Dispelling the Spooks about Nukes’ --- III

IN Media Monitoring | 16/09/2005
Apart from syndicating articles and columns from western papers, Pakistan media strategically reprinted Indian media pieces critical of the pact.




In 2005 the Hoot has done a fresh round of Indo-Pak media monitoring. This is the third part of an analysis of the  comparative coverage of the same events in India and Pakistan in July. A Panos-funded project on the Hoot.




Subarno Chattarji


In this part I look at Indian media representations of the Indo-US nuclear deal that are more positive than the ones found in The Hindu. I also look at the ways in which Pakistani broadsheets strategically reprinted pieces from Indian broadsheets to provide criticism of the deal and assuage Pakistani fears.


The Indo-US nuclear deal - hidden costs versus positive change in foreign policy:

Indian Express coverage of the Indo-US nuclear agreement was more positive and upbeat in comparison to that of The Hindu, although it did raise similar concerns about hidden costs and lack of transparency. It also highlighted aspects of safety in nuclear plants, particularly the lack of safeguards against radiation (K. Ramanathan and Veena Agarwal, ‘From Non-Proliferation to Civilian Energy Cooperation, Indian Express, July 20).


An editorial on the same day, ‘Born in the Future’, praised the Prime Minister for the paradigm shift in policy vis-à-vis the US. ‘In the past, India and the US were unwilling to make their own shared democratic values a basis for their foreign policy - the US supported pro-Western dictators and India, the anti-imperialist ones who mouthed third-world slogans. Now Singh and Bush recognize the importance of promoting the values of pluralism and tolerance which they identify as the key to winning the war on terrorism.’ This editorial seems entirely sold on the current state of Indo-US relations and India’s ideological repositioning. Within this argument democracy is seen as an inherent virtue and a shared inheritance that binds the two countries, never mind the differences of context.


Strategic changes and possibilities in Indian foreign policy:

Bhanu Pratap Mehta’s ‘An Embrace Too Ardent’ (July 20) was the only skeptical article in Indian Express: ‘By embracing the US as ardently as we are, we are giving up our bargaining chips too soon. We are letting the US set the terms of this relationship more than is warranted. India should become a different kind of great power, not one that orients itself to endorsement by the United States.’ While the skepticism is warranted this article sustains the illusion that India can be a great power and achieve that status independent of the US. Precisely what ‘a different kind of great power’ implies or entails is not worked out in the opinion piece. It is this penchant for dealing in generalities that seems to dog many analytical forays into the subjects under consideration.


In contrast, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar is much clearer about realities which cannot be wished away at present: ‘India may like to pose as partner rather than supplicant, but it will be a very unequal partnership’ (‘Will Bush Singh India’s Tune?’ Times of India, July 16).


Ashok Malik’s ‘American Idol’ (Indian Express, July 21), while totally in favour of the Indo-US agreement, points to real problems that will crop up in the future. While Malik does not subscribe to the containment of China theory he perceives competition with China as inevitable. In this context he reminds Indian policy makers that ‘a meaningful manufacturing base cannot be forgotten forever’. He perceives the need to adjust to new perspectives created by the visit: ‘For decades, Indian foreign policy was a tearjerker starring institutionalized victimhood. After Singh’s visit, American has left India with very few excuses to hang on to. Depending on how one sees it, this could be either an opportunity or a problem.’ It is within this opportunity-problem cusp that most of the media articles were concentrated. Most of these in the Indian Express seemed to think it was an ‘unprecedented grand bargain’.


US foreign policy, Indian reactions:

Another piece finessed Malik’s arguments: ‘The Manmohan Singh government, sensitive to the tectonic change in Asian geopolitics amidst the dramatic rise of China, is rightly pursuing simultaneous strategic engagement with both Beijing and Washington. India is too big to fit into the pocket of either’ (‘Foreign non-policy,’ Indian Express, July 11). This formulation moves away from the us-them, either-or framework within which foreign policy choices are often perceived.


