New Delhi, India
With John Lancaster
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 2, 2003; 10 a.m. ET
Recently, Washington Post foreign correspondent John Lancaster spent time watching ongoing news coverage of the war in Iraq with a group of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) -- Hindi for National Volunteer Corps -- the right-wing Hindu nationalist group whose several offspring include India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. They were unanimous in their condemnation of the war and especially of President Bush, whom they accused of fabricating evidence against Baghdad in pursuit of Middle East oil.
Lancaster was online Wednesday, April 2 at 10 a.m. ET, to discuss the reaction in New Delhi, India to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Norwood, Mass.: Do you think you should have taken general public opinion rather than that of RSS? Because RSS is known for extremist and you will not get right picture of general public.
John Lancaster: A reasonable question and one that I asked myself. In the end I decided to focus on the RSS because I thought its members might be more sympathetic to the American-led invasion than the average Indian on the street. The fact that they weren't, it seems to me, shows just how deep the animosity is running towards the United States right now.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Why would the majority of the Indian population care about the war in Iraq in the first place? They're Hindu, right? Most of the terrorists and sadists in Iraq and bordering states are Muslim. It seems to me that Indians have enough on their plate with Pakistan, Kashmir, and some of the Chinese Muslims surrounding them -- not to mention a population growth problem that's strangling their nation. Thanks much.
John Lancaster: It's true that many Indians are preoccupied with Pakistan and the issue of Islamic extremism, especially as applied to Kashmir. Nevertheless, I think most people here are troubled by the war for the same reasons that other people around the war are: They don't like the idea of the United States acting unilaterally and they are concerned about the precedent that it sets for intervention elsewhere.
Parkville, Md.: The Hindustan Times reported yesterday that the U.S. has criticized India's anti-terrorism/anti-insurgency efforts in Karhmir in its last Human Rights report. How is this criticism likely to be received in India, especially given Washington's somewhat dubious claims of terror links between Iraq and al Qaeda as a pretext for the current war? And how worried should we be about India following Washington's lead and launching a preemptive war against Pakistan?
John Lancaster: No country likes to have its human rights record singled out by the State Department, and India is no exception. Moreover, Indians were already angry at the United States for what they perceive as a double standard in its policy toward the region. They wonder why, if the United States can take preemptive action against Iraq, India can't do the same against Pakistan, which many Indians regard--rightly or wrongly--as a terrorist state.
Chicago, Ill.: Going to New Delhi and interviewing the RSS is like going to Chicago, interviewing the Mafia, and presenting it as the view of all Chicago. Why did you choose to interview this extreme right-wing element of the Indian populace? Why did you ignore the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs?
John Lancaster: see answer to similar question above
Houston, Tex.: Why did you call RSS linked to "fascism" in your article? Do you know enough about RSS? What was the basis of your conclusion?
John Lancaster: The relationship is well-documented. Madhav Sadish Golwalkar, a leading RSS intellectual of the 1930s, was among a number of "Hindutva" advocates who wrote admiringly of Nazi Germany and its policies of racial purity. For more information I would refer you to the leading academic study of Hindu nationalism, "The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics" by Christophe Jaffrelot.
Boston, Mass.: One of the arguments being put forward against the American campaign against Iraq was that it would set a precedent for the rest of the world. For example, it would set a precedent for India to take action against Pakistan in the guise of "preventive" or "pre-emptive" self-defense. Given that, why do you think there is so much opposition even amongst a faction that is typically hawkish towards Pakistan? Does their disapproval of the U.S. dwarf their hatred of Pakistan? Personally, I find that hard to believe.
John Lancaster: That's a very interesting question. On the one hand, the RSS certainly believes that Pakistan is the root of all evil--or at least Islamic extremism--in this part of the world. My guess is that the organization and its followers would also be comfortable with the idea of preemptive action against Pakistan under the right circumstances. On the other hand, the RSS members I spoke with were awfully vehement in their views that the American-led war on Iraq is unjust. On that basis, I can only conclude that even this hardline group has not been convinced by the Bush administration's arguments of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, and on that point they are hardly alone.
Austin, Tex.: Could you explain the reasoning of these people a little more? I'm still struggling to understand why an intensely anti-Muslim group, which feels its country endangered by "Muslim terrorists" would be so anti-American under these circumstances. Especially since it has always seemed to me that the old doctrine that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" tends to be embraced especially enthusiastically in that part of the world.
More generally, how would you assess the current state of Hindu-Muslim relations within India? (A hopelessly broad question, I know, but any insights would be appreciated.)
John Lancaster: On your first question, I'd refer you to my previous answer. On the second, it's hard to generalize. In places such as Gujarat, the locus of fierce communal rioting last year, Hindu-Muslim relations are deeply strained. But in many other parts of the country the two communities seem to coexist peacefully, so I'd hesitate to make predictions about what the future holds.
Cupertino, Calif.: What has the media coverage of the war been like in India and does the coverage maintain its objectivity?
John Lancaster: I would say the media coverage has been fairly hostile, with a lot of emphasis on civilian casualties. In that regard it's probably not so different than the coverage in Europe and many other parts of the world.