On August 30th, 2012, the official Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, gave a speech at the XVI Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran. While the summit received wide international attention due to the continuing Iranian imbroglio, it has received, pace Smita Prakash’s brief observations on tyrants and her wardrobe, little attention in India. Part of me is tempted to let it remain so – after all, what has Singh said that is remotely interesting or original in the last eight years? However, another part of me cringes at the nonsensical play-acting India engages in at NAM. The Congress Party’s theology of non-alignment, supported by its craven allies and forced upon a helpless – admittedly ignorant – nation, has so far been mere rhetoric since India mattered little in the international system. However, with the forced adoption of free market ideas, even incompletely, India has shown promise to be one of the Great Powers once again. If only New Delhi’s prattling could be silenced for a while.

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso!

Quo usque tandem abutere, Manmohan Singh-ji, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?

[When, O Manmohan Singh-ji, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?]

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso!

[Mr. Prime Minister, I accuse you!]

In 1947, when India gained independence, it was a poor country. Burdened by 190 years of stagnant real GDP growth, illiteracy, and a myriad of other problems typical of developing countries, the only thing the country had going for it was the hope of its teeming millions. By 1954, at Bandung, and by 1961, the first NAM conference, there had been only marginal improvement. Perhaps in those days, for a complex web of reasons I will not go into here, non-alignment had some merit.

In 2012, India is one of the world’s largest economies with a GDP of $1.7 trillion and a middle class aiming for the stars, hungry for prosperity and eager to compete globally. Though the memory seems distant, until a couple of years ago, India’s success story paralleled il miracolo economico. India is a part of an entire alphabet soup of economic groups – IBSA, SAARC, BRICS, ASEAN, SCO, and most tellingly, the G-20. To put the contrast more starkly, the G-20 accounts for almost 85% of the world’s GDP, while NAM (120 countries) is responsible for  just 14%. India does seem an odd fit in the latter group.

Given NAM’s anti-Western rhetoric, it seems to me, Mr. Prime Minister, you are making India run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds. Like in your domestic politics, you seek power on the one hand, but on the other, wish to play the victim. Just as a subaltern cannot, by definition, speak, you cannot be a Great Power and a victim simultaneously. Let us take as an example, your saccharine statement on an equally vacuous idea – “joint global governance.” Short of forgetting to take your dose of Clozaril,  you cannot presume to lecture the world on governance from a NAM summit attended by “despots, dictators, autocrats and leaders of banana republics” of all hues – or given the malaise you have wrought back in your own country. And oh – you attended the NAM summit but are skipping the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session?!

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso!

You speak of the Syrian crisis. Has that moribund institution, the Ministry of External Affairs, led by the able and doddering SM Krishna on your watch, ever contributed meaningfully to a discussion of the conflict? You speak of the humanitarian crisis in Syria but are uncomfortable with regime change – have you once thought that this crisis has been brought on by Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship? Did you not abstain from condemning Syria’s atrocities in the UNGA resolution? Where was your concern for the poor, the enslaved, and the oppressed in Iran, Libya, or Bahrain?

You speak of the plight of the Palestinian people. While no one can reject the sorry state of Palestinian refugees, has anyone in New Delhi ever criticised Fatah, Hamas, or Hezbollah? What happened, faltering words? Has anyone from South Block ever offered viable solutions to the tragedy or is this all about criticising others who have tried and failed? Speak sir, speak! How shall we solve the Palestinian question?

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso!

You imagine that NAM’s (and yours, by association) “collective voice and reasoned interventions…commanded respect and credibility.” Where? When? Has NAM seen one crisis through to resolution? Or are we expected to believe that it even has a unified voice? Mohammad Morsi would have us believe that the NAM supported the people of Syria against their autocratic masters, while Ayatollah Ali Khamenei left little doubt that he stood with the Syrian government. Iran’s nuclear programme received a similar mixed response, and while all states condemn terrorism, some of the NAM’s members are known state sponsors of terrorism. So please inform your people, kind Sir, which collective voice? Is it by any chance the echo from India ringing in your ears all the way in Tehran, “Congress hatao, desh bachao!“?

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso!

The agenda India put forth before the NAM was “international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the menace of maritime piracy, the growing threat to cyber security, and the growing challenge of pursuing ecologically sustainable development while ensuring energy, water and food security.” This is a most thoughtful agenda that you, Sir, have put forth. If we may please be allowed to suggest sub-committees, here are a few thoughts: terrorism – Pakistan; WMD proliferation: Iran; maritime security: Somalia; cyber security: China (even though it has only an observer); food security: Sudan; water security: Ethiopia; energy security: India. I am sure your esteemed self has not missed the irony of putting these issues before nations that, in some areas, are themselves problem. In others, they face problems, and India and the rest of the world must help them, preferably without vacuous speeches.

