(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
All eyes were on Tehran this week as it hosted the 16th summit of nations belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM summit is the largest collective of tyrants, misogynists, homophobes, racists, scumbags, genocidal maniacs, conmen, busybodies, sociopaths, dirty Harrys and mouth-breathers this side of the Republican National Convention.
After the end of the Second World War, the world was divided into more cliques than a high school in South Bombay. All the jocks from the rich countries banded together in 1949 to form NATO and all the countries which grew up in tough neighbourhoods decided to tolerate each other’s existence to form the Warsaw Pact in 1955. However, outside of the UN, for the countries who didn’t belong to these two groups, there was nowhere to hangout. So in 1961, Nehru, Tito, Naseer, Sukarno and Nkrumah decided to get together and form a club consisting of all Goths, geeks, dorks, pacifists, poets, emo teenagers, mama’s boys, and hippies in the world who – at least on paper pretended not to be aligned to either of the two competing fight clubs – began calling themselves the Non-Aligned Movement.
Now, in 2012, with the cold war only existing in Jason Bourne novels, FPS video games and Vladimir Putin’s worldview, the NAM summit seems to have outlived its usefulness. When it was founded, India was part of all the countries who still needed a support group because of their oppressive colonial past. Nowadays, most heads of states attending the NAM summit oppress their own people and make them suffer atrocities that are equal to or sometimes infinitely worse than what happened when they were occupied by foreign powers. Like the host Iran, where a whole generation has been imprisoned both mentally and physically; where being gay is a crime punishable by public execution. Or Zimbabwean President and Hannibal Lector’s cousin, Robert Mugabe, a man who has jailed/killed/maimed more than half the population of his country and has led it to an economic apocalypse wherein the Zimbabwean Dollar is less valuable than the currency used in ‘Monopoly.’
India still attends the summit mostly because of its obligation as a founding member and to prove to other countries that we’re totally not in the tank for America, even though in reality we totally are. We like to tout our non-aligned credentials, but we’re not really non-aligned anymore, are we? We’re part of the G20. We’re part of the ‘countries who can have nuclear weapons for some reason while the rest of the world cannot’ club. We pledge billions of dollars for funds to bailout financially irresponsible European countries. We’re like that guy who gets promoted to senior management but still shows up at the bar frequented by all the factory workers to prove to himself that he’s still the working class hero from every Springsteen song even though everybody else at the bar resents his presence.
We’re able to tread this thin line because we avoid taking a stand on important international issues for as long as we can. Most of the time we don’t want to say or do anything because we fear that anything we say or do will be used against us with regards to Kashmir. We can always be counted upon in the international arena to muddle the waters. We didn’t even vote against the falling Gaddafi regime, even though Gaddafi hated us and it was obvious to everyone that he was on his way out. Our stand on Syria is to ask both sides to lay down their weapons and talk. Basically, what we’re saying to all the people in Syria being massacred by their government is to stop defending themselves and try to talk to the guy trying to stamp them into oblivion. Because that always works out so well!
Our foreign policy is like that guy in a ‘modern’ Hindi movie who loves the girl who wears skirts and smokes and believes in casual sex but still ends up marrying the girl who dresses conservatively and knows how to cook because she reminds him of his Mom. The ‘social media outreach’ of our Ministry of External Affairs consists of getting our diplomats to tweet the links to every article they read on the Internet. Most of the time we only hear from the ministry when they hold a press conference to denounce the latest Times Now news report of some Chinese cat breaching the sanctity of the India-China border. And they do it with the smoothness of a battered woman denying spousal abuse “Ha ha, nothing happened. Everything is cool. The black eye? Well, it was nothing. I just slipped and fell into a fist. . . I mean from the stairs. Yeah. I fell from the stairs and broke my eye. What makes you think otherwise?”
But, hey, there’s nothing another fruitless bilateral Singh-Zardari meeting won’t fix!