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India’s new anti-Americanism

Tani Bhargava
15 April 2003

Indian perspectives on the war in Iraq Aranyani Bhargava Hoping For Hope, Anuradha M. Chenoy Why Women oppose war, Tani Bhargava India’s new anti-Americanism, Ruchir Joshi Be very afraid

Anti-Americanism is liberated from its traditional moorings and now echoes in unexpected places – in the elegant living room of a young widow who owns an ammunition factory, in the offices of multinational corporations, among fashion designers, even among middle-class housewives at their weekly ‘kitty parties’ or kirtans (collective singing of prayers at a neighbour’s home).

This morning, a childhood friend calls long distance early in the morning, in a terrible rage over the American occupation of Iraq. She is at home in Bombay eighteen months after a major operation in a hospital in Manhattan to replace a heart that was running out on her just at the moment when the twin towers came down. After prolonged hospitalisation and the isolation it entails, she has developed a daily routine of communication by SMS on her mobile, and emails over weekends when she has more energy. A new heart is the best but not the only reason for her to be seduced by America. But now she has begun to forward me jokes about the White House elite doing the rounds on the SMS network.

I am taken aback by this unexpected ally in the peace movement. Emboldened, I tell her of a peace march in the shadow of Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in the world, where a group of American expatriates had painted their demand for ‘Regime Change in Washington’ on their T-shirts. I know she will enjoy that. I also forward her the news that an immediate boycott of American goods could inflict a weekly loss of $6.5 billion on the US economy. Almost immediately my phone squeaks as an envelope appears on its screen. ‘Having bought an American heart recently, can I afford to boycott American goods?’

On Sunday mornings she has taken to calling early and speaking to me about the week in Iraq. The ‘Shock and Awe’ on view on CNN and BBC, the embedded propaganda of journalists and a permanent horizon of fire in Iraq seem to have erased from her mind the ogre that was Saddam. She is outraged by American disregard of worldwide public opinion, its blatant violation of Iraq’s national sovereignty; “next they will invade India on the pretext that they want to settle Kashmir for us. Even if our government is what it is, I don’t want the Americans to change it for me”.

She is appalled by allegations that contracts have been signed with companies owned by George Bush senior, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney for the reconstruction of Iraq – even before its destruction was accomplished. The madness visible on the streets of Basra, Baghdad and Kirkuk is inevitable, and will be ignored by those greedy only for oil. Incidents of ‘friendly fire’ (or ‘blue on blue’) elicit no sympathy. Americans know, more than anyone else on earth, that war is about chaos, social breakdown and unpredictability. Remember Saving Private Ryan? She expresses contempt for the Pentagon’s view of the Geneva Convention and says that Americans are the most selfish people on the globe. Her transformation into a vociferous anti-American is complete.

This afternoon, Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur frantically calls for the correspondent who has interviewed the ten-year old Iraqi boy who had lost both arms in the bombings. She has seen the photograph in the Indian Express and offers to pay all medical expenses to provide artificial arms for the child.

In India, a battle for hearts and minds has been conclusively won – and lost.

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