Rama in Vietnam

The Indian Express - September 15, 2007

Another one bites the dust, walking shamelessly down Mr Karat's "pro - imperialist" path, and that is none other than Vietnam, run by his comrades. The latest emerging market that is being deluged with attention from America Inc is Vietnam. The Wall Street journal has frequent Vietnam stories; and in true American Inc. fashion, there is a rush to hold emerging market conferences and strategy sessions in Ho Chi Minh city, with well arranged tours of the hinterland, so that the American senior management team can understand what it takes to capture Vietnam, so to speak. And as a bright young man who works in the region was explaining to me on a flight back from Saigon, whenever there is an American business leader of Fortune 100 CEO rank visiting Vietnam, the visit carries all the courtesies extended to highly placed political figures, which includes the top brass from Hanoi descending and offering them goodies and wooing them to invest.

"Think of us as a compulsory add on to your China strategy ", they say, as they open doors wide, positioning themselves as the "must have" de-risking strategy for all those who have investments in China. They emphasize their young population, their outsourcing advantages, their hyper fast paced GDP growth and the fact that they may be small on a stand alone basis (US$ 66 billion GDP, and 84 million people), but when added to a global company's ASEAN portfolio, they make a big difference to the vibrancy of that portfolio. A Business World article says "Vietnamese authorities aggressively wooed Intel for investment... largely on the strength of that - and the relentless wooing from Hanoi - Phue said that Intel made the strategic decision to hedge against China... decided to set up a brand new $600 million chipset factory at the Saigon High Tech Park"

I have visited the - to use an American phrase - humongous Vietnam veterans war memorial wall in Washington DC, and can understand why America wants to colonize Vietnam, economically speaking. I also have a sense of how bitterly the communists in Vietnam hated the evil empire of America ,the "imperialist forces "(to use an anachronistic Karat-ism). Jeff Danzinger, a cartoonist and columnist with the New York Times syndicate wrote recently of how "we had dropped more tonnage of bombs in the temples and fields of North Vietnam than had been dropped by all sides in the entire span of World War II". Yet, after each trip to Vietnam, I cannot help wondering that the communists in Vietnam seem to have no problem in embracing America for what America has to offer, while vilifying it in their version of history. In the war museum in Vietnam, to quote from Lonely Planet "the pamphlet handed out at reception pulls no such punches: it's entitled 'Some Pictures of US Imperialists Aggressive War Crimes in Vietnam".

Come to think of it, the communists everywhere in the world seem to have managed their hybrid model well - they fight America in the history books and museums, while wooing America for what it has to offer to help improve quality of life and GDP of the present. It is against this backdrop that I find the report in Indian Express about Prakash Karat's book both amusing and puzzling. To denounce the Indian Express as a lackey of America begs two questions: One, what are China and Vietnam and Russia by that logic? Their economies depend on America, their communist head honchos are all smiles laying out both hospitality and concessions thick for American business. Two, where on earth do Mr. Karat and his party draw their inspiration and ideology from? Don't collaborate with America for India's energy security, he says, collaborate with China and Russia. Of course, the fact that China collaborates with America, as does Russia, is something that we aren't supposed to take into the equation.

I am wondering. Being just an aam aadmi, and not an experienced foreign policy expert or political commentator, I asked these questions of people who knew better. Who are the left representing? Everyone must have a consumer, a buyer, whether Coca Cola or the CPM. Which aam aadmi segment do they speak for? Which group of Indian voters wants communism and a terrifying embrace with China forgetting what they did to us while we were singing "Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai"? "No one", was the reply. I also asked, why are they doing this, if the polls in the media show that they will lose at the hustings if they insist on walking down this path? The wise men I spoke to patiently explained to me that this is not about elections, but is about ideology. It is a supplier driven ideology, without any peer or parallel in the whole wide world, and with no customers. It is Stalingrad, one of them said. I wonder though, in this battle of Stalingrad, who is the aggressor and who the defender? The aam aadmi in Saigon , the taxi driver, was clear. "These communists? They ban what they cannot control, like the Internet... Bah, useless... If India is the office of the world and China the factory of the world, we are all asking what of the world can we become?" I guess if Mr. Karat and his party have their way, we will have a power crisis anyway (and I am referring to electricity here), and we can gift Vietnam the positioning of "office of the world". That would indeed be a pyrrhic victory for the Indian communists - and for Mr. Karat. As the poem Casabianca goes:
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.