It is with great confidence that I can assure you that Indians are overjoyed at your succinct analysis of some of the problems. On food security, for example, you highlighted that “[e]xcessive speculation, structural bottlenecks and lack of coordination are fuelling food inflation at the global level.” The only problem is, where did you hide such wisdom back home? A recent newspaper article revealed that ministers have siphoned off over $14 billion from food redistribution while Indians starved; o tempora, o mores! Food prices have shot up during your administration, beggaring the aam aadmi that you love to work on behalf of.

You speak of renewable energy such as solar power that is abundant in the developing world. Maybe you don’t think India is in the developing world any more, but let 1.2 billion people assure you that it is. If you will permit me an ounce of boldness, I’d like to point out that approximately 70% of India’s solar energy is generated in states ruled by parties in opposition to you, primarily the BJP in Gujarat, led by the man you love to hate. India lives in darkness and despite ruling the republic for over 80% of its existence, your party has not even achieved full national electrification, let alone meet its power needs? What exactly is your message, ji?

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso!

We have engaged in pleasantries long enough, Mr. Prime Minister – we should discuss some real problems. You have said on the world stage that you hope to reform the United Nations Security Council, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, that you want to promote infrastructure development, and build a knowledge economy, an economy of the future. You even offered India’s assistance towards a NAM initiative of skill development. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a video on The Onion or on a news site. Let us take this one by one.

What do you know of governance? The UPA has presided over some of the largest scams in the history of independent India. They say that we are a poor country, but it does not look it from the amounts stolen in your admin…racketeering. Just the 2G spectrum case and Coal-maal are estimated to have set the exchequer back by nearly $75 billion, that too in a space of two years! I wonder if Mohammad Ghori or Mahmud Ghazni (a majority of Indians find them to be unsavoury fellows, in case your history books left that out) looted India that efficiently! As Cicero exclaimed, “O ye immortal gods, where on earth are we? What constitution is ours?” The citizens of India humbly suggest that you look to your own party and the state of neglect they have left the country in, undermining its institutions, subverting the law, and reducing the most holy document in a republic – the constitution – to little more than toilet paper. The bureaucracy you preside over is no indication of your expertise that you can presume to even talk about reforming international bodies.

Next, you talk about infrastructure. How many children are drowned in India during the monsoons because the drains do not have proper manhole covers? The roads in Kuwait and Baghdad during the first Gulf War were in better condition than they are in peacetime India – if there are any roads to begin with. Thankfully, mobile telephone technology has liberated Indians from the tyranny of the state telephone agency, and the internet has reduced our dependence on the Indian Post. Our schools are dens of cheating, and as you no doubt know, Indian students were next to last in a recent international evaluation of middle school children. Is this what you intend to export to India’s NAM partners? I truly hope they do not see it as an act of war!

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso!

Finally, on Africa – you invite others to prioritise aid to Africa, but clearly, you don’t read the papers (and we know how much attention you have given to India’s intelligence services). China is already a major player in Africa, as is Brazil, South Africa, and other countries. Though India has made some progress recently, it is in no position to invite others to Africa, for trade or aid. Quite importantly, as your bureaucrats will tell you, India simply does not have the ability to offer aid or investment to Africa on the scale China can. We have fallen behind, and as a report that your government quasi-sponsored stated, this gap will only grow wider in the coming years.

Signor Primo Ministroio ti accuso, io ti accuso, io ti accuso!

This century holds the dreams of hundreds of millions of Indians; that by the end, perhaps they can walk with their heads held high, that they need not make a fetish of products made abroad, that their children will also have good schools, nutritious food, clean water, good housing and infrastructure, that they won’t have to leave the country in search of those simple amenities such as the rule of law, a trustworthy government, and a prompt judiciary. Mr. Prime Minister, stealing that is to condemn hundreds of millions of people to poverty and wretchedness, and if that is not a crime against humanity, I don’t know what is. What is there, O Manmohan Singh-ji, “that can now afford you any pleasure in this country? For there is no one in it, except that band of profligate conspirators of yours, who does not hate you. What brand of baseness is not stamped upon your life? From what corruption has your mind ever abstained?” We understand that paupering nations economically, socially, culturally, and militarily comes to you dynastically. But perhaps you can find it within you to be a bigger person. Please – step down from power.

La mia protesta infiammata non è che il grido della mia anima. Vogliate gradire, signor Primo Ministro, l’assicurazione del mio profondo rispetto.

[My impassioned protest is nothing more than the screaming of my soul. Please accept, Mr. Prime Minister, the assurance of my deep respect.]

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Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.

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