Karl F. Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Statement before the Subcommittee on Near East and South Asia, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, DC, May 25, 1999


Mr. Chairman, I am pleased for the opportunity to discuss with you and your
colleagues today our view of recent political developments in India.   I want to
thank you and Senator Wellstone for your continued interest in this critical
region.

Indian Democracy

India is one of the world's most intense democracies.  Some two-thirds of the
registered voters cast their ballots; dozens of political parties scattered
across the ideological spectrum compete for the support of over 600 million
voters; India's very free and very lively press devotes most of its attention to
politics.  Underneath the sound and fury of partisan politics in India is a firm
foundation sustained by the strength of the institutions and traditions that
permit people aggressively to advocate their views and push their interests.

This adherence to the rules was demonstrated in recent developments in India.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee followed the President's recommendation for
a vote of confidence when his coalition government lost the support of a key
ally; he subsequently resigned when he lost by one vote -- 270-269.  When it
became apparent that no party could put together a parliamentary majority,
President Narayanan dissolved Parliament and ordered the independent Election
Commission to set the dates for new parliamentary elections.  He also asked
Prime Minister Vajpayee to remain in a caretaker capacity until a new parliament
is sworn in.  The Election Commission has announced that elections will take
place over several days in September and early October.  A new government should
be in place by mid-October.

The coming elections will be India's 3rd, and the next government will be
India's 6th, within a 3-year period.  India has had seven governments since
1989.  The only one to serve its full 5-year term in that period was that of
Prime Minister Rao from 1991-1996.  These rapid changes in government are a sign
of major shifts in the social basis of Indian politics, but they also indicate
the fundamental soundness of the institutions of governance: the parliament, the
presidency, the judiciary and, above all, the Constitution.  Throughout this
period, the military has remained scrupulously outside the political process;
the military has been firmly under civilian control since India's independence
in 1947.

The rise of coalition politics in India has coincided with the growing
assertiveness of groups formerly at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
Disadvantaged groups have learned that numbers count in a democracy, and they
have forced the major political parties to pay attention to their interests.
When established political parties fell short of expectations, these groups have
started their own political parties.  One of their most persistent demands has
been an expansion of India's policy of giving preferential treatment to the
country's most disadvantaged groups.  Inscribed in India's Constitution is a
quota system for society's most dispossessed -- the Dalits. There are pressures
to expand the notion of quotas even further and that includes special provisions
for the guaranteed representation of women at all levels of the political
system.  The New York Times had an excellent front page story on May 3 by Celia
Dugger about a low caste woman who occupied the highest elective position in a
small village in India's largest state.  She and thousands of women like her
across this vast country are paving the way for a further transformation of
Indian society.

The U.S. Response

Mr. Chairman, with this devolution and diffusion of political power, it becomes
imperative that we maintain close contacts with all the major political parties
in India, to ensure that our message is fully understood and our interests
effectively pursued.  Ambassador Celeste and his predecessors have led our
mission in India in pursuing this goal, and we are well served by the presence
of three consulates in the other major regions of the country which focus on
regional trends and issues.  I and other Department officials have taken care to
meet with leaders of Congress and other opposition parties on trips out to the
field.  Deputy Secretary Talbott has consulted with the head of the Congress
Party, Sonia Gandhi, and other national leaders, including former Prime Minister
I.K. Gujral, during his visits to Delhi in the course of his 11-month old
security dialogue with Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.  I am confident that,
whatever government emerges from the current political process, we will be well
prepared to engage immediately.

More to the point, we will work with any government that emerges on the many
important items on our agenda with India.  Obviously, non-proliferation is
currently our central concern.  Our dialogue over the past 11 months has been
dominated by the global reaction to India's -- and then Pakistan's -- nuclear
tests.  While there is still much work to do in that area to enable us to
restore the bilateral relationship we had in May 1998, before the nuclear tests
and the imposition of Glenn sanctions, we still hope that we will be able to
carry out President's Clinton's goal set in 1997 to deepen our engagement and
establish the broad-based relationship I believe we both seek.

