George H W Bush a strong supporter of Indian democracy, pushed for lasting Indo-Pak peace

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Washington | Published: December 2, 2018 6:05:27 AM

A strong supporter of Indian democracy, former President George H W Bush talked about dealing with Indian government with respect and quality and wished for a lasting India-Pakistan peace in his capacity as the 41st US president.

Former President George H W Bush (Reuters)

A strong supporter of Indian democracy, former President George H W Bush talked about dealing with Indian government with respect and quality and wished for a lasting India-Pakistan peace in his capacity as the 41st US president. Bush, 94, died on Saturday. It was under his administration that India and the US signed the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA).

At a time, India was undergoing through a phase of political uncertainty-had four prime ministers during one term presidency (January 20, 1989 to January 20, 1993) – Bush expressed his full faith in Indian democracy, but tended to ignore nuclear proliferation concerns of the international community with regard to Pakistan and echoed Islamabad on Indian peaceful nuclear activities.

Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination during an election rally in Tamil Nadu in May 1991 was a personal loss to him. “Barbara and I have had a friendship, a real friendship, with Rajiv Gandhi and his wife, and it’s on a personal basis I mourn the loss,” he told reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on May 21, 1991.

As Vice President to Ronald Regan from 1981 to 1989, Bush had developed a personal friendship with Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi. “When you look at his contribution to international order and when you think of his decency, it’s a tragedy,” he said.  “And that people resort in a democratic country or anywhere to violence of this nature–it’s just appalling. And I don’t know what the world’s coming to, but it’s a sad thing for this young man to have lost his life in this way. It’s a tragedy,” Bush said.

A few days later he drove to the Indian Embassy in Washington DC to sign the condolence book. “India’s democracy is strong, steadfast, and it has the full support of our country. It always has, and it always will. And this is a terrible tragedy. It tests the souls of India, and it tryst the hearts of all of us. But I fear not for India’s democracy,” he told reporters at the Indian Embassy on May 24, 1991.

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“The US will deal with the Indian Government with respect and quality,” Bush said as he urged people of India “for calm, for peaceful resolution” to differences. “If anybody ever stood for that, it was Rajiv Gandhi and his family,” he said. “Rajiv Gandhi. And we knew him well. Barbara and I knew him well. I just talked to his wife this morning. Here was a man, he was out campaigning, and a terrorist got him. Allegedly a bomb in a flower basket–he goes by and somebody pushes a button. So, there’s a lot of stupid people out there that think you can change things by terror. We have to be on guard in this country, even though we’ve been blessed by having less of it,” Bush told reporters a day after Gandhi’s assassination in St Paul, Minnesota.

During his presidency, his several remarks reflected that he wanted lasting peace between India and Pakistan. At a White House press conference with the then Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Bush said the two leaders discussed and reviewed their efforts to enhance stability in South Asia.

“I expressed our strong support for Pakistan’s efforts, and India’s as well, to improve relations, and stressed the critical importance of avoiding a regional nuclear arms race in the subcontinent,” he said on June 6, 1989. “And she assured me that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is committed to peaceful purposes…,” Bush said.

At a luncheon with White House reporters he referred to Pakistan’s concerns on India’s nuclear proliferation. “The US held talks separately with India and Pakistan in the hope of stemming a nuclear arms race in South Asia,” he told the Congress in a letter on January 19, 1993, a day before he was succeeded by Bill Clinton as the 42nd president of the US. It was under during his administration that the India-US Convention on Taxation was signed. “The convention would be the first tax treaty between the US and India. It includes special provisions that take into account India’s status as a developing nation and that reflect changes in US tax treaty policy resulting from the Tax Reform Act of 1986,” Bush said in a letter to the Senate seeking its Congressional ratification.

But, he took a tough stand against India on trade issues. His administration started Super 301 investigations on India citing investment barriers and restrictions in the insurance sector.

“I have continued the identification of India as a trade liberalization priority,” Bush said in a statement on international trade on April 27, 1990; at a time when India was faced with massive economic crisis.  India’s economic liberalisation started over a year later when P V Narasimha Rao was elected as the Prime Minister who appointed Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister in June 1991.

In May 1990, he decided against intervening in the possible acquisition by CMC Limited, a firm owned by the Government of India, of UniSoft Group Ltd. (UGL), a British computer software firm with a subsidiary in the US. He also approved sale of some of the high-tech computers to India at that time.

As president, Bush met only one Indian Prime Minister–P V Narasimha Rao–on January 31, 1992. The meeting took place at Waldorf Astoria, as against his several meeting with Pakistani leadership. Bush was also a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and he quoted him quite often during his interaction with school and college students. At some places he narrated some of the stories of Mahatma Gandhi to prove his point.

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