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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Bush food talks

By Atul Cowshish & M. Rama Rao - Syndicate Features

India has unanimously condemned the remarks attributed to the outgoing US president, George W. Bush, that rising prosperity of Indians was one of the causes of spiralling food prices all over the world. Days earlier the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, had spoken on similar lines. Their views are not just ill-informed and highly objectionable but betray a mindset that should be worrying.

The Bush-Rice duo also lead the chorus heard in all the rich western countries that energy-starved India (and China) is also responsible for the rocketing price of petrol. Being the world’s two most populated countries—combined population of more than 2.5 billion out of about 6 billion people on earth—India and China are also mainly responsible for global climate deterioration.

It is beginning to look like an old political game in India when virtually every problem in the country was traced to the evil but hidden hands of the American Central Intelligence Agency. A handful of pro-Americans in the country would, however, put the blame on the Russian equivalent, the now defunct KGB, even when no one believed it.

It has to do with the mindset when Bush overlooks with natural ease the dietary habits of people in his own country when he talks of higher food demands of the burgeoning India middle class as being the factor behind the rising food crisis due to higher prices. He sounds condescending when he says that the Indian middle class is about the size as the entire population of the United States of America. The more unpalatable part for him is perhaps the fact that many among this Indian middle class have the purchasing power quite close to that of the average American.

It is not even of academic interest to him that if this is a fact then the increasing purchasing power of the Indian middle class should, in this age of globalisation, be music to the ears of Corporate America. But then Bush might privately say that despite all his praise for globalisation it is the single-most factor that has seen some other countries challenge the American might, both in economic and military terms. After all, had China not hugged globalisation the way it has (only the Indian communists are unaware of it) it would not have come close to being world’s number one economy and after the collapse of the Soviet (communist) empire the Russians would not have been able to revive their dream of being a great world power.

Bush refuses to commit his country—the world’s largest polluter, though China is said to have crawled very close—to any significant cuts in carbon emissions unless India (and China) take the lead. For Bush gas emissions mean lowering the standards of living in the US but he imagines Indians will see a big jump in their living conditions if they stopped using fossil fuels and went back to the Stone Age.

Angry Indian leaders have asked Bush if he is resentful of Indians who can eat well. No, he is not; he simply does not grasp that after living for centuries with so much hunger and malnutrition, why should Indians be demanding adequate nourishment at a time when the Americans have to pay more for their steaks and other high calorie food items that they consumer three or four times a day.

As any good American would testify the life of an American is more precious than that of any other nationality. That is why the mounting loss of American life in Iraq and Afghanistan has raised such an outcry that any American politician who is not willing to talk about withdrawing troops from these two countries, especially the former, has no chance of getting the popular vote.

Bush is not generally famous for either being well-informed or a man who chooses his words carefully. Many Americans mock his intelligence. His gaffes are as frequent as his clumsiness. In contrast, his Secretary of State is credited with having acquired a doctorate to testify to her erudition. But when she can be as crass as Bush in speaking about India and Indians there is reason to believe that in some ways their minds are alike.

And that is evident when they—and perhaps the majority of Americans--are talking about countries in the Third World. The picture of India fixed in their minds has remained frozen for a very, very long time. It is one of a poor, hungry, illiterate and backward country that is a burden on the prosperous white world. In simple words it is a very negative picture – a land of snake charmers.

The rise of India excites Indians and presumably those in the first world who have business and commercial interests that require continuous forays into newer territories. Bulk of the population in the rich white world is at best only vaguely aware about transformation in India. They may no longer think that most Indians live on trees and have shed some of their ‘barbaric’ and ‘primitive’ habits but an average American has little idea about where modern India stands. This impression will not change easily as long as the western media continues to highlight merely hunger, poverty, filth, violence, chaos, inefficiency and corruption about India.

Those who disagree with this prognosis need only look at the other side of the picture to know that mindsets are not easily changed. How does America look to an average Indian? How many Indians actually comprehend that the US economy is on the downslide and life is getting harder there—by US standards, of course.

The majority of Indians continue to see the US as a land of plenty and one with unlimited opportunities, where life is one hell of a party. For the young Indian male an added, if not the chief attraction, is a picture of a ‘liberal’ America where befriending the opposite sex is only a ‘hi’ away. If all this is wrong how does one explain the continuous stampede for getting US visa?

The average Indian is not deterred by reports of ‘hate crime’ that takes its toll usually among people of South Asia, particularly the Sikhs. The Muslims from South Asia may dislike the US foreign policy but few, of them—other than the religious fanatics--would be ready to forego an opportunity to work and live in the US because at the back of their minds they carry a different picture of the US. It is the mindset, isn’t it?

- Syndicate Features -

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