A day after India signed the bilateral Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US, opposition parties came down heavily on the Modi government, alleging that the deal could have far reaching implications on India’s military neutrality.
The LEMOA – which defence minister Manohar Parrikar signed with US defence secretary Ash Carter on August 29 – gives the military of both countries access to each other’s designated facilities for supplies, refuelling and repairs.
Parrikar clarified that the logistics support agreement does not allow the US to set up military bases in India and has been signed only after prolonged discussions to iron out contentious issues over the last one year. But the Congress, the Left Front and some regional parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, fear that helping the US military, even logistically, would naturally draw India into the wars that the US is fighting in Asia Pacific and in West Asia.
Such a step, they say, would seriously dent India’s non-aligned position in these conflicts.
The LEMOA, which has been in the pipeline for nearly a decade and a half, is one of the four ‘foundational’ agreements that the US signs with its defence partners. In a similar diplomatic initiative, the first NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had signed the the General Security Of Military Information Agreement in 2002. The UPA government under Manmohan Singh, however, had shyed awayed from signing the other three, as the then defence minister, A. K. Anthony, thought the pacts were too intrusive for India.
The UPA government was also cautious of not hurting the sentiments of both Russia and China – which have been India’s strategic business allies, but share an inimical relationship with the US.
With LEMOA agreed upon and with Modi government’s willingness towards forging closer defence ties with Washington, the two remaining pacts – Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation – may soon become a reality, according to officials in the government.
Noting the departure from India’s earlier stance, the Congress, in a press release, said, “Signing of LEMOA is a fundamental departure from India’s time tested policy of ‘strategic military neutrality’. It raises a genuine and grave apprehension regarding India being unwarrantedly drawn into an operational military design in Asia Pacific region and Middle East.”
It alleged that the Modi government had jeorpadised India’s ‘national, geo-global and strategic interests by signing of LEMOA.’ The party raised concerns over the fact that the agreement may cause ‘serious misgiving among India’s traditional partners and time tested allies, regionally and globally,’ and urged the government to make the contents of the agreement public, or at least share it with leadership of opposition parties as this decision, it thinks, ‘has been taken in an opaque manner by stealth as also unilaterally without national consensus.’
In what it considers a ‘major shift’ from India’s non-aligned stance, the party accused the government of not explaining the reasons that prompted the change.
Much of the Congress’ opposition to the pacts when the UPA was in power, is said to be because of the Left Front’s resistance towards the US. Evidently, the Left Front has been the most vocal in its opposition to the LEMOA.
In a press release, the CPI (M) said, “By signing such an agreement, India has acquired the formal status of a military ally of the US. Under this agreement, the US air force and navy can use Indian naval and air bases for logistics support, refueling and services on a regular basis. The US armed forces can utilise Indian military bases while conducting military operations in third countries. The Modi government has compromised on Indian sovereignty and surrendered its strategic autonomy by signing such an agreement with the most powerful imperialist country in the world.”
Speaking to The Wire, Nilotpal Basu of the CPI (M) said, “The LEMOA has ramifications for the entire region. It is a you-win-I-lose kind of an agreement. Though the government claims that the agreement gives both the nations equal access to each other’s military bases, when and where will India use US military base? On the other hand, the possibility of US using our military facilities is a lot because of its interests in the region. Secondly, this is going to send all kinds of wrong signals to the neighbourhood and all foreign players with whom India had ties for a long time.”
“Even during the UPA regime, LEMOA was waiting there to be signed but Modi government has made a definite move towards aligning with the US. The overall orientation of this government, which wants to display its military muscularity in line with the Americans, shows a clear shift towards aligning with one pole – the US. Forget the ideological underpinnings, this is a blunder from a strategic point of view. What does India, which has to deal with the entire Asian region, have to gain from this agreement? Absolutely nothing,” he added.
Expressing concern over the gradual departures from India’s strategic non-alignment policy, Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal told The Wire, “The Modi government is trying to delete an entire phase of India’s foreign policy – from Nehru’s to even Vajpayee’s. India, through its policy of non-alignment, forced all powerful nations to negotiate with it. However, that independence is being undermined now.”
“All agreements with the US has riders, which are not necessarily related to only the agreement. Many people believe that US secretary of state John Kerry’s visit to India is one of the US’ ways to tell India to stop talking about Balochistan and set your own house in order. Generally the riders in such agreements allows the US to dictate India’s policies. I feel that signing of such agreements compromises India’s sovereignty. The relationship between India and the US has never been equal. Modi’s willingness to forge closer ties with the US, therefore, shows a servile attitude.”
He added that the Modi government’s foreign policy has shown no consistency in asserting India’s independence. “It lacks perenniality. We all know that Nehru was close to the USSR, but he could still make Non-Aligned Movement a reality. No one could question India’s sovereignty. However, nothing except rhetoric has emerged out of several foreign trips Modi has made in the last two years. I am sorry to say that Modi’s foreign policy is dictated more by the office of the National Security Adviser than that of the minister of external affairs (MEA), whose job has been limited to evict Indians in crisis-prone foreign lands. MEA has been reduced to a lost-and-found department,” he said.