In ‘Indo-US Ties: Why the Flak?’ (Indian Express, July 28) Radha Kumar mentions America’s capacity for ending wars in Europe and that ‘US democracy-building’ is not always equal to ‘neo-imperialism’. While this is debatable, Kumar returns to the idea of balance and perhaps the kind of multi-polarity prized by Baruah and others. ‘First of all, there is little danger of India becoming a US dependency when it comes to our international relations. On the contrary, the accusation reveals a puzzling sense of inferiority. If our Prime Minister can voice his pleasure in cooperating with the US and his opposition to the Iraq war at the same time, then what is all this fear-baiting about?’


The ‘fear-baiting’ as the Express article, ‘Foreign non-policy’, pointed out, is probably related to the fact that the pacts are with the US: ‘If a similar agreement were to be signed with Russia or China, the Left would have hailed it as a triumph of anti-imperialist forces.’ The extreme rhetoric is emblematic of political divisions within the country and give the lie to any notion of objective analysis, as desired by Kumar: ‘By most unbiased standards, the PM’s visit was a triumph, but our politicians seem bent on denying the country its benefits. How absurd is that?’


More pro-deal articles:

Some articles such as Ila Patnaik’s ‘Dispelling the Spooks about Nukes’ (Indian Express, July 25) camouflage bias in a question-answer format that is seemingly objective. Patnaik’s piece is pro efficient use of nuclear energy. She debunks nationalist discourse a la Dr. Prasad and prefers ‘commercial judgement’ as a benchmark for deciding on nuclear projects. Patnaik raises environmental concerns and mentions Chernobyl. ‘The Indian nuclear establishment is relatively inexperienced in safety issues, and fairly non-transparent. There may be much to gain by adopting international practices on questions of safety.’ Patnaik’s outlook is reflective of the general tenor of coverage by the Indian Express which was more pragmatic, less anti-US or moralistic than The Hindu.


The Times of India was even more enthusiastic than the Express on the Prime Ministerial visit and the subsequent nuclear pact. ‘Three decades of nuclear apartheid were swept aside in two paragraphs of a landmark joint statement on Monday as President Bush sought out New Delhi as an overarching ally for the 21st century’ (Chidanand Rajghatta, ‘US opens all N-routes to India,’ Times of India, July 19). The triumphalism and hype are based on the curious and inaccurate interweaving of nuclear discrimination with racial, as if the two could be equated in moral or political terms. This kind of rhetorical leap allows no space for thought and analysis.


The next day Rajghatta wrote: ‘Fast work! After clinching a breathtaking nuclear agreement with India in a matter of months, the Bush administration has already begun lobbying Congress and its nuclear allies to amend laws and rules to bring New Delhi aboard the nuclear club as a de facto member’ (‘Bush will do it for a nuclear India,’ Times of India, July 20). There is a palpable sense of excitement as India gets ready to join an elite power club. In an op-ed piece on July 25, ‘Come Together on Nuclear Pact: Criticism of the Indo-US treaty is misleading’, K. Subrahmanyam argued for consensus on the nuclear deal on the grounds that it is good for India.



The Express analyses (and that in The Hindu and Times of India) indicate quite clearly that there are no ‘unbiased standards’ available in media reportage and analysis. US foreign policy is not as benign as some articles implied nor is it as Machiavellian as The Hindu would have us believe. However, Radha Kumar highlighted a visceral anti-Americanism that permeates sections of Indian polity and that find expression in the media. There are very few pieces that transcend through analysis this either-or spectrum.


Pakistan media: syndicating Indian media pieces:

Indian skepticism versus Pakistani fears:

Apart from syndicating articles and columns from western papers, Pakistan media strategically reprinted Indian media pieces critical of the pact. Seema Mustafa’s ‘Indo-US nuke deal remains discreet’ (Dawn, July 21) was syndicated from The Asian Age, Delhi. Mustafa provided details of the pact and quoted Brahma Chellaney and Bharat Karnad to refute official Indian claims to being acknowledged as a nuclear power. She outlined the problems with the pact from an Indian point of view.


