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India Owes a Moral Debt to the US
Prof. C. Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org, chaakaaraav@yahoo.com

India owes immensely to the US, for its present position as food exporter, from that of a food importer four decades ago.   The edifice of the present Indian agriculture has come into being through US support.  Most Indians are either ignorant of this or think that US owes it to them by some divine ordinance or too prejudiced to recognize it.   If one looks into the past, the US has been very magnanimous toward India, and never broke a promise given to India.   Yet, some Indians consider Americans untrustworthy.  Chandrabhan Prasad (The Pioneer, New Delhi, March 12, 2006) has much to say on this.

After partition, Western Punjab, India's wheat bowl had gone to Pakistan.  A spell of successive bad monsoons added, there was a severe food crisis by 1955, reminiscent of the Bengal famine.  

India had no options. Chinese were already starving.  Russia, India’s quasi-ally didn't have enough for its own people.   Europe was just recovering from World War II and could not help.   India didn't have any foreign currency to buy food even if it were available.   Millions of people would have to be left to starve, if the US had not came to
India’s rescue. That was how the famous PL 480 wheat import deal with US was signed by India in 1956.

Under PL 480 deal, the US was to supply 3.1 million tones of wheat annually for three years. India didn't have foreign currency to pay for even the transportation cost. The US magnanimously agreed to accept the costs in Indian rupees.  

By 1971, the US had an enormous Indian rupee accumulations in its account in New Delhi.   Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the then US Ambassador to India, requested his Government to write off this debt as India was neither in any position to pay it in foreign currency, and nor the US has any use for the Indian currency.   Approved by the US Government, Moynihan paid $1.26 billion (about Rs 50 billion) to the Government of India, writing off that massive debt, which is one of the largest donations given to any nation.

PL 480 funds were used in India to support innumerable agriculture related projects and research.  

Both India and the US realized that only a revolution in India’s agriculture would ensure India’s food security.  Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, America sent the agronomist Norman E Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, to replicate his Mexican experiment in India. He successfully produced Sharbati Sonora, a high yielding wheat variety.  That and improvements in the production of other food grains, employing high yielding varieties and chemical inputs as fertilizer and pesticides, have transformed Indian food situation.

During late 50s' and 60s', over three thousand American agricultural scientists worked in India. Over six thousand Indian scientists were trained in American agricultural Universities like Cornell and Kansas, during that period.   American scientists helped India to establish a chain of agricultural universities in the States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. “Over 300 American Professors gave more than 700 teaching years of service to India", says an India supportive website.

The present day Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have highly fertile land, but direly needed water and electricity to become the heartland of Green Revolution.   That was achieved by building the Bhakra Nangal Dam over the river Sutlej.  Sent by the US Government at the request of Jawarhalal Nehru in 1948, Harvey Slocum built this dam.   Completed in 1960, this multipurpose Dam is one of the greatest engineering marvels of the 20th Century.
Thus, the US saved millions of Indians from dying, and more importantly, saved India's honour by helping her transformation into a food-exporting nation.

Outside agriculture too the US played a role that was immensely favourable to India.  

The foundation for this partnership is economics, academics and culture.   For this, credit largely goes to the Indian students trained in the US, who spurred software revolution in the Silicon Valley.   Countless Indians also were trained in the US in various other fields and they have given an impetus for modernizing research in various disciplines in India.

Top Indian decision-makers, including the die-hard anti-American ones, send their children to US universities, not to Russia or China.   A million and half Indians are having an excellent life enjoying immense academic, professional and personal freedom in the US, and another million got jobs due to outsourcing.  

The Indian Government opposed US international policy many times.   In recent times, the Indian Parliament unanimously deplored the Iraq invasion.   Foreign policy compulsions of the Governments of India and US have not come in the way of cooperation on several other fronts.  Even during the worst times of Indo-US relations, the US was by far India's largest trading partner.  As Swaminathan Aiyar (Times News Network, February 26, 2006) says, India and the US were not allies, but partners.

Americans are the biggest foreign investors in India.   Skeptics repeatedly say that India will be America's junior partner. But being a junior partner of the erstwhile USSR was some how called 'independent foreign policy', observes Swaminathan Aiyar

Indians love American movies, music and literature.   Irrespective of the relationship between the two Governments, Indo-US relations flourished at the levels of academic, cultural, commercial, and person-to-person exchanges. Relations between people are more important than relations between Governments.    With best of relationship between the Governments of India and the USSR, there was hardly any people to people interaction.   Appreciably, the US and the Indian Governments appear to be finally catching up with the people initiative.

Notwithstanding all this, in a nationwide poll conducted by a Delhi based publication on ‘Can India trust the United States?’ 61 per cent Indians said “No”.   Chandrabhan Prasad wonders ‘how untrustworthy Indians can become!’

March 29, 2006