As is his wont, former INC president Rahul Gandhi today walked into yet another controversy where, talking to former US diplomat Nicholas Burns, he kept insisting things were wrong in India while his American guest kept deflecting the issue to the United States. On Friday, while the INC president continued with his series of interviews, donning the hat of a journalist, his interlocutor raised issues like the killing of George Floyd, an African-American, at the hands of a White police officer in the United States, shying away from commenting on the state of India. Burns spoke to INC leader Rahul Gandhi via video-conferencing.
Without naming Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gandhi told Burns India was getting divided along the lines of religion and caste.
Dodging the interviewer yet again, Burns said he thought US President Donald Trump was “divisive”. This was the second occasion during the interview that the American guest of Rahul Gandhi refused to comment on Indian affairs.
“Those who divide African-Americans in the US, Hindus-Muslims-Sikhs in India weaken their countries, but call themselves nationalists,” said Rahul Gandhi. He remarked that the India-US relationship “used to be a partnership earlier”, but now seems to have become “very transactional” and “episodic”.
“A relationship that used to be very broad – education, defence, healthcare and multiple fronts – has sort of focused mainly on defence,” Gandhi said, asking Burns where he saw the relationship between India and the US going.
Not comfortable with the idea of affecting the US’s defence ties with India or looking overtly pro-China, Burns said his country and the Indian government should combine forces to promote human freedom, democracy and rule of people in the world. “I think that is a powerful idea that Indians and Americans can bring together to the rest of the world. Again, you know, we are not looking for a conflict with China, but we are waging, in a way, a battle of ideas with China,” the former American diplomat said.
Gandhi held this conversation with Burns on how coronavirus crisis was reshaping the world order. The interaction between also covered a wide range of issues, including racism in the United States.
“Our greatest American in the last 100 years is Martin Luther King Junior. He fought peaceful and non-violent battles. His spiritual idol was Mahatma Gandhi. King led us to become a better country. We elected an African-American President Barack Obama. And yet, you see race come back now. You see African-American mistreated,” said Burns.
“It was horrible, horrible murder of George Floyd, a young African-American man by the police in Minneapolis. There are millions of Americans protesting peacefully as is our right. And yet, the President treats them like terrorists,” he added.
“Countries sometimes have to go through a discussion, a political debate about who are we? At the core, what kind of nation are we? We are an immigrant nation, a tolerant nation,” said Burns.
Floyd died after a police officer pressed his knee against his neck in Minneapolis on 25 May. His last words “I can’t breathe” have been a rallying cry for the protesters who have launched demonstrations in various parts of the US.
The issue has also led to serious debate in the American society about race.
Burns is currently the Professor of Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government. At the Harvard Kennedy School, Burns is the Director of The Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the programs on the Middle East, India and South Asia.
During his career in the State Department, he was United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs within the United States Department of State. He was also the chief negotiator of the India-US nuclear deal.
At the Harvard Kennedy School, Ambassador Burns is the Director of The Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the programs on the Middle East, India and South Asia. During his career in the State Department, he was United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs within the United States Department of State. He was also the Chief Negotiator of the India-US nuclear deal.
The freewheeling conversation between leader Gandhi and Ambassador Burns covered a wide range of issues including racism in the US and the flashpoint George Floyd’s killing created, the reshaping of the world order in the wake of the COVID19 crisis, the future of Indo-US relations and the key role played by the Indian diaspora in the US in building it, the clash of ideologies — an authoritarian China versus democratic India and the US.
In previous episodes, Gandhi has spoken to leading global economists Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee; internationally renowned epidemiologist, Johann Giesceke; global public health expert, Ashish Jha; and Indian industrialist, Rajiv Bajaj.