Her skepticism was in contrast to a majority of Pakistani media articles and editorials. For example, The Dawn editorialized: ‘The United States has decided to allow India to acquire the same facilities accorded to a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty without signing the agreement, a move tantamount to recognizing India as a nuclear weapon state’ (July 20).


Energy security, South-South co-operation:

Praful Bidwai’s ‘N-option & India’s compulsions: Energy policy’ (Dawn, July 31) was a characteristically scathing critique of India’s sudden reliance on nuclear energy. He cited Kamal Mitra Chenoy: ‘"Indian policy-makers have decided to play a purely cynical game: join the Nuclear Apartheid regime, which they stridently condemned for decades."’ The truth of this was hinted at by some Pakistan commentators but never put so baldly.


Bidwai links the nuclear pact to the proposed Iran gas pipeline and multilateralism in the south: ‘If India yields to US pressure on the Iran pipeline, India is likely to be stuck with the wrong paradigm and court energy insecurity. If it follows its South-South instincts, India will improve relations with its neighbours and create greater security and prosperity for South and West Asia.’ Bidwai appeals to an older paradigm of South-South cooperation as if that were totally separable from the geopolitics of the present day world. However, his critique of the shift in Indian energy policy and its consequences for the region cannot be faulted. From a Pakistani point of view this would be the kind of critical moderation that they hope will guide Indian policy, although not much of this moderation is available either in Pakistan policy or media coverage.


Pakistani dismissal of the fears generated by the pact:

S. M. Hali in ‘Indo-US defence agreement’ (The Nation, July 6) cited articles from The Deccan Herald, C. Uday Bhaskar, and Brahma Chellaney to indicate that the deal has problems and Pakistan should not be ‘unduly pessimistic. […] Pakistan need not fret over the Indo-US agreement’. Quite evidently Indian media analysis is co-opted to allay Pakistani fears.


In another piece, ‘Indo-US nuclear deal’ (The Nation, July 27), Hali adopted the same strategy, citing K. Venugopal (The Hindu), Dr. A. N. Prasad, M. J. Akbar, and The Deccan Chronicle of July 21. From this he concluded that ‘the saner elements in the Indian media are not only questioning the deal but advocating rationality’.


Hali’s articles highlight a degree of debate within the Indian media, but one wonders what the purpose and hope underlying these pieces is. Perhaps it is to indicate a lack of consensus within the ‘hegemonic’ other thereby, paradoxically, destroying the idea of India as a monolithic and inimical power. Perhaps it is to soothe anxieties within Pakistan.


The retired General Mirza Aslam Beg wrote in a similar vein in ‘Anatomy of the Indo-US defence pact’ (The Nation, July 23): ‘Pakistan must not be unduly perturbed, nor it should enter into an arms race, as the Indo-American Defence pact is a geo-political aberration, carrying self-defeating propensities.’ General Beg never quite analyses why the deal is an ‘aberration’ but the declaration helps to suppress undue fears.



In the context of The Nation’s coverage of the pacts these pieces by Hali and Beg are token gestures of comfort. While it had an occasional analytical piece providing commentary on the arms race and poverty in the subcontinent, its dominant tone ranged from regret and recrimination to rant and abuse. It covered and editorialized on the events obsessively. The Dawn was equally obsessive but more balanced in the type of opinions it printed. Of the three broadsheets surveyed Daily Times was the least jingoistic and most open to views critical of Pakistan, mentioning taboo subjects such as Pakistan’s less than creditable proliferation record. Indian broadsheets surveyed display a similar spread of opinion, except that Pakistan is less of a centre of focus. That is understandable given the fact that the deals concerned India and even newspapers such as The Hindu which carried critical pieces, followed the general consensus that the pacts were a triumph of Indian diplomacy and a recognition of India’s growing clout in the comity of nations.


This rhetoric of increasing power is also evident in Indian media coverage of India’s bid for a seat at the United Nations Security Council. In the Pakistan media the G-4 failure to secure a consensus, and therefore India’s failure, was covered in detail and some degree of satisfaction. This will be the focus of the next survey article.
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