The diplomatic cables leaked by the WikiLeaks have provided a rare insight into how the United States has sought to exert pressure and influence policymaking in India, while the Niira Radia tapes present a sad picture of the vulnerability of the Indian state as corporate lobbyists have a free run.
These were some of the views articulated at a discussion organised by the Delhi Union of Journalists and the Delhi Media Centre for Research and Publications Trust here on Wednesday.
Only the tip of the iceberg
What has been revealed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. When the full range of some 2,000 cables sent by the U.S. Embassy here back to the State Department in Washington becomes available in the public domain, thanks to WikiLeaks, “a full idea of the degree of cooperation between India and the United States,” will come into view, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said.
There were references in the WikiLeaks to India explaining to the U.S. the “transit stop” here by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2008. This clearly established that the Americans did not like that visit and they demanded and got an explanation from India. The leaked cables referred to the U.S. stopping India's export of graphite to Iran and the cancellation of an Indian company project in Iran, Mr. Karat noted.
On the nuclear deal issue — on which the Left withdrew support to the first United Progressive Alliance government — Mr. Karat said it might be true that the U.S. had not been able to get billions of dollars worth of contracts as a result of the agreement, but “it was a quid pro quo” for a close “strategic alliance partnership in defence.” The 10-year India-U.S. defence framework agreement was signed before the nuclear deal.
None of the speakers — a few politicians and some journalists — felt that privacy issues were at all relevant to the WikiLeaks or Radia tape leaks.
D. Raja of the Communist Party of India said the WikiLeaks had shown “India's tilt towards the U.S. in our own foreign policy” — this was exactly the point the Left parties made when they withdrew support to the Manmohan Singh government.
If the WikiLeaks gave an insight into the Americans trying to influence the Indian foreign policy, the Radia tapes threw light on the “character of the Indian state” that was “increasingly in the grip of corporate houses.” Its “vulnerability to corporate lobbying and crony capitalism” had multiplied manifold ever since the neo-liberal economic model was adopted, Mr. Raja said.
However, in an optimistic note, he said “the people and Parliament were strong enough to resist this drift.”
While journalists lamented that the media watchdog bodies, the Press Council and the Editor's Guild, had censored their own report on paid news, and the Radia tapes had been blacked out by most of the mainstream media, some welcomed the change in that at least a few magazines and newspapers were bold enough to cover news that clearly led to finger-pointing at some journalists whose close connections with corporate lobbyists was established.
Journalist Prem Shankar Jha said alternative avenues were now open: the Internet was a powerful tool, especially when efforts were made to black out news. This was the case with Radia tapes. This “closed system” that “cuts off” access to the political system to those who were honest and idealistic was now under challenge. Recent electoral verdicts also established that now people were not randomly throwing out governments because of the anti-incumbency factor but were re-electing governments that performed.
The conclusion at the discussion was: no point in demanding ‘kill the messenger', that is, no point in damning the leaks on grounds of privacy or demanding the scalp of the person who leaked. That was not going to work. The leaks did a public service, opening our eyes to what was all along suspected but never established.