Clinton's diplomatic masterstroke in India
Was it just easier for Hillary Clinton to visit West Bengal in India on her way from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka or was there more to this visit than just seeing the former British Colonial capital Kolkatta.
Meeting the state's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was a masterstroke in diplomacy and economic necessity. Two strong women who’ve risen up through the ranks of politics over a long period of time and are making their mark domestically and internationally.
Clintons visit wasn’t so much an opportunity to swap notes with a political sister. It was a chance to meet the woman who routed the communists after their thirty five years of rule in a state thought of as never to welcoming change.
Change did occur a year ago and Mamata, 57 who spent years fighting for her vision, finally took power as the victor in regional state elections.
She aligns herself with the ruling Congress party in the coalition UPA government. Her Trinamool party is the largest coalition partner and their support and voice is important in day to day policy making.
With the vital railways portfolio under their belt, her party fights for the individual and has shown to stand vehemently against (FDI) Foreign Direct Investment. In recent months the mere thought of supermarket chains Walmart, Tesco or Carrefour entering the domestic retail market has hit the buffers.
Such action has the support of the small trader and irks the central government who is at odds with her position but can do very little in this political marriage of inconvenience.
Clinton may well learn a few things here. How to set your own agenda, have power and yet be a thorn in the side of the ruling party. Perhaps that’s too much to ask, for Clinton has in her own way settled for one of the most powerful jobs in American politics. However, many here still see her as a formidable politician with potential sights on a future American presidency.
With that said, Clinton’s position to support FDI is a position Mamata can ill afford to ignore. She may have been listed in Time Magazines 100 ‘most influential’ personalities in the world recently but she knows that to ignore a political ally like the US could be detrimental to the needs of her state.
Unlike, Karnataka, Andra Pradesh and Punjab. US companies have invested in wholesale FDI which is allowed, as well as IT. The economy has boomed and the masses have benefitted.
People in West Bengal have been watching closely why other states have excelled. Even before Mamata took office a multi-million dollar car plant proposed for West Bengal, which would have given employment to thousands, was relocated outside the eastern state. Though she objected to the project she was voted into power.
Yet for all the bravado Clinton will appreciate that Mamata’s main opposition in the state are the communists so being so antagonistic works for Mamata. She has succeeded where the Congress Party has failed and in turn could be seen has holding the balance of power.
Clinton knows that that centre of power is still with the Congress Party and that Mamata is nothing without them in New Delhi. FDI is an issue that simmers on the back boiler but cannot be forgotten as it affects so many in India and beyond.
Her main objective is to persuade New Delhi to cut its dependency on Iranian oil. Iran was India’s second largest provider of crude oil offering 12 million tonnes a year. With UN sanctions and unilateral action from the USA squeezing Tehran over its nuclear ambitions New Delhi is being pushed to source from other oil rich nations, enter Iraq and Kuwait. Paying for Iranian oil through third countries like Turkey or bartering payments with food commodities is proving problematic for New Delhi and Tehran knows it. It needs foreign currency no matter where it comes from.
Washington knows that India will not be forced or coerced into doing their bidding, least of all be cornered or bullied into a position that jeopardizes their friendly relations with the Islamic republic.
While Clinton sets her stall out for Indian politicians - quietly and behind the scenes the Iranian Trade delegation are in town talking with their Indian counterparts. Their head of delegation Yahya Ale Eshagh said:
“I’m sure that the future of Indo-Iranian trade is very good due to the current situation, because India is growing and in need of good trade partners and Iran is also undergoing a phase of growth and development…..Our trade problems will be resolved in spite of the efforts of those who oppose us. Economics does its own work, trade does its own work and politicians do their own work.”
Whilst the statement may well be true, the actions of all politicians, big or small, affect foreign policy and economics for everyone …everywhere.