In this regard, Prime Minister Vajpayee in New York last fall called attention
to his belief that the U.S. and India were "natural allies."  We
should strive to realize that goal rather than remain what one scholar
accurately described as "estranged democracies."   Whether we are
able, in the coming years, to consolidate our natural affinity, or remain stuck
in our old negative patterns, will be determined by the actions of both our
governments.  Because we remain convinced that the vision we articulated and the
broad interests we identified are still valid and worth pursuing, we will not be
found lacking in our efforts to seek a common approach with India on the great
issues of the day.

Security Dialogues

Mr. Chairman, I should stress that since the time of India's nuclear tests, our
two countries have made progress toward understanding each other's security
considerations, but we have yet to see the concrete actions taken that could
help to reconcile our differences.  We regretted the decision last month by
India to test an extended range version of its Agni ballistic missile.  While we
have a much better understanding, after  eight rounds of dialogue, of what
motivates Indian strategic thinking, our concern about further missile tests by
India and Pakistan remains.  We nevertheless will seek to use the solid
foundation we have established in the dialogue to continue exchanges with
whatever future government emerges.  It is our hope that we will be able to
build on the work in this area we have done thus far, and to continue to make
progress toward "harmonizing" our security concerns, to borrow a
phrase from Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.  This new relationship will benefit
all concerned.

It is also our expectation that there will be continuity in the search for more
stable and better relations between India and Pakistan.  The recent Lahore
Summit, in which the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers displayed both
foresight and courage in establishing a framework for bilateral cooperation and
reconciliation, received the enthusiastic support of millions of Indian and
Pakistani citizens.  Popular reaction to Lahore gives us the hope that any new
Indian government will see fit to carry this process forward.  As President
Clinton said in a statement shortly after the February meeting of the two Prime
Ministers,"South Asia -- and, indeed, the entire world -- will benefit if
India and Pakistan promptly turn these commitments into concrete progress. We
will continue our own efforts to work with India and Pakistan to promote
progress in the region."

I would add that it is equally important that India and China engage on their
own security concerns.  In that respect, we are encouraged that these two
nations, which are playing an important role on the world stage, have re-started
their annual Joint Working Group meetings to discuss border and other issues,
which we hope will include broader security concerns.  Foreign Minister Singh
had earlier indicated the possibility of traveling to China; we hope he or his
successor will do so.  We were also encouraged by Chinese Foreign Minister
Tang's statement that Beijing was committed to seeking good relations with India
into the new century.

Our Message

Mr. Chairman, in our own public diplomacy since the May tests, we have sought to
reach a broad audience, both in this country as well as in India and Pakistan,
to explain the basis of our diplomacy toward these two countries.  Deputy
Secretary Talbott has given a number of interviews and speeches in this
connection, and he has written articles on the U.S.-Indian dialogue that have
been widely disseminated at home and abroad.  I have also sought opportunities
with the news media to lay out our thinking about South Asia and security.  We
have done so, Mr. Chairman, because we firmly believe that the steps we are
asking India and Pakistan to take in the security and non-proliferation areas
are not merely steps that serve our own policy interests -- we are also
convinced they will enhance and increase the security and well-being of both
countries, and of the South Asian region as a whole.

Mr. Chairman, it is our hope -- indeed our vision -- that we will be able to
move in the direction that both the United States and India desire.  We look
forward to the day when differences over security policy no longer dominate the
bilateral dialogue.  We look forward to the kind of broad-based relationship
that we enjoy with many other democracies -- one in which we are deeply engaged
on an agenda of economic growth and trade, science and technology cooperation,
cultural and educational exchange, law enforcement, and in many other areas.
Our vision, Mr. Chairman, is not simply to return to the situation in which we
found ourselves on May 10, 1998.  We desire to raise our bilateral engagement to
a new level of intensity, breadth and depth.  As President Clinton has said, we
want a new U.S. - India relationship for the 21st century.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to India Page

Return to Clinton Administration Page