarchy comes from a value system, not the legitimation of political, economic, or military muscle.


The author is Editor,

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